Luke Howell: Barnet defeat will act as a wake-up call to Lincoln City
FOR the dedicated Lincoln fans who watched their side at Barnet, there would have been few positives to contemplate on the drive back up the A1 on Saturday evening.
They had just watched their side take a 4-2 beating from a team which was bottom of the Football League.
However, such was the magnitude of the defeat, it was the perfect dose of reality to anyone who felt the Imps were clear of relegation in League Two.
Some had felt the good times were back at Lincoln City as Steve Tilson's side put in a superb run of form which saw them pick up six wins out of nine games prior to Saturday's loss.
There was talk of the play-offs by some fans, but Imps boss Tilson had stressed all the time his aim was 50 points – and safety first – and it is a realisation that has come crashing home to everyone, including Imps midfielder Luke Howell.
"I think the defeat is a massive wake-up call," said Howell, who brought brief hope of a comeback as he netted for the Imps just after half-time.
"I hope that this can push us on. The league is so tight, it can go either way.
"You can have a good couple of weeks and push on, in the same way a bad couple of weeks can put you back down there.
"It was a mad start against Barnet and it was disappointing. I'm not too sure what it was, I think a lot of Lincoln fans will have watched that and will be scratching their heads.
"It's not a first-half performance we are used to. We seemed nervous, but we had no reason to be.
I think Barnet wanted it more than us in the first half and that was the disappointing thing.
"We thought we could turn up against a team that is bottom of the league and it would be an easy game, but there are no easy games in this division.
"The gaffer has been saying all week it wouldn't be easy, they are bottom, they are fighting to stay up.
"He said on numerous occasions that you can't just turn up."
The Imps failed to shine against the Bees as the north London side ran riot in the first half and went in at the break 3-0 ahead.
From the off they looked like a team who were determined and up for a fight and they laid waste to the City defence.
Mark Marshall, on the left-hand side, terrorised Lincoln's right-back Julian Kelly and with such determined and aggressive attacking football it was no surprise when they took a quick lead.
What was worrying for the large contingent of Imps fans who had made the journey was that the resilience shown by the side in recent weeks seemed to have disappeared.
From a goal down Lincoln failed to get back into the game and they were punished by two further strikes.
One may have come from the penalty spot, but all were due to some lacklustre defending.
"I'd say that for the whole game our clearances were not good enough," said Howell.
"We kept giving them more chances to kick the ball into our area.
"It was a clumsy tackle which allowed them the penalty to make it 2-0, but it was a whole group of us (at fault), rather than just Ali Fuseini making the challenge.
"We were too eager to make the tackle and we needed to keep them away from us rather than allowing the pressure onto us."
The Imps did respond in the second half, though. And the first person to find the net was Howell as he claimed his maiden goal for the club.
It gave the Imps fans hope their side could battle back into the match and the midfielder's strike was quickly followed up with one from Ashley Grimes.
The Imps were then awarded a penalty after Adam Watts was fouled in the area and it looked like the Imps had pulled off a remarkable fightback to make the game level.
But the Bees still had a determination in their eyes and goalkeeper Jake Cole judged the spot kick correctly to deny Grimes from 12 yards.
Barnet then went on to wrap up the game with Izale McLeod netting on 68 minutes.
It left all wondering how crucial Cole's save was.
"When you look back on the game it's going to seem crucial, it would have made it 3-3," said Howell.
"However, Ashley had tucked away a goal before that and I still felt we had the better of the play. Had we taken a chance after that we'd have equalised.
"I think it was crucial, but we still had enough of the second half to win the game.
"When we came out in the second half we looked a completely different side and we were on top. I think we had enough time to get another goal.
"Personally, it was nice to score my first goal for the club, but it was in a defeat which takes the gloss off.
"The skipper Delroy Facey said to me before the game 'I fancy you for a goal' and he turned out to be right. It was nice to get it, but not in those circumstances. If we had turned the game around it would have been much better.
"In the end, I'm disappointed we gave the performance we did to the fans who made the journey. They deserve better and I hope we can turn it round in the next couple of games.
"We've got another run of matches coming up. We have to start better than we did against Barnet and hope we can turn it round.
"You always want to look up rather than behind, but you can only do that after you get to 50 points. Once you're safe, then you can look to kick on and finish as high as you can."