Nigh on half a century ago, Notts County were the first visitors of the season to Sincil Bank. Manager Ron Gray hoped for a decent start to the season after finishing 13th in Division Four the previous year.
That finish was, by some measures, a success having finished in the bottom four for the previous three seasons. A 13th place was seen as progress, but fans coveted a return to the heady heights of Division Two, or at least the third.
City gave a debut to a right-back from Grimsby, Graham Taylor, as they looked to get off to a good start. The full starting eleven was: John Kennedy, Graham Taylor, George Peden, Jim Smith, Ray Harford, Phil Hubbard, Gordon Hughes, Peter Kearns, Norman Corner, Jack Lewis and Dave Smith.
There was 8177 in Sincil Bank to see the curtain raiser and they were given a real treat. In was an inauspicious start, City looked far better than the Magpies but didn’t seem to be able to find a breakthrough. Those in attendance would probably tell you it had 0-0 written all over it after the first fifteen minutes, but slowly City began to get a foothold in the game.
When the opener came, it was from the probing runs of Jack Lewis. Lewis joined the Imps in 1967 and made his debut as a teenager, but he never really broke into the first team. After 33 minutes he did break into the County penalty area though where he was felled by Notts County’s Cartwright. The referee blew for a penalty and City had a way into the game.
George Peden, deadly for twelve yards, netted the penalty and just four-minute later City were 2-0 up. Debutant Taylor picked up a ball 25-yards out after Peter Kearns effort had been charged down. He launched a drive over the head of everyone and into the top corner. Sincil Bank erupted at the two-goal salvo and before the cheers had died down, the game was killed off. This time a teasing cross from City was innocuous enough until David Needham deflected it past his own keeper. The hapless centre half looked on as his intervention gave City a 3-0 lead, ultimately a unassailable one.
Lincoln looked comfortable at half time, Ron Gray’s team talk would have simply been ‘more of the same please’. His defence had performed admirably, Phil Hubbard played left half and had justified his inclusion with a solid outing. Notts County’s only real threat came from inside left Jim Murphy, but they rarely got the ball to him to cause any trouble.
In the second half it was more of the same. Finally the centre forwards found themselves amongst the goals, this time it was Lewis getting on the score sheet. It took just three minutes of the second half, a wonderful team move end with him firing confidently past the beleaguered Mike Rose in goal.
Rose was picking the ball out of the net again in the 56th minute and it was Lewis securing his second of the game. His vicious volley gave the keeper no chance as City threatened to run riot. 5-0 with 34 minutes left on the clock.
Lewis, denied by the post in the first half, was looking for his hat trick and almost had it on the hour mark. He had the ball in the net with yet another stinging drive, but the linesman’s flag ruled out the goal.
The final half an hour saw Notts solidify without getting forward and the only surprise was that City didn’t add more to the total. Taylor and fellow debutant Dave Smith both drew praise from the Echo’s Maurice Burton. Smith and right-winger Gordon Hughes were apparently ‘afforded plenty of room by two slow-moving backs in Geoff Ball and Mick Cartwright’. Peter Kearns might not have got on the score sheet but he turned in a customarily busy display.
Four consecutive early season wins gave Imps fans hope of a promotion, but a poor run after Christmas resulted in an eighth place finish. It was by no means a disaster, the previous years struggle seemingly put behind them. Ron Gray had instilled a new steel in City, epitomised by the league cup run in which Newcastle were beaten and Derby County taken to a replay.
Let’s hope that City can get a similar result on Saturday!