In recent weeks I’ve seen plenty of debate about whether or not Lincoln City are a true ‘non-league’ club. If you ever needed evidence of that, then an away trip to North Ferriby should do the trick nicely.
I’m not going to be derogatory about North Ferriby, certainly not deliberately, but there is no doubt at all that their ground is 100% non-league. It a village (a posh village as it turns out) who have a football team that had some investment, done alright and then had the plug pulled. After we handed them a 6-1 thumping at Sincil Bank you’d be forgiven for thinking they would be dead certs for relegation, but since then they’ve toughened up. Respect to Steve Housham for doing a decent job with the tools at his disposal.
I arrived in the village at 4.30pm, unsure as to where to park. I appreciate that seems a little premature for a 7.45pm kick off at a 2,700 capacity ground, and with hindsight you’d be right. I wasn’t to know though, and I tend to be a cautious man at the best of times.
Just a word on that 2,700 capacity (it says it on Wikipedia, so it must be true). The attendance was just shy of 2,400 people, and I’m not sure another three would have squeezed in, let alone 300. I can’t believe that Wikipedia is inaccurate though (at this point I’d like to use a smile face to indicate sarcasm, but that’s frowned upon in literary circles).
Anyway after finding a parking spot I decamped to the local pub for a pre-match shandy and a catch up with some Imps fans. It was a good crack in the pub, Lee Howe and his crew were even more cautious than me, I arrived to the sight of an Imps flag already on the wall. I even posed for a picture next to the words ‘Shakespeare Imps’, although I’ve only been in the Shakey twice this season!
It’s amazing how quickly time passes when you’re chatting about Lincoln, and very soon it was time for me to take an important phone call about something very exiting in the world of Lincoln City. Very soon there will be a brand new podcast, ImpCast, dedicated entirely to Lincoln City. I’m delighted to have been asked to be involved, and perhaps even more so that one of my co-host / presenters is that cult figure (yes, that’s spelled correctly) Peter Hayward. Anyway the two of us and Stevie (the brains behind the operation) thrashed out a few details as I made the short walk down to the ground. Peter is a unique personality, I suspect he’ll work very well on a podcast, and I have a face for radio so we should make a good team.
I knew Grange Lane would be a small ground, although I wasn’t entirely sure how small. It’s fair to say it is compact, and it’s imperative to mention it was friendly as well. The turnstiles didn’t leave much room for twisting and turning though, I thought I might need greasing up just to get through. It was a real contrast to Saturday, going from an automated ticketing system to a guy in a cage with a pair of scissors to cut your ticket in half. I suppose perforations must cost more, but given the size and finish quality of the ticket I didn’t think cost was an issue.
I really enjoyed the pre-match period, I walked three quarters of the way around the ground, and back again, trying to find the perfect spot to watch the game. Every time I returned to what I thought would be a good vantage point, someone had taken it. I eventually opted for a space behind the goal at the end opposite to the turnstiles. As it transpired that was the direction the wind was blowing in, and for a good forty five minutes I froze my little ginger baubles off.
Team selection was interesting, I imagined Billy Knott might start, but the line up looked more like a 4-2-3-1 than our usual 4-4-2 format. It meant that Dayle Southwell would have a lot of work to do, but that behind him a nice bank of three would be ready to mop up and provide his ammunition. The dynamic between Billy Knott and Alex Woodyard would be interesting as well.
The first half was incredibly scrappy, North Ferriby have clearly toughened up significantly as the season has progressed, and for ten minutes or so they perhaps looked the better side. They’re direct, as I suppose you need to be when you’re fighting at the bottom, but they did have some pace up top when it was required. Inevitably though, City began to creep into the game, and Luke Waterfall’s header on the twenty minute mark was just about a fair reflection of the game.
The most interesting aspect from my point of view was trying to find a way around the narrow ground to a convenience, something that not only took ten minutes, but also resulted in me losing my front row ‘seat’ behind the goal. From thirty minutes onwards I only saw certain sections of the pitch, and much of the action passed me by.
Home supporters were conspicuous by their absence, I would wager that of the 2389 crowd, 2100 must have been City fans. The odd green scarf or shirt was spotted amongst the sea of Imps fans, but they were few and far between. It must be very disconcerting to go to the ground you can usually run laps of on a Saturday afternoon, only to find it rammed full of unfamiliar faces singing unfamiliar songs. Fair play to the odd one or two I did see, they were friendly enough. I suppose surrounded by 2,000 Imps they didn’t really have a choice.
Second half I though we were ‘at it’ much more, although I always felt North Ferriby had a chance in them. Curtis Bateson’s free kick had to be kept out smartly by Paul Farman, but that was perhaps the only major opportunity they had to pull the scores level.
The game changed when DC decided to roll out the big guns, Rheady and Alan Power. I think Billy Knott and Dayle Southwell are still some way off being match fit, although Billy hadn’t had a bad game. Dayle was very quiet for me, and as he came off I saw something I did not like one bit. It appeared from my vantage point that one of our players (possibly Ginnelly or Arnold) went to shake his hand, and he pulled his arm away petulantly. It may have been my angle, but if that is the case it really doesn’t fit with the ethic that DC and NC instil in the players. I hope I’m wrong. Even putting that aside I think Dayle has been very quiet since opening his account at Welling, and Adam Marriott must be wondering what he needs to do to even get on the bench.
The last twenty minutes could have seen us score three or four. Rheady immediately changed our attacking pattern for the better, and I thought we saw more of Josh Ginnelly once he had the big man there for the ball to stick to. Ginnelly really could have had a couple himself, and the more I see of him the more I like him. If we are looking at players with one eye on next season, he is one I’d really like to see in red and white permanently.
Another player that had a big impact was Jack Muldoon. I suspect part of the game plan was to rest a couple of players with a view to upping the tempo in the last thirty minutes or so as North Ferriby tired, and if that was the case it worked to a degree. It didn’t yield a goal, but as an attacking force we looked as dangerous in the final segment as we had done the previous hour of football. The part-timers clearly began to lose their legs as the clock ran down, and if we’d played another ten minutes I suspect we could have added a second. That’s not to take anything away from North Ferriby though, despite the difference in status they were resolute, and the boy Watson in goal pulled off a couple of super saves, which wasn’t easy given the stick he was getting for looking like a twelve year-old boy.
It was still a relief to hear the full time whistle, a signal that we had bagged another crucial three points. If there was a blight on the evening it was (yet another) late winner for Dagenham at home to Bromley, a result that keeps them hot on our heels. That said, if we keep winning our games then it really doesn’t matter what those teams do, the only one of their results we need to worry about is the one they get at Sincil Bank.
As we were leaving the ground I heard my first dissenting voice from a home fan. A lady of around seventy and her husband were surrounded by Imps fans singing the Nathan Arnold song, and I heard her lean in to him and whisper ‘we don’t often get proper fans here. Good thing too if this lot are anything to go by’. Without being too harsh love, I think you’ll be welcoming Curzon Ashton and Brackley again next season.
As for City, 20,000 at Turf Moor one day, then 2,400 on a recreation ground the next. Same outcome, a dogged and battling display brings home a 1-0 win. Championships aren’t won and lost on wet and windy nights on the bank of the Humber, but a Championship winning side does consistently go to place such as this and grind out results. North Ferriby, Solihull Moors, Maidstone and Sutton. These are the places that, collectively, dictate whether you go on and win the title or not. So far we’re passing every test that is thrown at us.
I know Danny will tell you Boreham Wood is the most important game because it is next, and I’m not going to argue with him because he’s basically like Jesus only better at building a team he can trust. For me though I’m focused on York at home in seven days time. That is the most important game of the next week, because that is another chance to bag three points. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal: the Football League.