Unfortunately, the Imps were then brought down to earth with a run of two defeats and three draws seeing a fall to mid-table. A change to the lineup was made with Billy Cobb dropping back to midfield in place of the released Barlow and young Jack Lewis given a chance to show his attacking flair.
My first away match of the season, just down the road at Notts County produced a goal-less draw and I was back at an almost deserted Meadow Lane the following Wednesday night for a rare chance to see City’s reserves in action, now competing in the North Midlands League, and was rewarded with two goals by Phil Hubbard in a 3-1 win.
Although the team had shown reasonably good league form so far one obvious defect had been a lack of height in the team with no player other than in defence being over 5ft 9ins tall. This was remedied by the signing of 24-year-old Norman Corner, a six foot-plus former teammate of Mick Brown in Hull City’s reserves. He replaced Lewis in the side for a win over Newport County which left Holmes and Ford neck and neck in the scoring charts with seven apiece. However, Lewis was brought back for the cup-tied Corner in the next round of the League Cup and starred with two goals as the Third Division’s second-placed side Torquay United were despatched 4-2 in front of over 13,000 at Sincil Bank. In the Fourth Round for the first time ever, the draw produced a mouth-watering tie with a Derby County side in the process of being revitalised by manager Brian Clough six months after his appointment by the Second Division club.
But first, league form continued to be mixed with only one win in four games and with new signing Corner suffering a foot injury fitness Rod Fletcher was given his debut. However, it was Jack Lewis after his exploits in the previous round who got the nod for the Wednesday night visit to Derby County at the beginning of November.
With Ron Gray denying the Imps would be adopting a negative approach and would be going out to win the match, the chances were boosted by a number of Brian Clough’s recent signings for the Rams – notably past and future England internationals Alan Hinton and Roy McFarland – being cup-tied. However, they could still boast Welsh international Alan Durban, Scottish striker John O’Hare, the vastly experienced Reg Matthews in goal, and the prolific former Bradford striker Kevin Hector.
An estimated 6,000 supporters travelled from Lincoln (or in my case from Nottingham) to the old Baseball Ground with its covered terrace opposite the old main stand and the two rather rickety-looking double-deck stands at each end. Stood on the terracing below one of these we thrilled to see the smallest man on the pitch Lew Thom head Gregson’s cross home to equalise Richie Barker’s first half goal and force a replay at Sincil Bank. For this, the club imposed an attendance limit of 25,000 on the ground although Maurice Burton (MB) writing in the Echo thought it unlikely the attendance record would be broken. Added interest and incentive came from the Fifth Round draw which paired the winners with Fourth Division side Darlington and deliriously seemed to open up a path to a semi-final appearance. But in the meantime, and with the originally scheduled replay being postponed because of fog two league games had to be fitted in, with home and away defeats to Wrexham and Southend respectively perhaps showing the distractions of the Cup.
The much-awaited replay with Derby finally took place amid torrential rain, and just to prove MB wrong, in front of a record Sincil Bank crowd of 23,196, which whatever happens in the future seems likely to stand for all time. With Corner replacing the lively Lewis in attack, at a goal down City were still in the match until Mick Brown was sent off for head-butting Kevin Hector in the 84th minute. Goals from Hector and O’Hare then made the game safe for the Rams.
Although this Cup run came to rather define the season form in the league continued to suffer with a fifth successive defeat coming at home to Luton Town to leave City in 16th place. Against the Hatters there was a first goal for Alan Pilgrim, and although Norman Corner also got off the mark in his sixth game his ability was being questioned by supporters. With the big centre forward injured again Jim Grummett was switched up front, not for the first time. Problems in attack had also not been helped by Clive Ford having gone off the boil with eight games without a goal. In the circumstances, it was then a good time to be playing lowly Bradford (Park Avenue) who were by then well into a decline that would eventually see them go out of the league. Bradford’s cause wasn’t helped by arriving late for the match and after rushing on to the field they found City also in a rush with Ford scoring after just 10 seconds and again before the first minute was up. His hat-trick was completed 10 minutes later with a Grummett goal in between. However, the ‘goal of the season’ came in the second half with a fierce cross-shot from Peden to leave City 5-1 winners.