Less than Alex: Five Imps you might be surprised played fewer games for Lincoln

Alex Woodyard made his 100th appearance for City this weekend, a fine achievement for a superb player who never lets the side down.

He’s becoming one of the players that Imps’ fans of the future will use as a benchmark, especially now he’s made a century of outings. Quite often, a player will be referenced as having been ‘quality’ and comparing him to others in his position. The same happens with the likes of Percy Freeman, Peter Gain and Trevor Peake. In the future, the defensive midfield role will be measured against Alex Woodyard.

It might surprise you to know that some other players, highly thought of from Imps history, haven’t made as many appearances for City. Here is my top five players who you might be surprised made under 100 appearances for Lincoln.

Gareth Ainsworth (97)

It’s hard to believe, but super Gareth Ainsworth didn’t reach a century of games for City. In his short stay at the Bank he turned out 97 times, never from the bench, scoring 41 goals.

He secured a £500k move to Port Vale, then a £2m move to Wimbledon in a career that eventually led to the Premier League. he’s not doing a bad job now, managing Wycombe Wanderers towards an automatic promotion spot. He’s revered as a QPR legend, a Wycombe legend, probably even a Preston or Port Vale legend, such is his endearing persona and never-say-die attitude on the pitch.

 

Matt Carbon (84)

Matt Carbon emerged from the youth team in the early 90’s, schooled by Keith Alexander and playing alongside Ben Dixon and Darren Huckerby. He was a powerful and commanding defender and it was very evident he would go on to have a decent career. After scoring 10 league goals in 66 starts and surviving Keith Alexander, Sam Ellis and Steve Wicks, he was sold to Derby County for £385,000 by John Beck.

He came back from then-Championship side Walsall on loan under Keith Alexander in 2003, but even with his second spell combined, he still doesn’t reach the 100 appearance barrier.

 

Jeff Hughes (68)

Hughes was a real fans favourite when he left, but it didn’t come easy for the wiry wide player from the Emerald Isle. He joined from Larne under Keith Alexander, looking perhaps six stone wet through after a good dinner. After almost being blown away in a slight wind during his first season, he seemed to come back stronger and with more direction. Under John Schofield he thrived, reaching a peak as we did in matches against Rochdale (7-1) and Barnet (5-0). As the season went on and we faded, he didn’t.

Three of Lincoln’s four play-off goals against Bristol Rovers came from his boot, and his final Imps performance was the second leg tie where he scored twice. Our failure to get promoted meant Hughes would inevitably move to a bigger club, and it was Crystal Palace where he moved on a free transfer.

 

Neil Matthews (96)

Matthews was a decent centre forward who initially joined on-loan from Stockport County in 1992. He scored in his first three consecutive Imps outings and this prompted manager Steve Thompson to part with £20k for his services on a permanent basis. Ended his first season with eleven goals and looked to have an impressive future ahead of him with The Imps.

The 1993/94 season saw Keith Alexander take over as manager and despite playing number 9 for a majority of the season Matthews found goals harder to come by. He did hit a brace at home to Hereford which took his tally to four in two games at Sincil Bank against them. He also netted in the 4-3 reverse against Everton in 1993 that saw 9153 fans pack into Sincil Bank. He appeared sporadically under Sam Ellis the following season, scoring just twice. One was (of course) in the home tie with Hereford followed by a consolation for us a week later against Barnet. His contract wasn’t renewed after a series of minor injuries and he left ahead of the 1995/96 season.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher (95)

GTF came from Leyton Orient early in Keith Alexander’s second reign as manager. There was little doubt his arrival was funded by our 2003 play-off final appearance, but even so he’d experienced a stuttering career. It took him just three games to register his first goal as we went down 2-1at Gigg Lane, but it became apparent very quickly that this wasn’t just another ten-game wonder rocking up at the Bank. He was quick but had a footballing brain that often belied his status as a League Two player. Anyone who watched him play in the first season would have predicted he go on to play top flight football.

His performances culminated in a 2-0 March win on Sky TV which really put us into the automatic promotion frame. However, a further six league games without a goal, and the semi-final and final goal-less as well cost us our best chance of promotion under Keith Alexander, and rumours in Cardiff suggested he’d already agreed a pre-contract with Huddersfield. Either way his contract wasn’t renewed and sure enough he moved to West Yorkshire.