Lincoln face off with their closest rivals in entertaining stalemate
Last season’s top two fought hard for a 1:1 draw in their hotly-contested first match of the campaign.
The encounter was a re-run of the week before, which saw Lincoln win the Pepe Reyes Cup against 2014-15 League runners-up Europa that have invested heavily in what is a practically new squad. The Champions were without influential young midfielder Anthony Bardon and that, along with match fitness levels still being relatively low after a short pre-season, made for a real challenge against a Europa team that had been reportedly training twice a day for the last month.
With that in mind it was probably not a surprise that the first chance of the game fell to Europa that saw a shot hit the inside of the post in the third minute. The scare seemed to invigorate Lincoln and they got into attack mode, hitting back with a string of chances that tested the opposition defence.
The game settled down into a midfield battle after around ten minutes with a lot of snappy fouls from both sides as each tried to stem each others central eminence. Lincoln, in particular were evidently not firing on all cylinders, although their new Portuguese signing Antonio Livramento was letting his experience show in the centre of the field.
However, Europa kept asking all the right questions of a Lincoln team that had only last season won the league by more than a dozen points that included a 5:0 thrashing for the Europa League qualifiers.
On the half-hour mark Lincoln created a couple of chances that showed glimmers of the 13 leagues they have won on the trot, with Liam Walker nearly rounding the Europa keeper and Joseph Chipolina curling a shot from distance that almost caught him off-guard. This was followed by a free kick on the edge of the area that was only just parried over.
Like in the Pepe Reyes Cup, the second half saw Europa come out charging, except this time they got their reward, first hitting the post before Roy Chipolina’s sloppy header to Raul Navas was intercepted and slotted past the original intended target.
Unfazed, Lincoln pushed forward seeking the equaliser, with George Cabrera unable to meet a through-ball when he was one-on-one with the Europa keeper and Livramento weaving his way through the defence only to have his shot blocked by a the hard-working last line of defence.
The goal finally came with a quarter of the game to go, as Lincoln’s other Portuguese summer capture, Bernardo Gaspar Lopes rose highest from a corner to get the score back to 1:1.
After that, Lincoln felt that the wind was in their sails and went for the kill, but it was not to be. Lee Casciaro came closest ten minutes from time, as he cut through the defence only to be pulled back inside the area by a defender. The model professional decided not to go down for what could easily have been a penalty, but instead ran on and his effort was blocked by the Europa stopper.
All in all the first match of the season didn’t disappoint a nearly full stadium on the night, showing that football is fast becoming more than just a game to be played but also one for the fans. Both defences were in fine form and the creditable draw should give Lincoln manager Raul Procopio time to fine-tune his squad for what promises to be a very competitive Premier Division.
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