I’ve been spending my spare time putting together a calendar, as you do, which will give me alerts to significant Imps events on any given day. It’s what I do for fun.
The hope is it will throw up article ideas or things on which to reminisce and even discuss. So far, it’s been used to put out a daily tweet but as of right now, there’s an article in it too. The reason being our upcoming opponents, Stevenage, were also our opponents on this day in 1998.
Going into the tie 20 years ago, the Imps were looking doomed. We’d won three of the previous 20 matches, one of which had been away at Conference leaders Cheltenham. Rightly so too, after all we were in what is now known as League One. Interestingly, one of the games we won also came against Manchester City, a 2-1 victory coming against them in October with Kevin Austin scoring the winner.
We’d beaten Conference leaders Cheltenham in the first round, a game we were almost sure to lose. They were in form, we’d been out of luck and we had to go to Whaddon Road. It was prime upset material, but a Lee Thorpe goal gave us a vital win. Into the draw we went and out came another non league side, Stevenage Borough.
Our visitors were in fine form. They’d lost just three times all season and were hunting promotion from the National League. They had a striker called Carl Alford up front who was particularly deadly, going into the game with ten goals to his name, as well as Robbie Reinelt who had enjoyed spells with Gillingham and Brighton. Whilst the TV cameras didn’t bother too much with this sort of tie back then, there was every chance of a serious upset at the hands of Paul Fairclough’s side.
It was a bitterly cold afternoon, but one on which much of our hopes of staying up were being pinned. There were no league points on offer, but we were broke and needed money, desperately. A big third round tie might allow us to sign a player or two, as John Reames laid out in his programme notes. He told of our attempts to sign a defender being thwarted by the request of a nominal fee, so progress was absolutely vital.
The Imps line up on that bitterly cold afternoon exactly 20 years ago was: Richardson, Bimson, Austin, Holmes, Finnigan, Smith, Fleming, Battersby, Miller, Thorpe and Alcide. It wasn’t a bad team, far from it. It just wasn’t good enough for the third tier.
City came out hungry, performances hadn’t been bad in the league but we had rarely got the rewards we deserved. This afternoon wasn’t going to be another missed chance though, not if the lads could help it.
We were knocking the ball around on the floor in a bold style change from the previous few seasons. John Finnigan hadn’t been with the club for a year, but his cultured passing in the middle of the park made a lot of difference. Tony Battersby was the sort of player who either had a great game or looked completely anonymous, and on this afternoon he looked top drawer.
Despite the positive start it was Stevenage who looked like causing an upset. Carl Alford headed against the bar in front of the Stacey West to give the home fans something to consider. In truth, we hadn’t really seen Lincoln win much that season and had it gone in, nobody would be surprised. I was right behind the goal in my usual spot and thought for all the world it was going in. It was a let off, one we immediately seized upon.
Not long after Terry Fleming launched a long diagonal ball into the box in a break from the slick passing, but Tony Battersby read it perfectly, rising high above his defender and sending a looping header past the keeper to give the Imps a deserved 1-0 lead. We carried it into half time, sparking positivity amongst the home faithful. We had something to defend, and even though Stevenage looked like they were capable of scoring, we could scrap when we needed to.
We didn’t need to. Four minutes after the restart Lee Thorpe powered into the box only to see his shot blocked, but Colin Alcide followed in with a rasping drive from 15-yards. The goal killed Stevenage and City began to pour forward, Bimson found Colin Alcide on the overlap. Alcide strode towards the byline before pulling the ball back to a waiting John Finnigan, and he lashed home his first goal for City. 3-0, and City were looking rampant.
It was soon 4-0 and threatening to turn into a rout. It was Finns the provider this time, his corner was nodded home by Steve Holmes in a slick set piece not dissimilar to those we have been used to recently.
Both teams shuffled the pack after that, Alcide went off for City to be replaced by the defensive-minded Jon Whitney. The game began to peter out, and Stevenage even got one back. A long ball got flicked on to Carl Alford, and he finished with a smart volley as Terry Fleming closed in. It mattered not, City secured the 4-1 win moments later to secure us a place in the next round, To celebrate, John Reames went out and got Bruce Grobbelaar, who lasted two matches.
We drew Sunderland at home in the next round and in fairness, gave a good account of ourselves, losing 1-0. Still, we found ourselves relegated at the end of the season. As for Stevenage, they finished 6th in the National League, whereas our other vanquished non-league opponents, Cheltenham, won promotion to the Football League.