It’s fair to say the 1993/94 season wasn’t one in which Lincoln City covered themselves with glory, but it did see the first full season in management for a hugely popular and latterly successful man, Keith Alexander.
Keith didn’t always play the direct style than won us few friends and play off spots in the noughties. In 1993/94 he played a free flowing passing game, one that didn’t bring significant success, but one that did win friends.
In February of 1994 Hereford were the visitors to Sincil Bank, and we’d been on a terrible run. We had only won once all year, a 1-0 Autoglass Trophy win against Chester. In the league we’d only won once since the beginning of December, that being a fine 2-0 victory in front of 6,000 against Scunthorpe. The football was pretty, but points were becoming an issue.
Althought we were 12 points clear of bottom side Northampton, a 1-0 reverse against fellow strugglers Wigan had seen Keith come in for some stick, and he reacted in a way only Keith would. He was always happy to address a complaining fan, and in his programme notes for the Hereford match he spoke of doing just that:
“Most of you will be aware that immediately after last Saturday’s inept performance against Wigan I was ‘accosted’ by supporters as I left the dugout who rightly wanted to voice their opinion (…) My own view is one that I have always held and that is that I am always available for comment when the time is right.”
Oddly flicking one page further on from those comments in the programme, a Carlisle supporter has written a letter about Keith to the club, which reads (in part) as follows:
“I felt it right to applaud your team’s style of play, thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and if I may say so, your controlled reaction to an absolutely disgraceful referee. To see a team such as Lincoln playing proper passing football is a source of much encouragement.”
Nice football or not, nothing took away the fact that Keith desperately needed a win to settle the nerves. Relegation to the Conference was a spectre hanging over the bottom clubs even back then, and despite Northampton’s appalling season, nerves were not settled at the Bank.
The Imps included two debutants that day against Hereford, Tony Daws signed a £50,000 deal to join from Grimsby Town, and Alan Johnson came in from fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic looking to shore up a leaky back line. Both went straight into the side, which read as follows:
Mike Pollitt, Paul Smith, Ian Baraclough, Dave Hill, Grant Brown, Alan Johnson, David Campbell, Neil Matthews, Tony Daws, John Schofield, David Johnson
Within two minutes City finally had something to cheer. It was Burnley loanee David Campbell who broke the deadlock early. Tony Daws had an effort saved by one-time Imps keeper Alan Judge, but Campbell was on hand to chip over the stranded keeper and into the empty net. With Hereford ensconced in the bottom three as well, the importance of the strike cannot be under estimated.
City were on fire, and throughout the first half Hereford barely got a touch. The slick passing game that Keith had worked so hard to implement really came off as Hill, Schofield and Campbell in the midfield were able to knock it around at will. David Johnson was always a danger when he wanted to be, and with players such as Matthews and Daws around him, players who had prolific spells in their career, there was never any question of Hereford getting back into the game.
Before half time Hereford caved again. With 45 minutes showing on the clock ‘Magic’ Johnson weaved a way down the flank and laid a wonderful ball back across goal, where Neil Matthews met it with his toe-end to give the Imps a 2-0 lead. 20-0 might have been a fairer reflection of the match, City had been dominant.
Of course with most Lincoln sides, nothing is ever made easy. A bustling young striker on loan from Norwich, named Ade Akinbiyi, stroked the ball past Mike Pollitt from 12 yards out just a minute after the restart. He was the one player in yellow that day that looked like he had anything about him at all, and history would prove that with big money moves and a spell at Burnley, amongst others.
City restored the two goal lead just nine minutes later. Again it was debutant Daws with an effort that Judge could only parry, and once again Neil Matthews was on hand to poke the ball into the net. Good strikers have to know where to be and when to be there, and although history won’t remember Matthews as an Imps legend, he certainly had the ability to do far more for City. Were it not for injuries and the disruption brought about by changes in manager, I think Matthews would have far more in the ‘goals scored’ column of Imps stat books.
Just 2277 were in Sincil Bank to witness the 3-1 win, a far cry from the 9,000+ that saw us lose valiantly to Everton in the Coca Cola Cup earlier in the season. Nice passing football is all well and good, but football is a results industry and unfortunately for Keith, those results weren’t coming enough.
The win did lift City away from the bottom, and after defeat at Preston, we beat Shrewsbury 2-1 the week after to move onto 37 points from 29 games. They didn’t know it at the time, but come May Northampton would finish bottom on just 38 points, meaning the two wins virtually assured City safety. As luck would have it Kidderminster were refused their earned Football League status as their ground wasn’t up to scratch, so the Cobblers were reprieved as well.
As for Keith, after guiding City to 18th of 22, he left the club in the summer. As we know he still had a major role to play for Lincoln City a decade later, but at the time it seemed as if a good man had simply failed to make the grade.
1993/94 wasn’t a great season for Lincoln legends, in November 1993 Graham Taylor also left his job as England manager after failing to qualify for the World Cup. Once again history has exonerated him too.
You may notice the gratuitous use of ‘Burnley’ in this look back in history. It’s no coincidence, after Saturday I find myself looking for any link to the Clarets I possibly can!