Having written about Malcolm Dunkley and the 3-0 over Cambridge 28 years ago, it got me thinking about another great Imps v Cambridge match I witnessed. It was still 1989, but this was Boxing Day of the following season.
Malcolm Dunkley had gone by then, but Lincoln still had two of the most exciting forwards I care to remember on the books, Paul Smith and Gordon Hobson. Hobson in particular was a favourite of mine. He had spent most of the early part of the 1989/90 season injured, and just a couple of weeks prior to the Boxing Day clash he’d presented my granddad with a signed football for his birthday. That was ahead of a 3-1 home reverse to Gillingham, and without Hobson, City looked a little toothless.
Paul Smith had also been injured for the early part of the year, and Lincoln were relying on Mark Sertori and new signing Matt Carmichael for goals. Carmichael had netted two in two at the start of the season, but after taking six wins from seven, City started to struggle for goals. We’d only hit more than two on one occasion in the first part of the season, an away win at Torquay. We’d failed to score seven times, and scored just once on another seven occasions.
We still sat 7th on Boxing day, just three points ahead of Cambridge in 13th. They came with a collection of players who would go on to achieve good things in football, including Dion Dulin, Lee Philpott and Alan Kimble. This was the fledgling side that John Beck built, and he was assistant manager to Chris Turner.
It wasn’t a classic Imps line up that day, but a few names stood out from the rest. The team sheet read: Andy Gorton, John Schofield, Dave Clarke, Mark Cook, Steve Thompson, Darren Davis, Alan Roberts, Graham Bressington, Gordon Hobson, Paul Smith, and Matt Carmichael. The one substitutes were Phil Brown and Mark Sertori.
City started the brightest of the two sides. Scoring goals may have been a problem, but creating chances was not and in just the second minute a Gordon Hobson cross was deflected past John Vaughan by a despairing Colin Bailie. One nil City.
Cambridge were level on the half hour mark. Phil Chapple stuck a hopeful shot towards goal, and after a wicked deflection it beat Andy Gorton in the Imps goal. Gorton had missed three games after being dropped in favour of veteran Mark Wallington, but despite two clean sheets in three games by Wallington, the eccentric keeper from Oldham got his place back.
Gorton made just 20 appearances for City, and this game was his 17th. Young defender Mark Cook made just seven, and this was his sixth. After 51 minutes he handballed in the area, and Alan Kimble netted for Cambridge to put them 2-1 up. City hadn’t scored two in a game since late October, and it looked like the writing was on the wall.
The Imps lost full back Dave Clarke to injury, and that meant a Phil Brown, who hadn’t been seen all season.
Moments after the Cambridge penalty the energetic Hobson made in 2-2. He was held down in the area by Kimble whilst challenging for the ball, and the ref duly evened things up with another spot kick. As a young child I was delighted to see my families favourite player net from the spot to level things up.
My joy was short lived. Matt Carmichael managed to rasp a fantastic drive past the keeper, but unfortunately it was Gorton that was beaten and not Vaughan. My young eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, especially not after such a stellar display from City. I hadn’t bore witness to many own goals in my time, and that was one right out of the top drawer! Aside from Hobson both Carmichael and Paul Smith had been brilliant, and whilst the game hadn’t been one for the purists, it was exciting for a spectator.
City hadn’t scored more than two at home since April the season before, but the goal starved spectators finally got what they craved just four minutes from time. It was Carmichael who made amends for his earlier own goal, poking in after a goalmouth scramble. Alan Roberts had gone close too, Roberts was a club record signing from Sheffield United at the time, and much was made of his potential threat.
As the minutes ticked away I remembered being almost satisfied that we’d grabbed a draw, but Lincoln City weren’t. Mark Cook hit the bar, as did the GMVC hero Phil Brown. Deep into injury time it was another player from the Vauxhall Conference days, Paul Smith, that made it a Merry Christmas in our household. Wave after wave of Imps attacks were thwarted, but in the very last minute a cross landed on the ginger bonce of the former Poet Vale man, and I had a new hero. 4-3 City, and suddenly I was proud to have ginger hair.
Unfortunately it was not the catalyst for a City surge up the table in the second half of the season. Our next three points Came on February 3rd against Wrexham, a debutant Tony Lormor with the goal. Alan Roberts had suffered a career ending injury on New Years Day, Mark Cook suffering the same fate in the same match. Colin Murphy looked to bolster his squad and signed not just Lormor but also David Puttnam. In April Paul Smith dropped back into the full back position, and at the end of the season Hobson left, as did Murphy. City had finished 10th, just three points outside the play-off race. The end of season lottery was more than within our grasp, but just one win in our last seven games saw us slide away from contention. The season ended with a shocking 5-1 home defeat by Exeter, a result that no doubt decided the fate of Colin Murphy.
As for Cambridge, they lost manager Chris Turner a few weeks after being beaten by Lincoln, and the assistant manager John Beck stepped up. A 2-1 win against the Imps in April saw them make a late push into the play-offs, which they went on to win. It wasn’t long before his brand of ‘football’ had won him many plaudits but few friends.