To try to stop me speculating endlessly on players we might sign, I’ve decided to look at some of the previous matches we’ve played against some of our upcoming League Two rivals.
On Boxing Day 2009 we faced Chesterfield in a local-ish derby. There are lots of teams who are close by us, but to describe Chesterfield as a derby is stretching it a bit I think. Anyway, they came to Sincil Bank with us well and truly on our arses.
Christmas of 2009 wasn’t a good time to be an Imp. Peter Jackson had been dismissed earlier in the season, and from there we’d lurched into a relegation battle. When Jacko left we’d been just outside the play-off race, but the arrival of the Spireites on Boxing Day saw us sat in 22nd position above Grimsby and Darlington who were both relegated at the end of the season. The Cods were only two points behind us although we had a game in hand, but that didn’t diminish the desperate need for points.
Chesterfield on the other hand were fifth in the table, and as usual they had aspirations of promotion. They are always one of those yo-yo teams, dropping to the basement division only to climb back out again a season or two later. They were 12 points off the top spot, but only four from automatic promotion.
Chris Sutton had arrived and immediately broken up the team that Jacko built. He had leaned on his contacts sufficiently to bring in some quality loan players, but did they have the stomach for a fight? If they did, what of the players Jacko had left? Cian Hughton for instance was a regular starter, was he really good enough for this relegation battle?
Aside from Hughton, very few of Jacko’s players started that cold December day. There was a run out for players such as Nathan Baker (loan), Adam Watts (loan), Joe Heath (loan), Brian Gilmour (short term) and Chris Herd (loan). This wasn’t a classic Lincoln City side, looking back it was barely a recognisable one. Delroy Facey up front was instantl recognisable of course, and in the middle of the park Scott Kerr marshalled alongside Stefan Oakes.
Chesterfield had a decent side, their best player being talisman striker Jack Lester. Lester had come to epitomise everything that we couldn’t achieve. He was a striker that guaranteed goals in the fourth tier, and every season people would say ‘we need to sign Lester’, shortly before we signed some other journeyman striker with no goals in him at all.
They also had two ex-Imps in their ranks, ‘Super’ Kevin Austin of the John Beck era, and Martin Gritton who’d had a decent spell at City under Schoey. Future Imp Dan Gray took his place on the bench as well, although him and Gritton played no part in proceedings.
I was there in attendance as Poacher, and I had a great time. Despite the spectre of relegation I just took each game as it came back then, I’d made my peace with the fact we were shit, and although I still got angry at defeat, I started every game with all the optimism of a child. This match was made easier by the presence of a film crew, one of whom was inside Mrs Poacher for the day. I’ll be telling that story in my upcoming mascot book, but I had a memorable day. You’ll just have to wait until November to find out why.
The usual ‘bumper’ crowd turned out despite the chilly weather, 4604 brave souls huddled close to keep warm. That might not seem a lot given the fact we’ve sold more season tickets alone in 2017, but in 2009 with the struggles we were experiencing, that was a decent turn out, although only 3500 were Imps. I’m not sure anybody expected City to win the game, but that is exactly what happened.
City started brightly, and the first effort came after ten minutes. Stefan Oakes used that carrot-peeling left foot of his to send a ball into the area, and it bounced out to Cian Hughton. He lashed his effort wide, and earned a groan from me. Hughton wasn’t one of my favourite players, I didn’t really rate him at all. He was small and lacked the strength for the League Two fight (in my opinion), and he’d need a ladder just to rub sun cream on Janos Kovacs shoulders. No aerial threat, no strength and therefore no good.
On 25 minutes Hughton used his strength and aerial ability to give us a 1-0 lead. A ball came over, it was flicked on by the man mountain Delroy Facey, and Hughton nodded in at the far post. 1-0 City, and 1-0 to Cian Hughton in proving me wrong. Like him or not, I celebrated the goal like a mentalist. City scoring at home? In 13 games we’d drawn a blank six times, so this was a rarity.
Four minutes later and we did something we’d only done once all season, score another at home. It was another maligned player who provided the goal, another I was vocally critical of (and still am). Stefan Oakes, perhaps talked up a little too much when he first joined, whipped in a tantalising cross that any centre forward worth his weight would gobble up. It was the weighty Facey who got there first, heading smartly past Mark Crossley in goal. 2-0 City with less than 30 minutes played. If only he had put a tenner on it. Maybe he did.
Normally in this situation home fans would be delighted, but there wasn’t an Imp in the ground that felt any comfort. If anything we imagined we’d scored too early. It wasn’t a case of being 2-0 up after half an hour, it was a case of having an hour where we didn’t conceded two goals. Pessimistic? Absolutely, and with just cause. In half of those previous home games we’d conceded two or more goals. We were frail at the back, and that had been exposed just two weeks earlier when Rochdale had beaten us 3-1.
Chesterfield maybe sensed we were vulnerable, perhaps we just started to ply with fear, but the remainder of the first half belonged to the blue shirts. Wade Small, Robert Page and Jack Lester all had efforts but we held firm. Lester was getting quite a barracking from the home fans as he usually did, and he clearly wanted a goal to celebrate in hostile territory. You wouldn’t bet against him getting it either, or at least Delroy Facey wouldn’t. Unless he knew something we didn’t.
City were unusually stoic and managed the game very well. What threat Chesterfield hoped to pose was snuffed out by the youthful Imps, and between them Watts and Baker had Jack Lester all tied up. With just ten minutes to go the score remained 2-0 to City, and I was beginning to look forward to a prolonged spell of Christmas cheer. Our next match was the FA Cup third round at Bolton, and that journey wouldn’t seem as long with three valuable points from this clash.
With just eight minutes on the clock, disaster struck. Chesterfield got a goal back, a cross caused panic in the Imps defence and substitute Scott Boden slotted past Rob Burch. The cool afternoon light had faded to crisp darkness, and you could now see your breath in front of you. 3500 red and white shirted fans anxiously watched as their breathing got sharper and faster. Surely we could hang on? We had managed 52 minutes and only just conceded, surely we could go another eight minutes?
Now Chesterfield sensed they could get a point and they began to pile forward. A quick break saw Drew Talbot try to get clear in the area, and after a tangle with Adam Watts he went to ground. Referee Steve Rushton immediately pointed to the spot, right in front of the Stacey West packed with Imps fans. It wasn’t so much disbelief as half expected.
There was only going to be one taker, Jack Lester. He took, and scored, most of Chesterfield’s penalties, and there was no safer boot than his to secure at least a point. With five minutes on the clock they might even march forward and steal this, if Lester scored. The again it was Jack Lester, of course he was going to score. The little pockets of breath behind the goal subsided as fans held theirs for a second.
He took a short run up and went for power, but the direction was all wrong and it sailed wide of Rob Burch, wide of the goal and into the waiting arms of a lucky fan in the Stacey West. All around the ground a cheer went up as if City had scored a goal, and the cheers turned quickly to jeers directed at Lester. I joined in, why the hell not? He would have got a round of ‘you’re shit Lester’, one of those little lies we tell to console ourselves that a good player is wearing the wrong colour shirt.
That miss snuffed out any hope of a mighty comeback. Adam Watts regained his composure and despite two half-chances for Derek Niven towards the end, City held on. Having only celebrated three home wins that season, it was one to savour. It was only our second home win in nine games as well, and to come on Boxing Day against a local rival was very special. I said us and Chesterfield wasn’t a real local derby, but I suspect if you’d collared me in the aftermath of that win I would have celebrated as if it was.
Chesterfield, rather satisfyingly, finished the season in eighth place just two points outside of the play-off race. After our initial struggles under Chris Sutton we experienced something of a resurgence, the signing of Davide Somma helping significantly. We finished in 20th place, six points clear of relegated Grimsby Town. From Valentine’s Day we only lost two in ten, and many believed perhaps Chris Sutton had what it took to make it as a manager.
History of course, will tell us different.