As an Imps fan I think you remember the great matches you missed as much as the ones you didn’t. Sadly, I missed this rip-roaring trip to Premier League Fulham thanks to a holiday in Italy, a move I regretted for some considerable time afterwards.
The League Cup of 2005/06 provided some early respite from a tough start for Lincoln. It was the awkward season after Gain, Butcher, Yeo and Taylor-Fletcher left, the year Keith had to rebuild all over again. It ended in play off despair once again, but it started with defeats and a lack of hope.
The cup provided some solace as Championship side Crewe were destroyed in the first round, 5-1 at Sincil Bank. The reward? A trip to Craven Cottage. I wasn’t able to go, nor could I make the soft 2-1 home reverse against Peterborough in the game immediately before this huge clash. Fulham were football royalty and, although they did play a weakened side, they should easily have brushed aside an out-of-sorts Lincoln.
City started the game brightly, with Maheta Molango looking most lively. I’m not entirely sure that sentence has ever been written before, but Francis Green’s ball almost gave the on loan Brighton striker our first goal. He then wasted another chance before ten minutes were up, after capitalised on a mistake in the Fulham defence he shot from a narrow angle when a pass would have been the better option. Still, 0-0 after ten minutes was a decent start and we were on the front foot.
Soon Fulham began to assert some dominance and it wasn’t long before they took the lead. Ahmad Elrich fired a cross towards the back post where Zesh Rehman nodded in. Rather undeservedly, Fulham were ahead and before long, they made it two, but not before Alan Marriott showed his class.
A Fulham corner landed at the feet of Collins John, but his rasping effort was turned superbly over the bar. However, Marriott could do nothing minutes later from another corner. This time with his head, John tested Marriott who once again saved, but Heider Helguson headed home the second. It was 2-0 to the Premier League side and Lincoln looked in danger of an all out collapse. A steadying of the ship saw out the first half, but with a two-goal deficit to claw back it seemed as though we were heading out of the competition with little more than a whimper.
However, Fulham didn’t come out all guns blazing, they seemed to think perhaps the job had been done. They protected their lead without taking undue risks, but limiting Lincoln to very little. They had their chance to make it 3-0 though and it became something of a turning point.
Substitute Tomasz Radzinski played a smart ball into the box where it found John, unmarked. He wrongly chose to shoot first time from barely six yards out, but Marriott pulled off a wonder save. That lifted the visitors and perhaps, for the first time in the game, gave them belief. there’s actually no ‘perhaps’ about it because within a minute, it was 2-1.
Gary Birch got his head down and ran at the Fulham defence, before playing a brilliant through ball to Francis Green. He was one of the Keith play-off era players to remain and very much the focal point of the attack and when a big effort was needed, he produced it. His shot from just inside the area evaded Ricardo Bastita in the Fulham goal and gave City hope. There were 20 minutes left to pull off the shock.
Fulham realised they were in danger and brought on a couple of relatively big guns at the time, American Brian McBride and Germany’s Moritz Volz. Immediately, the former almost gave Fulham their two goal lead back. The American international smashed a close-range effort towards goal but yet again, Alan Marriott was one hand to produce a wonder save. Mazza had nine great seasons at Sincil Bank, but many observers would point to this as one of his finest games.
If one of the subs had almost swung the game in the hosts favour, the other set up a frantic finale that hadn’t been thought possible at half time. Francis Green broke down the right at pace and delivered another great ball into the box. Batista and Volz got in a muddle with the latter diverting the ball away from the former and both watching as it trickled over the line. It doesn’t matter how they go in and City were now level with just eight minutes left. That meant extra time, unless either side could find an unlikely winner. Doubtless the Sky Sports correspondent, bored at half time, was suddenly the focus of much attention from Jeff Stelling’s studio.
With just three minute left it was City that could have snatched a famous win. Marvin Robinson, on for Lee Beevers in the 75th minute, broke free, one on one with the keeper. His rasping drive looked to be going in, but at the last second it struck the bar and bounced over for a goal kick. City were two inches away from beating top flight opposition on their own turf, something that it would now take eleven more years to do.
On the next page: Extra time joy turns to despair
Now Fulham realised they needed to up their game, as the referee blew for the start of extra time, they looked hungry. These players didn’t want to be humbled in their own back yard, especially not having been beaten by West Ham at home just four days before. They wanted the win and very quickly, they restored their two-goal lead.
They were quickly ahead after an early goalmouth scramble saw yet another a shot saved by the excellent Marriott. Paul Mayo cleared the ball but only as far as Liam Rosenior, the defender headed the ball back across the goal and into the net. Having fought back from 2-0 down, City had lost the lead. Heads dropped and Fulham smelled blood, Canadian international Radzinski, a £1.75m capture from Everton, went one-on-one with Marriott. His delicate chip evaded our hero and dropped neatly into the back of the net. 95 minutes on the clock, the Cottagers had another two-goal lead. Surely it was going to be a coast from here?
Six minutes later the fighting spirit of Keith Alexander’s side showed through yet again. During his Lincoln career of nearly 250 appearances, Scott Kerr scored eight goals. When City got a free kick around 30 yards out, even the die-hard rose-tinted brigade couldn’t have speculated we might score from it. Dean Keates had gone off on eighty minutes and we didn’t have a decent set piece specialist on the field, did we?
Scott Kerr, from out of nowhere, sent a shot in towards goal with Roberto Carlos levels of bend and swerve on it. Batista did get a hand on the ball but it wasn’t enough and arguably the best goal of the night belonged to a man who simply didn’t score goals. It was now 4-3 and maybe, just maybe we could grab another.
Half time of extra time came and went, Fulham defended stoutly and attacked rarely, not wanting to give us a chance and happy perhaps to defend their one-goal lead. We’d made all our changes so it was just a matter of finding something, anything to stun the West London side.
With five minutes to go, City levelled again. A corner found its way to big Gareth McAuley at the back stick. He hit a shot to the back post but Fulham hacked it clear for another corner. Relentless Imps pressure finally paid dividends as the next corner caused havoc amongst the Fulham defence and Marvin Robinson smashed his way through to nod in the fourth goal of the evening for City. Surely it was now going to penalties?
Sadly, it was not to be. The brave resistance was ended with little more than sixty seconds on the clock, Brian McBride finally killing off the brave Imps with a headed winner. Even after that, City could have had a chance, Derek Asamoah breaking at pace down the flank, but he was cruelly halted not by a defender, but by a Fulham fan throwing a ball onto the pitch. From the resulting drop ball the home side refused to give it back to Lincoln, instead playing out a defensive move for the win. It was a bitter end to a vibrant and thrilling game, but perhaps indicative of the fear they had at conceding yet again to Fourth Division minnows. Many remembering this game will forget that moment, but not me. In fact, Fulham only redeemed themselves in 2009/10 when they started lending us the likes of Matt Saunders. Anyway…
Did the win spark a run in our own division? Did the hero Alan Marriott go on to keep a plethora of clean sheets? Not in the immediate future, no. In fact, he was sent off along with Lee Beevers and Paul Morgan as we lost 2-1 at Torquay. City did come good, Marvin Robinson proving to be a source of goals, finishing with eleven, Gary Birch on ten. It wasn’t a classic Imps side and it proved to be Keith’s last season in charge, but we made it to the play offs, beating Grimsby 5-0 along the way.
I remember that game clearly, but for the heroics at Fulham I rely on second-hand reports and rave reviews, because I was drinking wine in the warm Tuscany sun, soaking up the culture of the Piazzo del Campo in Siena. I long to go back there one day, but one that particular night I wish I’d been in West London drinking bad tea watching brave footballers represent my club with dignity and pride.