I haven’t done a ‘looking back’ piece for a while, so to divert attention away from our nail biting season climax I’ll going to cast my mind back twelve seasons to the Keith Alexander era. One match that sticks in my mind from back then took place in November of 2004.
Fifth against third in the National League isn’t an automatic promotion clash, but in the good old days of League Two it represented a roper top of the table clash. Keith Alexander’s side were 18 games in to the league season, perched in fifth with 27 points. It hadn’t been an easy start though, following a 1-0 opening day win at Shrewsbury, City won just twice more in 13 matches. From the beginning of October five wins from eight matches saw us catapult up the league table. By the time Gary Johnson’s Yeovil visited the Bank we were just fur points behind them.
Yeovil were something of a bogey side for City, and the game represented a real test for the in-form Imps. They had been promoted the season before, and had registered two wins in two games. They were unbeaten in five coming into the match, and boasted former Grimsby striker Phil Jevons who had already scored 13 times for them. Keith was under no illusions that Yeovil would pose a real test, in his programme notes he said “It’s all well and good having the resources, crowds and money but you’ve still got to sign players who will do the job and Gary (Johnson) has done that very well and I’m confident that today’s game will be the hardest match we’ve had this season”.
On paper that was very true, and for all the praise and plaudits Keith’s sides received they never really reached their full potential. The terrible start to the season didn’t do the quality of the squad any justice, especially as the side boasted players such as Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Peter Gain and Richard Butcher. Yeovil had a similar array of talent though, alongside Jevons they had the likes of Lee Johnson, Terry Skiverton and a pre-rubbish Kevin Gall. City were in for a match and a half.
It was a bitterly cold afternoon, but 4,700 fans still came along to watch the resurgent City side, which lined up as follows: Alan Marriott, Jamie McCombe, Kevin Sandwith, Paul Morgan, Ben Futcher, Gareth McCauley, Peter Gain, Richard Butcher, Marcus Richardson, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Simon Yeo. The bench consisted of Matt Bloomer, Peter Folkes, Nathan Peat, Adrian Littlejohn and Ollie Ryan. Perhaps there is an indication of why the side couldn’t push on to the next level, strength in depth.
It was City who drew first blood after half an hour of tense and nervy football. A neat ball from Gary Taylor-Fletcher found the run of Marcus Richardson, and the leggy striker used his deceiving pace to outstrip the defence and slot home past Chris Weale in the Yeovil net. It was no less than City deserved, and it certainly sparked the game in to life.
The memorable moment for me came fifteen minutes later. With half time approaching Yeovil sent a ball forward which Gavin Williams chased. Mazza came out and collected the ball in front of the Stacey West, but Williams decided to show him some studs and caught him square in the chest after he gathered the ball. In real time from my seat it looked an absolute horror challenge, and referee Mark Cowburn agreed, showing the future Ipswich man a deserved straight red. He didn’t appear for Yeovil again, just a week or so later West Ham paid £250,000 for his services.
The card clearly shocked Yeovil, and within seconds City had doubled their advantage. Richard Butcher tenaciously won the ball in the attacking right position, and his pass picked out Taylor-Fletcher who provided a smart finish from just inside the area. Moments after the half time whistle went in the entertaining affair.
Keith Alexander warned his side at half time that the referee might look to even up the numbers, and so it came to pass. The game bordered on boiling over, and Ben Futcher’s tackle on the hour mark gave the ref the perfect chance to get out his red card again. It looked an innocuous challenge from my seat, but I was the other end of the ground with my rose tinted spectacles on, so who knows?
Ten versus ten, and in fairness to Yeovil they had looked dangerous whenever they broke forward. It seemed obvious to state the next goal would be crucial, but with Lincoln you just never knew. We’d been 2-0 down at half time in the previous home fixture to Northampton, and three second half goals had given us a 3-2 win. For a moment, however brief, it seemed like maybe the advantage might rest with the green and white Glovers.
With 10 minutes to go it was the vastly under rated Marcus Richardson who sealed the points for City. Simon Yeo broke down the inside left and saw his shot parried by Weale. He calmly picked the ball back up and delicately chipped the ball towards the towering figure of Richardson, who out jumped Terry Skiverton to give City an unassailable lead.
It was Skiverton who gave the Glovers their consolation goal, slotting home from close range just moments later. It was all in vain though as City held out to record a fine victory. In the grand scheme of things it actually meant very little. The Imps remained in fifth position, and despite the comprehensive victory we wouldn’t go above Yeovil all season. Keith did win manager of the month for his efforts, but true to form we lost our next game away at Macclesfield.
It is to date the only competitive victory City have over Yeovil, despite us sniffing around the automatic promotion slots all season, a 3-0 final day defeat at Huish Park confirmed Yeovil as champions and saw us slip to sixth. Scunthorpe finished second despite being comprehensively beaten at Sincil Bank in March, but arguably the finest Imps team in a generation failed to capitalise on a great position heading into the final month of the season.
Since then our fortunes have contrasted sharply. Yeovil enjoyed second tier football for a while, whilst we have dropped further and further into the mire. However, if we remain in the position we now occupy throughout the month of April we will at last get a chance to pit our wits against League Two Yeovil, and perhaps look to add to that solitary victory from twelve seasons ago.