Well, that’s us back down to earth with a bump.
After going ten games unbeaten, with a feel-good factor around the place and sitting level on points at the top of the league, Sunderland did a Sunderland.
Lincoln City were the better team throughout the match and even the most ardent of Mackems wouldn’t disagree that we got exactly what we deserved - ‘nowt’.
It was always going to happen at some point. There was going to be a poor showing and a team that matched us in every area - but the manner of the defeat and overall performance is every bit as troubling as the poor result.
In our last home match against Sheffield Wednesday, we played with a real tempo and energy. They couldn’t live with our speed and fluidity in the final third. With Ross Stewart leading the line and the likes of Leon Dajaku, Alex Pritchard and an on-form Lyndon Gooch supplying him we were flying. We created chances for fun, scored some superb goals and totally hammered home our dominance.
There was none of that against Lincoln.
From the very start, we just looked completely off-colour. Going forward, the passing was sloppy. I lost count of how many times we gave the ball away needlessly with no pressure. There was no creativity, nobody willing to get on the ball and stretch the play. We were far too central and nobody was getting wide to move into a crossing position. Lynden Gooch and Dennis Cirkin were completely nullified as an attacking threat by Lincoln, and Stewart was isolated.
Defensively as well we looked shaky. The ease with which Chris Maguire (formerly of this parish) cut open our defence was alarming. We looked completely static and there were far too many individual errors. That’s six goals in two games we have conceded as well. One every 30 minutes. Definitely not statistics that will get you promotion.
Even the pitch looked below standard. I think the best chance we have to get our passing game and rhythm going is with a high-quality pitch and it looked in terrible condition. That certainly didn’t help our cause.
Could tiredness be a factor? You’d have to say the player looked very leggy and fatigued. There’s been a big debate over which method has worked in terms of playing matches in the recent COVID spike. Wigan Athletic have adopted the cautious approach, postponing as many games as possible to give themselves the best chance at playing with a full squad. We have chosen to play as many games as we can.
Maybe we have taken the wrong option.
Lee Johnson must be hugely concerned with the lack of inspiration within the play. Of course, this was just one match but the lack of any kind of energy or tempo might lead you to the conclusion that the squad is stretched and cannot cope with the demand of so many games at this busy time.
It can’t be easy to play over the festive period at the best of times with the constant cycle of games and the very sparse recovery period between each fixture. Throw in the chaos with injuries and isolation periods from positive tests and you have a recipe for trouble.
We were riding high and the defeat was always going to come at some point. I often believe the most important result is the one after the loss. How will we react to losing the run? Will the team show character and come out raring to go, back to their old selves, or is this the start of another ‘Lee Johnson Streak’?
We will find out on Saturday, 3pm at Accrington.