I always vowed I wouldn’t do it, I always felt that I couldn’t bring myself to compare the Keith Alexander team of 2004/05 to any other side. Last season I did look at John Schofield’s side against Danny’s team but I always said Keith’s team was beyond compare.
A recent thread on a Facebook post had me thinking though, and perhaps it is time to bring the two sides together for comparison. After all, football is all about opinions and eventually we’re going to be asking ourselves which side was best.
For the record I firmly believe the 2004/05 side that Keith built was the best I’d seen whilst watching City. We had some flair, we had strength and we had goal scorers. Everything about that team oozed class, and had Ciaran Toner and Marcus Richardson not knocked seven shades of crap out of each other before being farmed out on loan, I believe we would have beaten Southend in the play-off final. However, they did and we didn’t. We were left wondering what might have been, and despite two further play-off appearances, many feel we haven’t been the same since. Until now perhaps?
Before we go on I’m not comparing the achievements of the managers, that would be crass. Keith Alexander took a Football League side without a pot to pee in, and turned us into solvent play-off hopefuls. Danny Cowley has progressed through the non-league ranks and achieved Football League status using very different tactics. Both men will always be referred to as Imps legends, and nobody is pitting them in competition. Their respective teams though…. that’s different. I’m taking a ‘typical’ line up from each, based on our starting eleven this season, were everyone fit, and the same from 2005. Ironically of course, that means me picking my current favoured starting line up as well. Also it means comparing a 5-2-3 formation with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Paul Farman v Alan Marriott
Here’s a match-up that I’ve discussed before, and as Farms progresses in his Lincoln career it is no doubt a comparison he’ll hear time and again. Right now it is hard to pick which of the two likeable keepers is the better for City. Both have had over 200 games to prove themselves in, both have enjoyed success and both have had varying quality defences in front of them. Farms has won the National League, whereas Mazza didn’t actually win anything at City. However, Mazza played in the Football League for many years and as in goal for all of our play-off adventures. Therefore I have no choice but to call it 1-0 to the class of 2005, with Mazza still getting the nod. Just.
Sean Long v Matthew Bloomer
I would have picked Neal Eardley as my current right back, but in fairness to Sean he’s started the season there so I’ll pit him against Bloomer. It truth this is a bit of a no-contest, as much as Bloomer was part of a great side, he was (in my opinion) the weak link. I recall the MArch defeat at home to Wycombe where we lost 3-2. Bloomer was roasted by Nathan Tyson three times before the break, and he barely featured for City after that. He’s still playing now for Cleethorpes Town, but twelve years ago that already looked like his level. Sean Long on the other hand has an awful lot still to do in his career, but given a choice of Matt Bloomer in his hey day or Sean Long with a lot to prove, Sean still win over.
Sam Habergham v Kevin Sandwith
Given the choice of Eardley or Sam Habergham, I’m going with Sam despite him only playing twice this season, and he’s up against Kevin Sandwith, a player we captured from Halifax Town. They were similar players in that they are both naturally left-footed, both had a wicked delivery from that flank and were both comfortable pushing forward as well as defending. Sandwith sullied his memory somewhat by leaving after a short spell for Macclesfield, but that didn’t diminish his value to the class of 2005. However, Sam Habergham is another like Sean Long, a player with much still to do in his career. He’s an exciting talent, and to think we’ve started this season well without him in the squad is quite encouraging. He will reclaim the left-back shirt as soon as he is fully fit, and I would prefer him to Kevin Sandwith, all day long.
Sean Raggett v Ben Futcher
I have to be creative with the match-ups here, as one of our midfielders is going up against a centre back. First up though is a simple like for like between the best centre half I’ve seen at the Bank in my lifetime, and Ben Futcher. It’s no contest, for everything Futcher brought to the side, he didn’t bring the finesse nor the all-round influence that Sean Raggett does. Futcher had a massive impact in the first season, but by 2005 he was being outshone by McAuley, Morgan and possibly even Jamie McCombe. He still started most games, usually at the expense one of McCombe or McAuley. I wouldn’t have Ben Futcher ahead of any of either of our current defenders, but I suspect that goes without saying. Sean Raggett wins this match-up.
Luke Waterfall v Paul Morgan
Luke is a great captain for the current side, he’s a threat going forwards and he is undoubtedly one of the best we’ve had in a long while. Unfortunately I’ve pitted him against Paul Morgan, and the only centre half I’ve ever seen better than Paul Morgan at Sincil Bank is Sean Raggett. The mouth-watering prospect of Morgan and Raggett together at centre half would be a dream come true for Imps fans. Paul Morgan, in his prime, was superb. He could read the game like no other defender, he never wanted for pace and his tackle was as ferocious as a pit bull with bipolar disorder. We used to sing ‘Ireland’s Bobby Moore’ at him, and rightly so, he was that good. It was a sad day when he moved north with his partner, and until last season we’ve never filled his place adequately. Imagine, Raggett’s aerial presence and Morgan’s organisational skills and acute positioning. Frightening.
Centre back / Central midfield
Alex Woodyard v Gareth McAuley
I can hear you all shouting at the screen right now! Why didn’t I pair McAuley with Waterfall so he’d get in, right? I argued the other day Morgan was better than McAuley and I stand by that. Had Paul Morgan be six-foot five like McAuley, he would have played for Northern Ireland and a top-flight team too and I was not leaving Morgan out of this hybrid squad. I’m shying away from pitting Raggett and McAuley at this point, both are similar players, so I’ll controversially lose McAuley from my team in favour of Alex Woodyard, Why? Because Alex Woodyard, pound for pound, is a better footballer. He’s better on the ball the McAuley, his work rate is much higher than McAuley’s needed to be in his position, and I still believe Alex Woodyard may feature in the top flight one day. Gareth McAuley was a great defender for City, he progressed superbly in the 2005/06 season but in 2004/05 he was still finding his feet. He grew into the player he became, but I’m judging this on two specific periods of time, not how they did overall in their career. It’s Woodyard for me, and if you don’t like it complain in the comments!
Michael Bostwick v Richard Butcher
My heart is going to rule my head on this one I’m afraid, and again anyone who doesn’t like it will have to shout at their computer screen. Over his Imps career Richard Butcher (pictured top) was excellent, he had an eye for goal, a sharp tackle and he could lift a game with a moment of skill too. Bozzie is still settling into this side, and over time perhaps he’ll hit the heights that Butch did for City, but in terms of their contributions to the squads they’re in, there is no contest. Bozzie might have played at a better level than Butch, he might have cost more than Butch, but I will still plump for the humble former-Kettering midfielder over and above virtually anyone. Richard Butcher is a Lincoln City legend, and I’m not having my judgement clouded because of the tragedy that unfolded later in his career either. Maybe one day I will concede there’s been a better central midfielder that Butcher (maybe that’s why I pitted Alex against McAuley and not Butch), but right now I’m not prepared to.
So my ‘merged’ team (so far) is: Alan Marriott, Sean Long, Sam Habergham, Sean Raggett, Paul Morgan, Alex Woodyard, and Richard Butcher. This leaves the score currently 4-3 to the current side over the best Lincoln side of my life time.
Tomorrow: It’s time to look at the strikers and wingers, and there’s more tough decisions to make. Two of the most technically gifted players of a generation, Billy Knott and Peter Gain, will sweat it on their places in the side. Is Matt Green a better centre forward than Gary Taylor-Fletcher? Will it be Simon Yeo or Matt Rhead that get the nod? Of the two squads, which had the better five-man bench?
Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.