Looking Back At: 1973/74 (Part One)

September

The Rotherham result and sequence of scoring was repeated at Torquay the following Saturday, this time with Dave Smith being the scorer. Long-serving left back George Peden had replaced the injured Dennis Leigh in the side at Rotherham but the latter was fit to return at Plainmoor, although further forced changes saw John Worsdale replace McNeil in attack and Jimmy McGeough in for Heath who had suffered an injury which was to keep him out for several months.

Visitors Stockport County arrived for the next match at Sincil Bank having drawn both their league matches so far and they made it three in a row as City were once again unable to score more than a single goal. With Peden again deputising for Dennis Leigh and youngster Ian Musson making his debut in the absence of Worsdale, City were indebted to a second half header by Terry Cooper to rescue a point. Not altogether surprisingly after two defeats the attendance for this match was down by a third to just over 4,000. A strange letter then appeared in the press by someone who despite professing not to be very interested in football still felt qualified to put the blame for the reduced attendance on an increase to 50p for a stand seat.

Off the field, former City centre half and now local businessman Brian Heward was appointed as the new chairman of the Red Imps Association and appealed for more volunteers to help with fundraising.

Despite the disappointing draw with Stockport – and despite the cost of a seat – there was actually an increase of around 1700 for the following Wednesday night’s match – although no doubt boosted by it being a local derby against Peterborough. However, the scoreline remained the same at 1-1 with a goal from the returning McNeil. Dennis Leigh was also fit to return to the side, and a surprise team selection saw defender Tom Spencer come into midfield instead of McGeough and inspire City to an improved performance, although they again had to come back from a half time deficit.

A third successive 1-1 draw came at Workington, this time Alan Harding the player grabbing a late equaliser in another game of missed chances. The blame for this from some quarters was being directed at John Ward, and Graham Taylor appealed for more support for the 22-year-old, pointing out that he had still only played around 30 league games. However, Ward was left out of the starting lineup for the visit to Barnsley, being replaced up front by Spencer with McGeough returning in midfield. Ironically, it was Ward coming off the subs’ bench in place of Spencer whose first goal of the season was enough to bring back maximum points from Oakwell and move City up six places in the league table to seventh.

Rumours had been circulating that a new striker was on the point of being signed and this came to fruition with the payment of the second highest transfer fee in the club’s history with £12,500 going to Darlington for the 26-year-old Peter Graham. Although yet to get off the mark after five games for the Quakers he had top scored for them with 11 goals in 28 games as they finished bottom of the league and had been a team mate there of Alan Harding. Despite Ward’s goal at Barnsley he was the one to make way for the new signing as McGeough retained his place in midfield to the exclusion of Spencer.

With City well-placed in the league table despite just two wins in six games Graham Taylor pointed out that only one game had been lost and rather coined a phrase when he said that if the team continued in the same way they would be “there or thereabouts” among the promotion contenders at the end of the season.

However, the debut of Peter Graham saw a second defeat of the season and the first at home as a first half own goal from Terry Cooper was enough to give Bradford City the points in a dismal Imps performance. This result was rectified with a second successive away win and the scoring of a few goals at last. My first away trip of the season was rewarded with a 3-2 win at Chester including a first goal for Ian Branfoot and one apiece for Dave Smith and Colin Symm to make the midfielders joint top scorers so far with Dixie McNeil on two goals each.

 

October

 The win at Chester had moved City up a place to 8th in the league table but they could do no better than remain there as yet another 1-1 draw – the fourth in nine league games – saw Dave Smith’s second half equaliser against next-to-bottom side Barnsley at Sincil Bank move him to the top of the scoring charts. The following Saturday Smith was joined on three goals for the season by both Dixie McNeil and John Ward as the latter marked his return to the starting lineup in place of the injured Alan Harding with two goals as City overturned a 2-0 half time deficit against Brentford. Another forced reshuffle through injury had seen Terry Cooper have a rare game at full back in place of Ian Branfoot, his place alongside Sam Ellis being taken by Spencer.

 

Branfoot was back for the next match, with Spencer retaining his place and Terry Cooper dropped to the bench. John Ward also retained his place, with an injury to Peter Graham solving any selection problems up front. I then made the long journey to Reading for the first time to see the Imps earn a well-deserved point in a goal-less draw. The unbeaten second-placed side featured ex-Imp Percy Freeman in their lineup with the big man yet to get off the mark for the Biscuitmen in the current season.

 

Some supporters had been unhappy at the dropping of Cooper and felt that he and Spencer should be the centre back pairing with Sam Ellis left out instead. However, injuries to Colin Symm and Dixie McNeil meant that with Graham still unfit Spencer was required to partner John Ward in attack, a position he had filled with some success earlier in his career. With McGeough and Smith in midfield John Worsdale was brought in to play on the wing in a 4-4-2 formation. A narrow victory came against bottom side Darlington at Sincil Bank, Ward moving to the top of the scoring charts after Darlington had equalised Alan Harding’s opener against his old club.

City had moved up to sixth with the win against the Quakers, but the following midweek slipped back a place after an unchanged team were beaten 1-0 at Peterborough thanks to a twice-taken penalty in the second half, the result moving the eventual champions to the top of the table. City bounced back though with a 2-0 victory at struggling Hartlepool with goals from Ward and Branfoot as Peter Graham was the first of the injured players to return, making an appearance off the bench.

Part Two To Follow Tomorrow

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