That’s a terrible headline isn’t it? It’s the sort of thing you’d read in The Sun, if the average Sun reader could actually read.
Aside from my attempts to recreate awful headlines, the facts surrounding tomorrows game speak for themselves. If we beat Gateshead and Tranmere fail to win against Guiseley, then we will be returning to the Football League after a six-year exile. It’s exciting, nerve-racking and barely believable all rolled into one. There’s part of me that struggles to even believe the last nine months or so have actually happened. Two years ago I could walk into the TP suite at quarter to three, grab a pint and a seat and just chill. Now if you’re not in Lincoln by 12.30 you can’t get a car parking space, and twenty-minute queues for a drink are the norm. A year ago anything above 13th would have been seen as success, now anything less than top would feel like a let-down.
There is a selfish part of me that will be heart-broken if we do win it tomorrow, due to my twisted and deformed lower back I am currently unable to drive for more than twenty minutes or so without suffering excruciating pain. I’m one of those fans who went to Arsenal and Burnley but won’t be travelling up the A1 in search of another lifelong memory. Believe me, nothing would give me greater pleasure than being there to watch us take another giant leap towards fully regaining our dignity and pride. Of course I want us to win the league tomorrow, but I’ll just be sad that I’m not there to see it in person, if it happens.
So can we actually do it? Well the first question is can Guiseley take a point from Tranmere? If the Trannies win we’d have to wait another week at least, irrespective of our result. We won’t be as reliant on a result there as we have been for the last two games, but Guiseley will. They’re one of five teams separated by just a point in the scramble to avoid relegation, and they have the toughest Monday fixture of their relegation rivals as well. They need points, and we already know what a tough place their ground is to visit. They’ve only lost seven times at home this season, which is the same Boreham Wood and Wrexham who are safe in mid table, and is only one more time than Dagenham and Redbridge. Yes, they can get a point, who knows they might even grab all three.
That shifts the emphasis onto us, although Danny would be quick to tell you he doesn’t care what our rivals do. To a degree we don’t have to care, it’s all in our hands. If we want to receive the trophy at home in front of 9,000+ fans though, we must wrap it up tomorrow. I doubt the National League would send the trophy to Sincil Bank if there was doubt whether we’d actually be lifting it or not.
I think we’ll see another mini shake up in the side. Bradley Wood will almost certainly come back in at right back and I expect Harry Anderson or Terry Hawkridge to start in place of Josh Ginnelly. The other change is likely to be Elliott Whitehouse coming in for Billy Knott. Those seem like the standard changes made to try to keep the players fresh but also ensure we have a near full strength side out. Up front a lot depends on Lee Angol’s fitness, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adam Marriott get a start alongside Matt Rhead. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Jack Muldoon got a second start over the Easter period though, he looked as sharp as he has all season on Saturday. I think it would be fitting for either of those players to start and grab a crucial goal, they’ve both shown exemplary character despite having tough seasons.
Mathematically the Heed can still make the play-offs, but in reality it isn’t going to happen. They’re nine points outside and just a point for Dover will end their assault on league football. That won’t stop them putting on a show though, and nobody will want to spoil the party more than former Imp Jordan Burrow. He hasn’t scored since March 11th which comes as some surprise after he netted five in ten games in the middle of the season. He might be the name we all know, but the real threat for Gateshead comes from former Wrexham man Wes York. He’s tricky and skilful and he has the ability to produce something from nothing. We’ll need to keep tight reigns on him if we’re to seal anything at all tomorrow.
Another interesting player in the Gateshead side is Gus Mafuta in the centre of the park. He has the ability to make a physical mark as he prowls box-to-box, but he is also guilty of going missing or getting involved in the tougher side of the game. He’s on nine bookings for the season, and his erratic performances were typified in our FA Trophy game where he had a blinding opening fifteen minutes, and then withered away to be no more than a passenger. He’s big and tough, but he’s inconsistent as well.
Gateshead are on a terrible run of form, and once again a lot depends on which side turn up for the game. I’ve said that for Dagenham, Chester and Torquay and it applies again tomorrow. They won six on the bounce through February, including hard-fought victories over Dagenham and Forest Green. Much of that run relied on centre forward Danny Johnson, but once his goals dried up they went back into free fall. We won’t need to worry about Johnson though, he broke a metatarsal last Saturday against Maidstone and won’t feature again this season.
They haven’t won in five matches now and have lost the last three on the spin, including a demoralising 3-0 drubbing on Sutton’s plastic pitch on Saturday. Neil Aspin was quoted as saying that his side had defended poorly, and that summed up their recent run of games. That reflects the performance in the FA Trophy earlier in the season as well as the league game at Sincil Bank.
I’m not expecting it to be a tight 1-0 tomorrow, I think Gateshead will give it a go, but their vulnerability across the back might mean they concede a couple of goals. Without Johnson it is hard to see where a significant threat is going to come from for them. They have the option of landing it on Burrow’s head, but with Luke Waterfall and Sean Raggett competing for everything it is unlikely to pay dividends. If we’re being really harsh we haven’t looked like properly opening a team up in recent weeks, but that could change in front of an estimated 3,000 travelling fans. In a way the pressure has eased a bit on our players, they still have a job to do but they know one slip, one missed shot or one mistake won’t cost us a whole season’s work.
Whatever happens I will sadly be watching it from the comfort of an armchair and under the influence of a fairly potent concoction of prescription pain killers. I was one of the 169 that made the trip in the FA Trophy, but tomorrow up to twenty times as many fans could be making their way to the Gateshead International Stadium to witness what could be a historic day for Lincoln City Football Club. Not being there will hurt, not quite as much as standing up does at the moment, but it will still hurt like hell. That said the very best painkiller I can think of would be a Lincoln win, no matter what the so-called Super White Army do at Guiseley.
It’s the stuff dreams are made of, it is what we’ve hoped and prayed for over the last six years and finally it is within our grasp. I find it barely believable writing these words, despite us being up there all season, a voice in my head always told me to keep my feet on the ground. This is Lincoln and we know that there is always a stumble, a caveat or a spanner in the works. Despite the fact I felt in my stomach we were destined for great things this season, my head never let me truly believe it would happen. I still struggled to sleep last night thinking ‘what if it all goes wrong’. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to getting out of this league, and I’m worrying as much as I did when we looked like dropping out of it.
I think this season my attitude towards Lincoln City could be summed up in the song ‘A Pessimist is Never Disappointed’ by The Audience, because on many occasions I have erred on the side of caution, predicting draws and defeats and almost always being pleasantly surprised. Tomorrow the only song I can think that is relevant is ‘A Time For Heroes’ by The Libertines. Every single member of the squad, all the playing staff, backroom staff, and of course the managers, are heroes and tomorrow is their time.
Photos by Graham Burrell