Looking Back At: 1973/74 (Part Two)

This article carries on from Part One, which can be found here, and is from the pen of our very own historian, Malcolm Johnson.

Series concludes over the weekend.

November

City had ended the previous month in seventh place and now the best win of the season so far moved them up to fifth, behind Gillingham on goal average and with a game in hand. A second appearance of the season for George Peden, in for the unfit Dennis Leigh was the only change to the lineup as John Ward answered his critics with his fifth goal in sixth games to add to strikes from Dave Smith and a first of the season for Tom Spencer as Newport County were beaten 3-0 at Sincil Bank. Unfortunately, after their best performance of the season City then produced their worst as they were pegged back again with a reverse of the 3-0 scoreline at the hands of another Welsh club, Dennis Leigh making a return to the side at Swansea. The game saw John Kennedy dislocate a finger which caused him to miss the following Tuesday night’s game at Bury, Eric Hulme deputising in goal for his first game in a year. But a second defeat in a row for the first time in the season saw City slip to eighth as once again George Peden had to come in at left back for a solitary game with other changes seeing Peter Graham replace Worsdale in attack. Dixie McNeil’s return to fitness saw him come off the subs’ bench and register City’s goal in a 2-1 defeat. McNeil it was who returned to the starting lineup in place of Ward and he was on the mark again along with a goal from Harding as City beat a strong Exeter side 2-1 at Sincil Bank to move above them to sixth place, just a point off the promotion places.

The game against Exeter saw something of a throw-back for those of us old enough to remember the pre-floodlight days at football grounds as the game kicked off at 2.15pm. This was due to a national energy crisis which had originated in a shortage of oil imports due to conflict in the Middle East. The situation had been made worse by industrial action in Britain by power station workers, coal miners and railwaymen. A state of emergency had been proclaimed by the Government from 13th November with a restriction on the use of electricity meaning floodlights could not be used.

Attention then turned to the FA Cup with a visit to a Doncaster side in the lower half of the table. The game attracted some interest with seven coach-loads of supporters from Sleaford alone said to be travelling, and this certainly seemed to be reflected in an attendance which although only around 3,500 was up by more than 50% on the Rovers’ previous game. However, there was disappointment for us in a poor City performance marred by a gale force wind blowing down the ground, and what Graham Taylor called a bad decision by the officials to award a late penalty from which Doncaster scored the only goal of the game. Team changes for the game had seen Colin Symm fit again to return to midfield in place of Spencer who had been showing some limitations in that position. John Ward, despite still being leading scorer with six goals was also omitted from the squad in favour of Peter Graham although the latter had yet to score in nine games since joining the club.

December

City’s last two games had kicked-off at 2.15pm due to the national restrictions on the use of electricity, but in the darkening winter days we had to be at Sincil Bank for a two o’clock start for the visit of Crewe. Whether this was a factor in some way, whether supporters were disheartened by the FA Cup defeat, or if it was due to the snowy conditions is not clear but the attendance was down by nearly 1700 from a fortnight earlier to the lowest figure since January. However, the 2,443 faithful who did turn up saw the Imps come back from 2-1 down at half time to win 4-2 with two goals from John Ward to mark his recall to the starting lineup in place of Alan Harding, the only other change seeing Spencer in defence in place of the absent Cooper. The win moved City into the promotion places for the first time, but a disappointing 1-0 defeat to a Northampton Town side who played for 20 minutes of the game with 10 men and a stand-in goalkeeper saw a slip back to fifth.

Games were continuing to kick-off at 2pm, but with City out of the Cup I paid a visit to Leicester the following Saturday to see a game which was able to start at 3 o’clock due to the hire of a generator by the First Division club to power their floodlights. The visitors to Filbert Street were Queens Park Rangers who included a 19-year-old midfield player called John Beck on their subs’ bench.

Back at Sincil Bank, the shock news was the placing on the transfer list of Dave Smith. This was not the first time Smith had been on the list in his five years with the club and the reason for it was unclear, but the player then suffered an injury in training which was to keep him on the sidelines for the next three months and nothing more was heard of it.

The Saturday before Christmas, perhaps due to improved weather, saw the attendance back over 3,000 again but although City twice took the lead through Dixie McNeil – his first goal coming after just 23 seconds – visitors Chester twice equalised and the solitary point saw a further fall in the league position to sixth place. The absent Dave Smith’s place was rather surprisingly taken by youngster Ian Musson for his second game of the season.

For Christmas, the country was granted a two-day lifting of the electricity restrictions and I travelled the short distance to Mansfield for a 3pm start on Boxing Day. The Stags’ match programme was a sign of things to come being just a four-page affair due to the effect of restricted working hours.

With Colin Symm now injured Tom Spencer moved back into midfield with a recall for Terry Cooper, and also Alan Harding who had recovered from injury to replace Musson. A 4-3 defeat saw another drop to seventh place as Dixie McNeil made it five goals in two games but managed the unwanted feat of scoring a hat-trick away from home while still finishing on the losing side. It was then back to a 2pm start for a visit to Stockport when a 2-2 draw was at least an improvement on the run of five away defeats. McNeil now made it six goals in three games and there was a long-awaited first goal in an Imps shirt for Peter Graham in what was his 15th game for the club.

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