Tomorrow sees another of those incredibly important games at Sincil Bank, the ones we have become accustomed to. You know the drill by now, 7,000 home fans hovering somewhere in between excited and terrified, all as intent on looking at updates from the Tranmere game as we are on the outcome of ours. Tuesday was pivotal, Good Friday could be absolutely critical.
There’s a certain irony that all the teams involved in our biggest Good Friday ever were, at some point, involved in our darkest hours as Lincoln fans. It isn’t often we duel with Tranmere, but it was on a Friday that they shattered us by winning 1-0 at Exeter. Specifically it was Friday May 8th, and their win gave them 50 points in Division Four, meaning we had to beat Swansea the day after. We all know how that went.
Their opponents tomorrow are Aldershot, and they played their part in our most recent relegation. Their 3-0 win, coupled with Barnet’s win against Port Vale, consigned us to this division almost six years ago. They perhaps saw that as some sort of karma though, for it was us who beat them 3-0 in the final match of the now-defunct Aldershot FC in 1992. You may not realise it, but we were involved in each others darkest hours. Tomorrow an Aldershot victory would see them play a major role in perhaps one of our most triumphant seasons.
Our own opponents are Torquay United, and whenever we need a Moriarty to our Sherlock, a Lex Luther to our Superman or a Wile Coyote to our Road Runner, they’re there to play their part with honour. It was a Torquay goal at Crewe on May 9th 1987 that relegated Lincoln to the GM Vauxhall Conference the first time around. In 1998 it was Torquay’s failure to beat Orient that saw City snatch an automatic promotion spot ahead of the Gulls. In 2003 you may recall it was Torquay who almost spoiled our play-off party, going 1-0 up and missing a penalty before Simon Yeo snatched the point we needed to secure our semi-final with Scunthorpe. I’ve seen promotions and relegations as a City fan, and in almost all of them one of the three teams involved tomorrow has played a role. Here we all are once again, on the cusp of writing another chapter in Lincoln City history.
There is a further irony to the story if you consider that our FA Cup 5th round opponents, the team that we beat to rewrite history and get to the quarter finals were the same team that were involved in that four way relegation battle on the final two days of the 1987 season. Burnley beat Orient (them again) 2-1 on the final day to ensure they remained in the Football League ahead of us, and this season it was us beating them that wrote the headlines of giant-killing from New York to Melbourne.
Even more bizarre is that the two teams that look like coming down from League Two are Orient, who I’ve mentioned here already, and Newport County who we replaced in the Football League back in 1988! If you truly are one for omens our last game in this league may well be Southport away, and I’m sure you’ll remember where our opening game of the 2011/12 season took place. That’s right, Southport.
The list goes on. When we won promotion in 1988 we had to play nine games in April due to rearranged fixtures piling up, the same number of games we have to play this April as well. Amongst those fixtures were clashes with Maidstone and Macclesfield, two teams we still have to play this season as well.
All that aside though, in real life it means absolutely nothing. It’s easy to sot patterns, trends and coincidences when you’re looking for hope, but any Lincoln fan looking for hope needs only to look at the league table or listen to Danny Cowley. Without being over optimistic (it doesn’t suit me) we’re absolutely in the driving seat and a win tomorrow, no matter what Tranmere do, will be yet another major leap towards regaining our dignity. You might say we regained our dignity by getting to the FA Cup quarter finals and becoming the darlings of the nation for a short time, but for me it lays in getting back in amongst the 92 clubs that constitute the Football League.
So onto to tomorrow, and our opponents are the maligned Torquay United. They’ve already battled to get out of this league once, and slipped back down in just a big a mess as they ever were. This season has been really tough for them, despite their solid showing against City in our first televised match. Back then a Matt Rhead brace gave us a 2-1 win, his last goal coming in the dying embers of the game. Our fortunes have been contrasting since then, and going into the final two and a half weeks of the season, they’re still battling the spectre of relegation. They’re 22nd with just four games to play, and of their remaining games I’m sure it is their matches against Braintree and North Ferriby that they’re placing more hope in. They’ll be tough and resolute tomorrow, but they’re down on confidence, short on wins and are fighting for their lives.
They haven’t had a great run of results, just two wins in twelve. Those came against bottom side Southport and recent whipping boys Solihull Moors. They have shown they can dig deep for a result though, the 1-1 draw away at Aldershot on Saturday seriously dented Gary Waddock’s play-off hunt. It may help us as a wounded Aldershot desperately need points to stay in contention now, but it also shows that Torquay can raise their game. They’ve only lost two of the last seven showing although they may not have the killer instinct, they can grind out results. One of those seven games was against Tranmere where they earned a point in a 0-0 draw. Remember at Christmas they played FGR twice, winning 4-3 and drawing 5-5. They’ve got a performance in them, it just depends on which Torquay turn up. I seem to say that every week.
Ruairi Keating is scoring a few for Torquay at the moment. He’s related to Irish crooner Ronan, but he’s forging a reputation of his own down on the south coast. He bagged the opening goal against Aldershot on Saturday, as well as the last-minute winner at Southport. Dan Sparkes is vastly experienced at this level too having played for Braintree and the Cowley brothers last season, although he hasn’t featured for the Gulls in April. Midfielder Luke Young is another who has impressed in a dire season for Torquay, he’s a former Plymouth man who looks to pull the strings and get forward to grab the odd goal.
It’s all academic if we bring our starting eleven to the game fully on-method. Danny Cowley says we’re the fittest side in the league, and I don’t doubt that. We have just as much to play for as Torquay do and I expect another tough game in front of another packed out Sincil Back. When Nathan Arnold and Bradley Wood are combining on the right, when the centre halves are heading everything away and when Matt Rhead brings his game face we’re more than just a tough proposition though. we’re top for a reason, and tomorrow if we get to the levels that we have all season we should have too much for the boys from Plainmoor.
So there we go. We’re three points clear with a game in hand, and we welcome another side that has under performed this season to the Bank in another critical match. Aside from league position there is very little difference between Chester and Torquay. Both are ex-league clubs with whom we have significant history, both will be strong and tough to beat and both will be hoping this season can be put behind them and they can build for next season. Whatever happens between Tranmere and Aldershot is irrelevant, that is until one of them scores and the permutations change once again!
This should be a routine win for City (that’ll be 1-0 then), it should be another step closer to the holy grail of league football. However, nothing is certain in football, nothing is to be taken for granted and nothing is as straightforward as it seems. I do know that this Good Friday, the day when three teams with whom we share some of our darkest moments all come together, could well be one of the most memorable and important match days in recent memory. Until Easter Monday.