Gareth Ainsworth will always be an Imps hero, despite not reaching 100 games during his short spell. He had that all-important trait that Danny and Nicky have, likeability, only he brought it to the pitch not the dug out.
He had previously followed manager John Beck from Cambridge to Preston North End, something he repeated in November 1995. He was one of the first players Beck brought to the Bank, partly funded by the impending income from Darren Huckerby’s transfer.
He made his Imps debut in a 2-1 win at Mansfield and scored his first goals for the club a fortnight later in a 2-0 win at Torquay. In the 1996-97 season he was ever-present, during which the Imps missed out on the play-offs on the final day. However, the Coca Cola cup run ensured his legend, with Ainsworth scoring at Premier League Southampton in the third round, and again in the home replay which the Saints won 3-1.
His displays and regular goals were earning him a reputation and it was widely expected he would move on to bigger and better things. A firm offer from Wigan Athletic ahead of the 1997/98 season indicated his Sincil Bank days were numbered, despite being rejected. The first few games of the season Ainsworth was subject to some horrific tackling and often had two men marking him, surely panicking the chairman into moving quickly.
A few weeks in to the following season the inevitable happened, Port Vale broke all of our hearts by taking our adopted son. After signing off from Sincil Bank with a hat trick against Scarborough, he earned himself a £500,000 move to Vale Park. After just 53 appearances for Vale, Premier League Wimbledon paid £2m for his services.
During his time at Lincoln, Ainsworth was twice voted as the Player of the Year and in 2007 was voted fourth in a poll to find the 100 greatest Imps players of all time. On Tuesday night, he’ll be standing between us and our final real hope of the top three. How times change.