What a difference three days makes!
It's hard to believe the side which beat Accrington so comfortably last Friday was basically the same one which collapsed the previous Tuesday. Admittedly, the personnel had been tinkered with, but the shape of the team remained the same. More importantly, the players who remained from the Chesterfield debacle were different men, if you see what I mean!
I must admit I worried when I saw the team sheet before the Lincoln game. I was surprised to see us playing with three similar centre-backs, strong in the tackle and the air but not the quickest. Likewise, I wasn't sure about Michael Carvill as a wing-back. I've been very impressed with him this season; he might develop into a very good player for us. However, he's not the biggest and he has very little experience of such a defensive role.
As it turned out, the system worked fine against Lincoln. The centre-backs looked comfortable and Carvill's tenacity and pace enabled him to cover back well. We'd been good value for our win, the only criticism being that we hadn't taken our chances to beat Lincoln comprehensively. I left The Racecourse thinking I was wrong; the following game made me feel I was right all along.
The way Chesterfield took us apart, exploiting all the weaknesses I'd hoped were just in my mind, made you realise just how poor Lincoln were. Their lively strikers gave our back three all sorts of problems, and up against a German Under-19 international Carvill found himself exposed.
Subtle alterations to the side changed its balance completely last Friday though. We looked more balanced on the flanks through the inclusion of a more defensive right wing-back in Simon Spender, who played with the determination of a man aggrieved to have been harshly left out in the first place. In the centre of defence Shaun Pejic's pace was once more invaluable, and has more experience of playing in a back three than anyone else in the squad by virtue of his time under Denis Smith.
Further up the field things looked more coherent. Of course the form of Neil Roberts is crucial, as his ability to hold the ball up knits the side together going forward. On Friday he was outstanding, giving probably his best performance since returning to The Racecourse. Further back the energy of Chris Llewellyn in a more withdrawn role, popping up time and again behind their right wing-back, was a delight, and Mark Jones continues to return to something approaching his best form. I can't help feeling that if success awaits any side at this level that can harness the ability of a player like Jones.
And so we travel to Macclesfield full of optimism. Bearing in mind that we first tried a 3-5-2 formation this season against them and were totally dominant, we should be confident that once more we can impose ourselves upon them. The problem is, of course, that a team that can improve so dramatically might deteriorate just as quickly!