A cursory look at the matchday programme during the first half of Lincoln’s home game against Stevenage to check the name of the little number twelve who was causing problems for the Imps failed to answer the query; there was no number twelve on the Stevenage squad list.
Whether it was a mistake by the editors or the player’s loan move from QPR happened after the publication went to print we will probably never know, but by the end of the game, the name Ilias Chair will be one that Lincoln City fans will remember for a long time.
There is no doubt that Chair brought his shooting boots to Lincolnshire and he used them to good effect peppering the Lincoln goal with efforts from distance that seemed to get closer and closer to hitting the back of Lincoln’s net the longer the game wore on.
The problem for Stevenage was that he was their only real goal threat and with five minutes to go, two goals from in-form Bruno Andrade had seemingly given the league leaders a much needed three points after drawing their previous three games. Indeed Lincoln found top gear for a spell in the second half and threatened to run away with it, but Andrade failed to connect with the goal gaping for his hat-trick and McCartan disappointed when one on one with the keeper.
At eighty-five minutes it appeared Lincoln seemed to think two was enough and retreated to the edge of their eighteen-yard box to see the game out. Lincoln’s deep defence gave Chair his opportunity, and in less than ten minutes he scored two, hit the post, had one cleared off the line and could easily have sealed all three points at the death with another effort that Smith managed to claw behind for a corner.
It was an incredible display of long-range shooting but what was equally incredible was Lincoln’s failure to deal with the danger and repeatedly allow Chair the freedom of Sincil Bank to get the ball on his favoured right foot and pick his spot.
The Cowley’s pride themselves on hard work and preparation and admitted they did have a pre-match plan to counter the threat, the failure of which was all too apparent, something that will leave them smarting. What looked to be the best plan was force Stevenage onto the back foot like the Imps did for the majority of the second half, but once they stopped pressing and went deep, it was an opportunity to good for Chair to miss.
What was also incredible was a Lincoln team packed with promotion winners and players with experience at a much higher level couldn’t deal with a twenty-one-year-old with less than ten senior appearances to his name. It showed a lack of leadership on the pitch that will worry Lincoln fans with much sterner tests to come.
The Imps have a great side, but they need to break the worrying habit of losing points in the dying moments of games if their season does not hit the buffers. Listening to the fans after the game many questioned the tactic of playing one up front and sitting deep at home while others asked why Grant Smith, who many felt was at fault for at least one of the goals, remains in the team when recognised number one Josh Vickers is on the bench. Surely if Vickers is fit enough to be a substitute, he is healthy enough to start? Others were asking why the team was not being freshened up by playing recent loan signings; some were asking why Lincoln didn’t sign Chair?
None of this should take away any credit from the young QPR loanee who probably couldn’t believe his luck at the amount of time and space he was allowed. It was a great display that leaves Imps fans hoping a full week on the training pitch might come up with the answers to a concerning run they will expect to break at relegation-threatened Morecambe on Saturday.
It is not all doom and gloom at Sincil Bank, The Imps remain undefeated since Boxing Day, but too many draws, particularly at home have seen their lead at the top cut to two points.
They do have a refuse to lose attitude but a packed Sincil Bank appears to be lifting the opposition, and the tactic of defending deep is giving away the initiative in games and allowing good players to take advantage.
What was most surprising on Saturday was how nervous experienced players became in the closing stages. The habit of losing points late in games is clearly affecting them and needs to be broken, especially at home where it appears the big crowd and massive expectation maybe stifling the team.
The Imps have much to dwell on this week but whatever their shortcomings, Ilias Chair deserves enormous credit for having the skill to take advantage and keep Stevenage’s outside chance of a playoff spot a possibility.