At times, it’s hard to remember we had a game of football to play yesterday. We’ve secured a league title with a defeat and two draws, but the elation those results have brought means they’re not likely to feature high on the list of worries.
Besides, yesterday’s 0-0 draw with Tranmere was entertaining, exciting and hard-fought, without the added tension of a possible title win.
Before the game, the mood was great all around the ground. The fan zone was busy before 1pm, people wanting to get to the stadium and just soak up the atmosphere. You live for days like these, or days like we hoped it would turn out to be. Some fans were nervous, others excited and some seemingly nonplussed.
I tried to fall into the latter category. A horrible breakfast at Wetherspoons (40 minutes, then no bacon) added to this dreaded man-flu meant I wasn’t soaking up the beer or singing loud. Don’t let that fool you into thinking I didn’t care as much; that wasn’t the case at all.
As I said on another article my day started with a private message from Gordon Hobson’s son-in-law, a picture of Gordon holding a match ball he once bagged a hat trick with for Lincoln. It seemingly set the scene for a great day, added to when a copy of Benny Dix’s 1932 booklet ‘Cock o’the North’ was given to me. They might not seem like huge things for the average fan, but they were both huge moments in my day.
They added to the mystique of the date, April 22nd. The day we did Macclesfield, they day we bounced back. Surely fate wouldn’t see us do the same again, would it?
News of James Norwood’s injury seemed to be premature, although it did pass my podcast co-host Ben by. he passed me his phone proclaiming no Norwood, only to have him pointed out. I won’t repeat what he said. I even struggled to concentrate on selling copies of the fanzine, so please do come and find me for your copy against Colchester.
By the time the game kicked off, the atmosphere had reached fever pitch. even in the box with Chris and Josh Illsley, you could feel it. The air was bristling with excitement, the songs pricked by a nervous tension in some quarters and a party atmosphere in others. It did remind me of the Brighton game in 1998 a little, only we didn’t need a win and would get another chance.
We could have got off to a dream start. Within minutes, John Akinde had shown great resilience to feed in Michael O’Connor, who should have buried his one on one. They’re not easy, especially not when you’re a holding midfielder but Mickey did well to get in behind, only to fluff his lines.
The Tranmere fans were in great voice too, by far the best we’ve had at the Bank this season despite having a smaller allocation than Grimsby and Mansfield. They almost sucked a Matt Rhead volley from 30-yards into the net, but the ‘ooohs’ from the crowd gave the effort move gravity than perhaps it had.
Lincoln were playing well, but the Tranmere back line were strong too. Monthe in particular had caught the eye, I’d heard plenty about him and was interested to see if he was as effective as everyone says. He was, he’s such a big lad he made John Akinde look small and that’s no mean feat.
He didn’t keep Akinde quiet though and I thought he had one of his best games in an Imps shirt. Was the a coincidence that it came on a rare start with Rheady, giving Akinde license to run at players but with support around him? Maybe, maybe not.
It took the visitors 20 minutes or so to get going, but a James Norwood effort sparked them into life. Matt Gilks held on well, but it was already evident why Norwood has had such a tremendous season. I’ve been critical of him, partly through jealous and partly because I felt they were a one-man team. They’re not, not at all. Norwood is incredible in terms of the runs he makes and his strengths and although we wouldn’t be able to afford him, he would make a superb partner for John next season.
He was constantly alive and it gave the game an edge, adding to that prickly heat and slight doubt.
The half hour mark was a huge moment for two reasons. Matt Rhead had a goal ruled out after one of the few mistakes the referee made all afternoon. It should have been advantage to us and the big man would have put us 1-0 up, but instead play was hauled back. Anthony Backhouse has been criticised before but he turned in a very good display in the middle of the park.
Elsewhere, a goal just as important had gone in. Oldham took a 29th minute lead against Mansfield and from that point on, a draw was enough. If Oldham won the game, a defeat would see us crowned champions if MK Dons didn’t win their game. It wasn’t as complicated as a week ago, but it still left a few nervous fans in the stands.
The exciting first half came to a conclusion with more Imps pressure, Bruno getting an effort away after a smart free kick, before Neal Eardley’s follow-up was also saved. It had been a great first half, with Tranmere looking dangerous and organised, but the Imps absolutely the better side.
As things stood at half time, we were champions. Having given up smoking for new year I couldn’t settle my nerves with a half time cigar, so instead I paced the box, watching the Sky Sports news feed as though something was going to happen during the half time break. I hadn’t been nervous, not for one moment, but as our destiny moved closer it got more real.
Imagine, Lincoln City champions of League Two
Imagine, Lincoln City champions of League Two. We’d be sailing into unchartered waters as far as I was concerned, League One has only featured on our calendar once since I’ve been watching the lads. The last time we finished in a respectable position in the third-tier was 1985, the last time we competed at the top probably 1983.
The last time we lifted a Football League title was 1976, but there’s not an Imps fan alive who couldn’t tell you that. At half time, the ghosts of ’76 were strong in my mind. 40 years of being brought up on their heroics was about to be eclipsed. If only we could hold on or, failing that, if only Oldham could.
Tranmere made a double change at half time and looked all the better for it. They were creeping into an engrossing game and only a huge tackle by Michael Bostwick prevented a one on one for them. It typified Bozzy’s season for me, a crunching, well-timed dispossession that was as valuable as a goal line clearance or maybe even a goal.
James Norwood was getting his sights in though and he missed a big chance himself to give the visitors the lead. Had he been fully fit, I have little doubt his rasping effort would have put them 1-0 up.