When a tough tie becomes winnable

My first reaction to drawing Oldham in the FA Cup? Tough tie. Oldham for me are synonymous with our Second Division outing in 1998/99, a season where they soundly beat us twice (3-1 at the Bank, 2-0 at their place). They are also forever linked as the ‘bigger club’ Richard Butcher signed for, and ultimately almost returned from. They’ve spent a majority of the last two decades in the third tier, a division that often swallows up bigger teams and spits them into League Two. Historically Oldham are a decent side, but history is just that.

That was my first thought, and I imagined many fans would feel the same, and for once I was completely wrong. The wave of optimism sweeping our club at the moment turned this from a tough tie to a winnable one in a matter of seconds. They’re third from bottom in their league. They’ve only scored nine goals all season and they’ve only won three league  games. If we were going to get anyone at all from League One I imagine Oldham would be the team to choose. Similarly I imagine if they were away at any non-league side, it would be us they wanted to avoid.

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Richard Butcher featured for both Oldham and Lincoln.

 

I’ll come to Oldham in a minute. A lot of people initially reacted to the draw by remarking they thought we might get on TV. I still think at this moment in time the BBC aren’t focussed on Lincoln City at all. For instance we were the highest ranked non-league side in the competition, was that mentioned? No. The key ball numbers were displayed on the left hand side of the TV screen, was the number of the highest ranked non-league team displayed there? No. Furthermore what did a Salford striker have to do with the draw? Why was the nervous Macclesfield goalkeeper in the studio? Surely Matt Rhead or even someone with a more ‘Football League’ friendly persona like Theo Robinson would have been better?

I’m afraid unless we turn Oldham over we’re going to be no more than a footnote in this competition, and even then unless we draw one of the real big boys we’ll only be a few column inches. The first two rounds are all about the very smallest clubs, and from round three it’s focussed on the big clubs, and who they play. If we pull a Southampton or Middlesbrough out of the hat (should we progress) in the next round, but Bury get Man United, I wouldn’t be under any illusion which match would feature. We only got on TV in 2009 because we were meant to be the fall guys for Northwich Victoria. Once we’d beaten them we were forgotten about, despite drawing Premier League opposition.

Back to our second round tie. Oldham are in a miserable position, but at this stage a league table can be misleading. They’re only two wins off 12th position, and although they’re struggling for goals they are one of only two teams to have beaten runaway leaders Scunthorpe United. If we’re labouring under the misapprehension that this is an easy tie, we need to think again. It’s a tie we can feel confident about, but nonetheless it isn’t the ‘easiest’ tie we could have got, not by a long way.

It is interesting to note they’ve won four of their last seven games and it could be that rookie coach Steve Robinson is just beginning to find his feet. Robinson was assistant to Ian Baraclough at Motherwell, and the ex-Imps full back is now assisting Robinson. The manager has also assisted Michael O’Neill at Northern Ireland, and was a part of the coaching staff that saw them reach Euro 2016. Whilst results have been indifferent I’m not sure we should be getting carried away by drawing the team in 22nd.

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Ian Baraclough slots home a penalty against Northampton in March 1993

 

Before they meet us they’ve got to play Scunthorpe, Peterborough, Wimbledon and Port Vale, all teams in or around the top ten in League One. If they snatch a couple of results they could grow in confidence, but it is possible they could come to Sincil Bank on the back of four defeats. That said form really goes out of the window in the cup, our last cup run in 2009/10 came amid a backdrop of league struggles.

Looking at the Oldham squad they do appear a bit short on killer talent, and in one respect they remind me of the Walsall side we knocked out under David Holdsworth. They’re a fledgling side at the beginning of their journey, and if Robinson keeps his job long enough his plan might work. In Billy McKay they have a striker proven in Scottish football looking to make the step up, he’ll certainly be one to watch. Midfielder Paul Green brings experience to their side as well.

Mind you all this speculation is pointless, there’s a league campaign to focus on now and an awful lot can happen in between now and then. All Lincoln City can keep doing is going out and winning matches. Certainly the draw holds no fear for us, and I recall when Walsall came out of the bag I thought we were done for. That’s an indication of the confidence the fans have now, and whilst Danny and Nicky won’t get carried away I think the fans have earned the right to believe a little.

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Not the happiest of places recently – Boundary Park

 

Finally there’s been talk of the sort of away following they might bring. Firstly I’d like to congratulate the Altrincham fans on Saturday, I think they brought as many as anyone in our league has this season, and they were a credit to their club. There’s been talk of Oldham brining up to 1500, which would really surprise me. I would imagine 600-800 will come through the gates, meaning we should top 4,000 for the second time this season. It will feel like a ‘proper’ game again, a feeling that I’m getting more and more at Sincil Bank this season.

Long may it continue.

You may have noticed that I haven’t been as prolific with my blogging recently. I’m working on a side project which is an A to Z of Lincoln players from 1993-2016, but written in my usual honest style. It’s almost completed now, and I’m delighted to announce that Imps legend Grant Brown has agreed to write a foreword for me!

I’m really excited about the whole thing, I’ve always wanted to actually publish something Imps related, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you it will make a great stocking filler. It’ll be available on Amazon and I’m hoping you’ll be able to buy from December 1st. Mybe time to add it to your Christmas list?

As always, thanks for reading.

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