Sutton brought Lincoln's fine start to the Vanarama National League season to a juddering halt at Sincil Bank with an outstanding performance to pick up their first victory of the season. Ahead midway through the first half when Dan Wishart's free kick punished a brainless piece of defending, U's then found themselves playing against ten men after Bradley Wood had been sent off following an off the ball incident with Roarie Deacon, but from looking in control they were rocked by a freak equaliser from Sam Habergham six minutes after half time. As the second half went on, though, U's looked the likelier winners and inside the last seven minutes skipper Jamie Collins and Deacon turned that in to reality.
After Lincoln's first two games had produced nine goals U's went with a powerful defence, Simon Downer recalled at right back, Kevin Amankwaah switching to the left and Dan Wishart playing on the right in a more attacking role, while Max Biamou was given his first competitive start and justified Paul Doswell's faith with every bit as hard working a performance as Dan Fitchett had produced at Forest Green, with Chris Dickson continuing the good work in the last twenty minutes.
It wasn't a surprise to see Lincoln, well backed by a noisy crowd, start brightly and Ross Worner had to come off his line quickly twice to dive at the feet of Jonny Margetts, but the home side suffered a blow when powerful striker Matt Rhead was forced off injured after just fifteen minutes, and U's had established some control when they were gifted the chance to go ahead midway through the half. Biamou had just about given up on chasing a Worner clearance that seemed set to run through to Lincoln keeper Paul Farman but that didn't deter Sean Raggett, Lincoln's summer signing from Dover, from grabbing the French striker round the neck. Referee Simon Barrow immediately awarded the free kick and booked the tall centre back, and Wishart delivered further punishment with a fine free kick that was in from the moment it left his foot.
Lincoln's afternoon soon became worse as, after play had been waved on when they wanted a free kick for a challenge by Deacon, Wood clashed with the Sutton player off the ball as U's launched a counter attack. The referee was in the majority of people in the ground who didn't see the incident, but having consulted with assistant Sam Lewis the outcome was a yellow card for Deacon, who had been left on the ground, and a red for Wood.
In a febrile atmosphere for much of the rest of the half in which the football took something of a back seat U's, and the referee, had to keep their heads and they did so excellently, even having a chance to extend the lead when Ross Stearn's cross picked out Dean Beckwith at the far post but the defender's header was blocked.
U's would have been delighted to hear the half time whistle, but that good work all seemed to have been undone when Habergham's cross from the left, which seemed overhit, dropped just under the angle of post and bar with Worner unable to regain his position and keep it out. Boosted by the goal and with the crowd behind them, Lincoln briefly had their best spell of the game and when Worner spilled another Habergham cross under pressure from Lee Beevers, Margetts hit the outside of the post.
U's held firm, though, with Nicky Bailey again showing his experience in his tackling as well as his passing, and Ryan Burge and Joe Morrell both impressing after coming off the bench, and they began to create chances of their own. Beckwith, outstanding at the back, was denied for a second time when his downward header from Amankwaah's cross was saved on the line by Farman, and after Worner had set up a counter attack with a quick throw after claiming a corner, Stearn took the wrong option and failed to find Wishart who was storming through unchallenged on the right. Seven minutes from time, though, Stearn's shot was deflected over the bar, and when Burge swung in a deep corner Collins bundled the ball in at the far post although the final touch may have come off a defender. Lincoln pushed for an equaliser with no great conviction, Farman joining the attack at two set pieces, and the game was put beyond their reach in the third minute of stoppage time as Dickson and Burge combined superbly on the left, and although Burge's shot was blocked the deflection took the ball across goal and Deacon reacted quicker than the scrambling Farman to knock it in to the net.
Lincoln: P Farman, B Wood, S Habergham, L Waterfall, S Raggett, L Beevers(sub J McCombe 85), N Arnold(sub T Hawkridge 73), J Muldoon, M Rhead(sub A Marriott 18), J Margetts, A Woodyard. Subs n/u A Simmons, E Hodge. Booked: Raggett, Woodyard, Beevers, McCombe. Sent Off: Wood.
We're really pleased to get the result at Lincoln - I think the third goal flattered us a little, and I was a bit disappointed in the way we played at the start of the second half, as I felt we could have played better and passed the ball better, but having said that the lads have put in a fantastic week's shift for the football club and have come away with a very good result today.
We did well in the first half, with a terrific free kick from Dan Wishart and creating several other chances while restricting them to very few. The sending off, and way the crowd and their players were trying to get the referee to even things up I think spolied the game a little, and in the first 25 minutes of the second half they looked as though they had the extra man and we gave them momentum, but I thought we made good changes at the right time, and after the three changes we started passing the ball like we can, playing it through the lines, and thoroughly deserved to get the win. Having been disappointed with the early part of the second half, I had turned to Bairdy in the five or ten minutes before we scored again and said that I could only see one winner, but you've still got to get it, and the skipper came up from a great set piece delivery before a really well-fashioned goal for the third one.
Ryan Burge was out for a long time last season, and I thought he was excellent at Forest Green, but we had a game plan to go to Lincoln with a big back four, which is why we moved Kevin to left back and brought Simon in, because we knew everything would be played in to Rhead, so we effectively went with four centre backs. We felt we wanted the solid base to start, and that we could get Roarie Deacon in to pockets where he could hurt them with pace, so it was a question of looking at the game today, knowing that Ryan won't play a huge number of games on the trot, and we're trying to make sure that when he's fit and available we're playing him in the right games. I thought today was perfect, putting him on after about an hour and with Joe Morrell coming on as well the game changed, but great credit to the lads as well who'd put the shift in until that time.
I thought Max was very, very good bearing in mind he's had no pre-season and we asked him to go and play on his own up front for 70 minutes.The only reason Dan Fitchett didn't play was because he'd done that job in the two previous games and you can't play like that up on your own for three games in a week. There's always reasons behind the selections, but we've got a good squad of 21 or 22 players now, and you've only got to look at Bradley Hudson-Odoi, Craig Dundas and Louis John not getting a game, and Dan Spence and Craig McAllister doing their rehab at home, so we've got strength in depth, I think the lads have bought in to the idea that it's a 55-game season, and they won't cause us problems in terms of who's picked and who isn't.
I loved the support today, and I thought the fans were great on Tuesday as well. I'm sure they enjoyed it as well, and being in a modern stadium makes the acoustics better and it really helps - the lads mentioned again in the dressing room how they could hear them. It kept us going at times because there were difficult moments, and times when you had to manage the game well, with the referee and the crowd and a few of the things that were going on, but we've got results now against two of the teams who will be very close to being in that top five, if not winning it, so from our point of view it's been a very good week. When Ian and I were looking at the week we thought four points would be good, probably thinking we'd beat Solihull and get a point from one of the two away games, so we've gone about it the hard way but the first win as a National League manager means a lot to me, and I've thanked the players for that, and we've got to believe in ourselves to play a bit more at times because we're good enough.