It’s hard to know where to start with matches like this. I had the pleasure of being invited into Running Imp’s box and on 90 minutes I stood looking out across Sincil Bank in awe. Once upon a time my football club never surprised me, now they rarely fail to. With just one game stood between us and Wembley, we’re once again on the cusp of history.
It wasn’t like the other cup-ties though, there was no weakened team to use as an excuse. Peterborough wheeled out the full plethora of attacking talent they had. Jack Marriott was named but it seems perhaps injured in the warm up. His replacement was former Imp Danny Lloyd, a young man who has developed into quite a footballer. All in all, this wasn’t a match I expected us to win, but one I wanted us to compete in to act as yet another barometer. We’d lost at Wimbledon and won at Rochdale, it does seem as if we’re facing tests for next season at intervals this campaign. This was by the far the sternest.
Let’s not take anything away from Posh, they’re a really good side. There’s no doubt they’re the best side we’ve seen this season, they move the ball across the field at speed. In Danny Lloyd they have a player who is oozing Football League ability, full of intelligent runs and always looking to find an opening. I really liked the big lump at the back too, Ryan Tafazolli. He was mopping up almost anything in the air in the early exchanges and looked a threat from set pieces too.
In fairness we almost opened the scoring through Lee Frecklington, a player I thought looked far happier dealing with Peterborough than Barnet. After that, our visitors pushed forward and caused Farms to make a couple of saves. It was end to end stuff, a proper old school cup tie. Although they looked vibrant and dangerous, we didn’t retreat looking to stop their threat.
Within the space of two minutes, both keepers made great saves too. Firstly, Jonathan Bond clawed away a Luke Waterfall header, but not being outdone Farms made an even better stop before quarter of an hour had passed. It was a close range header from a whipped cross that he somehow pushed around the post. It was a save that was as good as a goal, but heartbreakingly it only delayed Posh by 60 seconds. The corner was half cleared and Neil Eardley sliced an attempted clearance into the back of the net.
City’s heads didn’t drop though, not one bit. In days gone by, that would have been your lot. A bright start would have been dampened down by the early goal and the higher level opposition would have closed the game down. Not on Danny and Nicky’s watch. We saw a clever free kick straight from the phantom training ground almost catch Posh out and we saw Matt Green covering every blade of grass, twice. He has an unbelievable engine and when you have a willing runner like him, you always have a chance.
Whilst Peterborough always looked dangerous, we weren’t just acquitting ourselves well, we were taking the game to the side chasing promotion to the Championship. Green stood out, but every single player had a part to play. From out wide we offered direct running and a potent attacking threat. In Lee Frecklington we had a calming presence in the middle of the park. Elliott Whitehouse worked hard, if I’m honest I think he struggled at times, but it wasn’t through a lack of desire. The visitors didn’t capitalise on their lead, more of a testament to our fortitude than anything they did wrong.
When we got back into the game it was thanks to a superb strike from loanee Danny Rowe. A Championship player produced a strike that wouldn’t have been out of place in the top flight, sending the 5,600 home fans into delirium. This competition has produced some of the finest goals I’ve seen at the Bank in years and his wonderful curling effort from the right was right up there with the best of them. Quite deservedly, City went in level at the break.
Neither set of fans could be disappointed though, both sides had set out to win the game and both had chances. Junior Morais impressed me in the centre for Posh, but as I’ve mentioned Danny Lloyd looked (to coin a phrase) different gravy. Within five minutes of the restart he perhaps bettered Rowe’s strike with a stunning 25-yard drive that caught Farman unawares. It seemed as though our brave resistance had been shattered by a former Imp.
Or not. I recall the mantra ‘refuse to lose’ last season and once again, it was clear City weren’t going down without a fight. It took five minutes to draw level, once again showing a resilience that we’ve become familiar with. Eardley, Green, Rowe and Harry Anderson contrived to land a ball at the feet of the Big ‘Un at the far post and, after what seemed like an age, he smashed the ball into the top of the net. 2-2, game on. Again.
From there we had 35 goal less minutes, but not a period without thrills and spills. Paul Farman put his body on the line with a couple of saves that ended with him colliding with the post. The side that had battled so bravely for an hour began to break up. Lee Frecklington came off for Sean Long, pushing Neal Eardley into midfield. Ollie Palmer did his customary swap with Rheady to leave us looking a tad understrength. It mattered not, a fine Neal Eardley drive almost put us 3-2 up, it beat the keeper but was cleared on the line one way or another. Even with a full back in midfield, we still looked capable of winning the game. Finally, Danny Rowe, a man of the match contender, came off for the lesser-spotted Cameron Stewart.
Just as quickly as we lost our shape, we found yet another gear. From 75 minutes in, there was only going to be one winner
For a short while I thought we lost our shape having been on top. Danny Lloyd took advantage of a weak foul, but fired a free kick over the bar. Just as quickly as we lost our shape, we found yet another gear. From 75 minutes in, there was only going to be one winner. Palmer and Green seemed to panic a Posh defender into running almost into his own goal, but the keeper cleared ta last-minute. Luke Waterfall had a clear header easily saved and Matt Green had the ball in the net only to be harshly adjudged to have fouled his marker. As if to remind us they’re quality though, Danny Lloyd’s effort almost beat Farman with six minutes left. It was a pulsating cup tie, end to end with enough sass and attitude to fill sixty episodes of any reality TV show. It was real, live thrills and spills, a game nobody wanted to end. The most merciful conclusion would have been extra time, but perhaps the threat of penalties helped to conjur up the fantastic finale.
With four minutes left, it seemed Elliott Whitehouse had missed the best chance to put the Imps in front. Sam Habergham’s whipped corner found him completely unmarked just outside the six yard area. All he needed was a firm contact and City took a 3-2 lead. Instead, it awkwardly skewed off his head at an angle leaving everyone in red and white cursing under their breath. That was it, that was our chance of the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final. Arses.
The board went up, a rather tight four minutes. If we’re meant to have thirty seconds per sub and thirty per goal, that was three minutes in itself. It seemed cruel to curtail such a wonderful contest any earlier than needed. However, if that is the only criticism of the referee, you can tell he had a good game. The ground braced itself for penalties, Harry Anderson braced himself for his big moment.
The goal that effectively settled the tie was created by two of the substitutes. Ollie Palmer held the ball up in the area before sliding it out to Cameron Stewart. He fired a cross over and there was Harry Anderson, former Posh player, to smash the ball past Jonathan Bond. Roy of the Rovers, Jossie’s Giants and Striker’s Nick Jarvis all rolled into one. It was comic book stuff, fiction that writes itself and a real-life, modern-day fairy tale. He wheeled away in absolute ecstasy having got the goal he so desperately wanted. Some Posh fans began to head to the exit, but with three minutes left anything could happen and sure enough, it did.
Peterborough pushed forward in search of the equaliser, but it left a huge gap at the back. Matt Green showed the sort of energy reserves we saw from Nathan Arnold last season against Ipswich to chase down Neal Eardley’s ball forward. Holding off his marker he strode into the area before coolly slotting home to make it 4-2 on the night. Game over, those Posh fans that departed early were joined by 990 more blue-shirted individuals with sad looks on their faces. Safe journey home chaps.
Last night was an example of a referee letting a robust contest flow freely without interruption. It was an example of the quality expected in the upper echelons of League One, but most of all it was a display of togetherness and belief from our heroes in red and white. The game itself was a joy to behold, shifting from one end to another so organically it could almost have been choreographed. The atmosphere was very good, both sets of fans berating each other time and again, the balance of noise bouncing from on set of jubilant supporters to the other. It was a cup tie that had almost everything except needless controversy, a spectacle for both the neutral as well as the two participating sides. Most of all though, it was a Lincoln City win.
Coming away from the ground the only real downside I could picture was the thought of Chelsea U21’s in the next round. At this late stage I’d hope all of the kids teams would be eliminated, but alas that isn’t the case. You know what though? There’s not a 21-year old alive who wouldn’t shit himself at having Bozzie charging in for a challenge or having to mark Matt Rhead. There isn’t a 21-year old in blue who has the experience and guile of Neal Eardley and I guarantee you there isn’t a single kid at Chelsea that could display the character our boys showed last night. Part of me wants to have the kids at Sincil Bank so we can strike a blow for all that is good about lower league football. After all, we’ve done bloody well so far, have we not?
Aside from the fact it was the Checkatrade Trophy, last night was perhaps on of the finest games of football I’ve seen at Sincil Bank in many, many years. In terms of the quality, the chances and the effort it bettered almost every match from last season. We were on it from the 1st minute to the 94th. Taking away the controversy, we beat a full-strength League One side without one of our key players (Alex Woodyard) and losing another on the hour mark. To that end, it was a remarkable achievement by a team I didn’t think I would ever find more pride for. I was wrong.
Where is the journey actually taking us? I’m scared to contemplate what the future holds for Lincoln City at present.