The following comes from guest writer Jamie Ward
We all know that there are so many games from the 2017/17 season which we could all spend hours chewing the fat over. Ipswich Town, Macclesfield Town, Gateshead, Burnley, Arsenal, Oldham Athletic, Forest Green Rovers. The list is just about endless. However, there was one game, right at the beginning of the season which stands fresh in my memory. It was the game which made me think that something special could be right around the corner.
Truth be told, I went into last season with very little expectation. I didn’t expect us to be fighting relegation but nor did I think we would be challenging for promotion either. The 2015/16 season had seen Chris Moyses’ side flirt briefly with the playoff places before ultimately fading away in the second half of the season. The former Lincoln Moorlands manager announced in April 2016 that he would be stepping down from his role at the end of the campaign as Lincoln finished 13th in the National League, their highest league finish since their relegation to the fifth tier five years prior.
In came Danny and Nicky Cowley, fresh off the back of guiding Braintree Town, a semi-professional club based in Essex, to a third-place finish in the National League before falling just short of promotion to the Football League after an agonising extra-time defeat at the hands of Grimsby Town in the playoff semi-finals. Even more impressive, the duo had achieved this whilst juggling a full-time teaching job at a school in Rayleigh.
Despite their obvious pedigree, I’ll admit that I wasn’t blown away by the appointment. I thought that it was a risk bringing in two people to the club who had previously not held any full-time managing position within the game. I didn’t think it was a mistake by any stretch, I just thought it was a gamble. (I look an idiot now, don’t I??)
The first I saw of the Cowley’s new look Lincoln side was on a Tuesday night in August 2016 in a National League tie versus North Ferriby United. Three days earlier, the Imps had started the campaign with a comfortable 3-1 victory away at Woking, with goals from Adam Marriott and a brace from Matt Rhead, and I was looking forward to seeing if the team could build on this result against a side expected to be one of the weakest in the division.
As always, Alan Long read out the teams and announced that ever-present Paul Farman would begin in goal with Sam Habergham, Luke Waterfall, Sean Raggett and Lee Beevers starting in front of him. Bradley Wood, Nathan Arnold and Alex Woodyard started in the middle of the park whilst goal scoring duties would rest on the shoulders of Matt Rhead, Jonny Margetts and Jack Muldoon.
The game began, and fans were still entering the stadium when a cross from the left from Habergham found Matt Rhead at the back post, who towered above the North Ferriby defence to hand an early advantage to the Imps. Three minutes later, the lead was doubled as Nathan Arnold tried to knock a cross-field ball from Lee Beevers into the path of Rhead but found the ball ricochet back towards him. The summer signing from Grimsby Town then unleashed a fierce shot from the edge of the box into the top corner of Ferriby goalkeeper, Rory Watson’s, net. Five minutes gone, 2-0.
Just after the quarter-hour mark, the 3,500 fans inside Sincil Bank were in dreamland as the corner routine which would become a mainstay during the Imps’ successful season managed to confuse the Ferriby defence, leaving Luke Waterfall the easy task of nodding the ball past Watson to make it three.
North Ferriby’s already uphill challenge became a whole lot tougher in the 23rd minute as Ben Middleton received his marching orders, handing the Imps a chance from the spot to make it 4-0 before the half-hour mark. Rhead relished the opportunity and coolly dispatched the resulting penalty into the bottom left of the North Ferriby goal, sending goalkeeper Watson the wrong way, handing the Imps their fourth whilst helping himself to a second brace in as many games.
The only blemish of an otherwise perfect night came five minutes later as Ferriby pulled a goal back. Curtis Bateson received the ball on the left flank and managed to twist the Imps defence inside out before slotting the ball past the onrushing Paul Farman. However, the goal did little to spur the East Yorkshire side on and the two sides went in at half time with the score at 4-1 to the Imps.
At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that the visitor’s instructions for the second half would be to shut up shop and avoid a humiliating defeat. The reality was much different. It was clear that as the second period got underway that the Imps were not going to go lightly on their opponents, and the result was a fifth goal in the 51st minute. Rhead picked the ball up on the edge of the 18-yard box and played a short pass to Jonny Margetts, whose first-time left foot effort was only parried by Watson straight back into the path of the striker. Margetts was clearly alert, something that could not be said of the Ferriby defence, and drilled the ball into the roof of the net.
Things got even worse for The Villagers midway through the half when Bradley Wood made it six. An attempted looped through ball from Wood was ineptly dealt with by the Ferriby backline and the defender found himself back with the ball just inside the visitor’s half. Wood found himself with bags of time as the Ferriby defence retreated and he hit a low drive from 20 yards into the bottom corner of Watson’s net.
The game dwindled out from here, but it was the dominant nature of the performance that got me, amongst others, thinking that this team could be the real deal. Yes, it was against an exceptionally poor team and, yes, there was still 44 games to play but why shouldn’t we dream…we’d deserved it after what we had had to endure in recent years.
And, as they say, the rest is history…