Saturday’s clash with Stevenage will be only the fourth time the two teams have met in competitive action. We crossed paths on different trajectories back in 2010/11, we were in free fall as a classic Stevenage team went through League Two at the first attempt. Prior to that our only experience of them came in the FA Cup of 1998/99.
My only real knowledge of them at that point had come from the FA Cup of a season earlier. As John Beck’s side lumped the ball in the air to earn us promotion, a slick Stevenage beat Carshalton, Cambridge and Swindon to set up a mouth-watering Fourth Round tie with Premier League giants Newcastle, complete with Alan Shearer. They shocked the football world by battling back from a 3rd minute Shearer strike to earn a replay, Giuliano Grazioli grabbing the vital goal. I remember watching in awe as they ran out at St James Park for the replay, wishing our own side (eliminated by Emley) had progressed to the Third Round and beyond.
Two further Alan Shearer goals put the replay to bed, but not before Stevenage pulled a goal back and had everyone thinking they might pull off another shock. They bowed out valiantly, but stumbled to a 15th placed finish in the Conference.
The following year our own 1-0 First Round win over non-league Cheltenham was only our fourth victory of a tough season. We were ill-equipped for the third tier, surprisingly one of our only wins came against Manchester City at Sincil Bank. Shane Westley was dismissed and John Reames took over, but that was more with financials in mind than anything. We needed a cup run more than ever, and on the face of it Stevenage at home seemed like a tough tie.
On the day Eddie Wolstenholme took charge, later to gain fame for sending off three Sheff Utd players against West Brom, but he took the game with calm efficiency, and for the first time in a while, City did too. We were narrowly beaten by Reading the week before, the only real difference between the sides the clinical finishing of £150k striker Mass Sarr, compared to the £75k we’d paid for Tony Battersby. Chelsea loanee Neil Clement also scored, our next loan player was Gary Brabin. Money talked, even then.
City lined up Richardson, Bimson, Austin, Holmes, Finnigan, Smith, Fleming, Battersby, Miller, Thorpe and Alcide. It wasn’t a bad team, far from it. It just wasn’t good enough for the third tier.
City came out hungry, knocking the ball around on the floor in a bold style change from the previous few seasons. John Finnigan hadn’t been with the club for a year, but his cultured passing in the middle of the park made a lot of difference. Tony Battersby was the sort of player who either had a great game or looked completely anonymous, and on this afternoon he looked top drawer.
Despite the positive start it was Stevenage who looked like causing an upset. Carl Alford headed against the bar in front of the Stacey West to give the home fans something to consider. In truth, we hadn’t really seen Lincoln win much that season and had it gone in, nobody would be surprised.
Not long after on of the mainstays of John Beck’s team, Terry Fleming, launched a long diagonal ball into the box in a break from the slick passing, but Tony Battersby read it perfectly, rising high above his defender to give the Imps a deserved 1-0 lead. We carried it into half time, sparking positivity amongst the home faithful. We had something to defend, and even though Stevenage looked like they were capable of scoring, we could scrap when we needed to.
We didn’t need to. Four minutes after the restart Lee Thorpe powered into the box only to see his shot blocked, but Colin Alcide followed in with a rasping drive from 15-yards.
The goal killed Stevenage and City began to pour forward, Bimson found Colin Alcide on the overlap. Alcide strode towards the byline before pulling the ball back to a waiting John Finnigan, and he lashed home his first goal for City. 3-0, and City were looking rampant.
It was soon 4-0 and threatening to turn into a rout. It was Finns the provider this time, his corner was nodded home by Steve Holmes in a move all-too familiar from the Beck days. Both teams shuffled the pack, Alcide went off for City to be replaced by the defensive-minded Jon Whitney. The game began to peter out, and Stevenage even got one back. A long ball got flicked on to Carl Alford, and he finished with a smart volley as Terry Fleming closed in. It mattered not, City secured the 4-1 win moments later to wrap up our only competitive win (so far) against Stevenage.
We went on to lose 1-0 to Sunderland in the next round, and found ourselves relegated at the end of the season. As for Stevenage, they finished 6th, whereas our other vanquished non-league opponents, Cheltenham, won promotion to the Football League.
You can view highlights of the game below