City had so far played two more games away than at home but that was now evened up with two Saturday home games in a row, both of which brought the now customary big wins. Perhaps due to the disappointment of the previous two seasons’ failed promotion campaigns it seemed that people were taking some convincing to turn up at Sincil Bank as again the attendance was only in the five-thousands. Those that did turn up were able to obtain a copy of a new Official Yearbook in a large glossy format. This was produced in conjunction with local engineering firm Smith-Clayton Forge and thanks to them was given away free to any spectator who wanted one. About a quarter of the content was taken up by the Forge, consisting mostly of photographs and also including a comparison between the activities of engineering apprentices and those of Imps apprentice Peter Sellars. Otherwise, there were a variety of articles about the Imps, including contributions by the chairman, secretary and team manager, stats of the previous season, and details of the playing squad.
Once again it was an unchanged line-up for the Imps against visitors Swansea City, with Peter Graham on the subs’ bench, the usual practice being for him to make an appearance somewhere around the hour mark. With the Imps going through a largely injury-free period with a settled squad of twelve players Graham Taylor had revealed that Dick Krzywicki had been allowed some time off for a complete rest from football, “All I can say is that if people got whacked over the touchline as much as him, they wouldn’t be feeling too happy about it.” It was also partly to give a niggling groin strain the winger had been suffering from a chance to get better so that he would be recovered for later in the season.
The game saw another four-goal display from the Imps for the fourth time in the six home games so far. Percy Freeman gave City an early lead with his fifth goal of the season and after Dave Smith and John Ward had increased it to 3-0 at the interval the second half was almost a formality, and Ward’s tenth goal of the season put the icing on the cake well before the end.
With 21 goals from nine games the Imps were now the highest scoring team in the Football League but their 4-0 win was not enough to stay ahead of Tranmere who had moved into top spot on goal average after a thumping 7-1 win over Torquay. Previous leaders Reading had slipped to fourth after losing at Scunthorpe and were a point behind Northampton and the top two.
Before league action could be continued however, it was time for City’s first appearance in the Third Round of the League Cup for four years with a visit to First Division Leicester City. Graham Taylor was upbeat about the tie, saying that “We are going there to win. If we go for a draw then we shall only end up losing.”
Leicester had two players with Lincoln connections in their side, with Sleaford-born goalkeeper Mark Wallington having been on City’s books as a schoolboy, and 18-year-old centre half Steve Sims who had been born in Lincoln but who had elected to join the Foxes as an apprentice rather than his home town club: “As they are a First Division club, who can blame him?”, Taylor said. As with Stoke in the previous round and unlike what higher division clubs would do in the 21st century Leicester put out their strongest side and could boast three England international players – winger Keith Weller, striker Frank Worthington and current right back for the national side Steve Whitworth. Despite the array of talent in their side Leicester’s only win in the season so far had come in the previous round’s replay win over Second Division Portsmouth. They were currently placed 20th out of 22 in the First Division, but their last game had produced a goalless draw at Old Trafford against league leaders Manchester United.
Eighty coach loads of supporters were expected to make the trip from Lincoln, while I had the shorter bus ride from Nottingham. Altogether there were estimated to be almost 6,000 Imps supporters in a crowd of 17,063.
For the eighth game in a row City were unchanged and took the lead after just nine minutes when Dave Smith fired home a loose ball. After riding their luck for a spell City protected their lead fairly comfortably until half time, but a minute after the break Keith Weller hit a low shot into the corner of the net for the equaliser. Although City had their moments, they were then indebted to a fine display in goal from Peter Grotier plus Leicester twice hitting the woodwork. But with five minutes to go the home side were awarded a penalty when striker Chris Garland went down in the box as a high cross came in. Leicester captain Jon Sammels put the penalty away to leave Graham Taylor “sickened” and with a feeling the referee had been conned. In the circumstances it was ironic that Leicester manager Jimmy Bloomfield had devoted some space in his programme notes to complaining about penalty decisions going against visiting clubs in European countries “Every manager whose team enters a foreign stadium must accept it.”
Nevertheless, although now out of the League Cup City had improved on their First Round exit of the previous season. Graham Taylor had said at the end of May “We want more points, we want to score more goals, we want to reach the Fourth Round of the FA Cup and the Second Round of the League Cup.”
One box had been ticked, three more to go.
So, back to league action, the second of the two Saturday home games in a row brought the visit of mid-table Brentford. With Alan Harding out injured a change in the line-up was now necessary, and this saw Peter Graham brought into the starting line-up as all three strikers played in a 4-3-3 formation. At last this game showed a significant increase in crowd numbers as supporters were beginning to get the message that something special was happening. At 6,312 the attendance was up by almost a thousand from the previous Saturday and we were not disappointed, although having to settle for ‘only’ a 3-1 win over the London side.
Perhaps due to their efforts at Leicester the Imps found it difficult to get going, against the Bees, not helped by an injury to Freeman which saw him replaced after half an hour by Dick Krzywicki, making a welcome return to first team action. Taking up his usual place on the right wing this meant a return to the usual formation with Fleming moving to the centre of midfield and Dave Smith on the left. It wasn’t long then before City took control of the match with a goal from John Ward followed within five minutes by a Sam Ellis penalty after Brentford midfielder Paul Bence had made a two-handed save under the bar – not in those days an automatic sending-off. Five minutes into the second half Ward scored his 12th goal of the season to make him the division’s leading scorer, but City couldn’t manage any further goals and the one they conceded 15 minutes from the end meant they failed to go above Tranmere at the top of the table, the Merseyside club having beaten third-placed Northampton 2-0 the previous night. Reading took Northampton’s place with a win over Bradford City, while Newport were still in contention at this early stage, moving into fourth place.
Another bus journey for me came the following Saturday to the three-sided County Ground at Northampton. The Cobblers had twice led the table, but only their second league defeat of the season the previous week had seen them slip to fifth place, two points behind Lincoln. It was therefore something of a ‘four-point’ clash (two for a win in those days) as with Alan Harding still unfit Dick Krzywicki kept his place in the side to the exclusion of Peter Graham who was back on the bench again. Unfortunately, it was a below-par performance from the Imps with the only goal of the game coming in the first half from Northampton’s highly rated young striker Paul Stratford. It was ironic that City’s second league defeat of the season saw them move to the top of the table for the first time, their goal average now being better than both Tranmere who went down 4-2 at Bournemouth, and Northampton who moved back up to third. Reading had also lost 4-2, in their case at Barnsley, and they slipped out of the top four as did Newport whose defeat at Huddersfield put the Yorkshire side into fourth place
The lack of any points from the Northampton game was put right straight away the following Tuesday night at Cambridge. The U’s had been a thorn in City’s side the previous season, inflicting a 5-0 defeat early on and under new manager Ron Atkinson later holding City to one of several draws at Sincil Bank that damaged their promotion chances. After finishing in sixth place, this time around Cambridge were currently in mid-table.
Following the defeat at Northampton and with Alan Harding still missing Graham Taylor made a tactical switch, leaving out Dick Krzywicki and playing all three strikers as in the start of the match against Brentford. The difference was that Percy Freeman was employed in a deep-lying role behind the other two, in what would nowadays be given as a 4-3-1-2 formation. This suited the big man as although as good a target man as any around, he also had the ability to run at defenders – or through them – breaking forward for a shot at goal. Cambridge were unable to cope with this tactic, and although they took the lead after 26 minutes Peter Graham equalised a minute later and two goals from Freeman just before half time put City in control. The home side pulled a goal back straight after the break but John Ward pounced to make it 4-2 fourteen minutes from the end. Tranmere had won 1-0 at Southport the previous night to go top of the table but City’s win now put them back in first place on goal average with Northampton still in third, all the top three clubs being level on points. Reading had moved into fourth place with a draw at Newport and City were now three points ahead of Huddersfield in fifth place.
There was speculation that one or two clubs were interested in making a move for Graham Taylor, specifically Second Division Notts County and Gillingham in the Third but the board had approved a new three-year contract for him that it was said would put him among the highest-paid managers in the lower divisions. Taylor himself said: “I think it would appear rather cynical if I was to leave now and not see through what I have started.”
City followed up their biggest away win of the season so far with what was to be their smallest home win. This was seen by the largest league attendance so far, over a thousand up on the game against Brentford two weeks before. With Alan Harding still suffering from knee ligament trouble the side was unchanged against a Bournemouth side that like Huddersfield had been tipped to make a quick return to Division Three after relegation. However, they had made a poor start to the season before a steady improvement and three wins in a row had put them in seventh place. Faced with a five-man defence City found it difficult to get going and were lucky when 18-year-old future England international Kevin Reeves hit the post late in the first half. With an hour gone Dick Krzywicki replaced Peter Graham as City reverted to their usual formation and their pressure finally told when Dennis Booth was brought down and Sam Ellis slotted home his third penalty and fourth goal of the season. The result saw City slip to second place again on the dreaded goal average as Tranmere had thrashed next-to-bottom Workington 6-0 the night before. With Northampton winning 2-0 at Scunthorpe the top three were still all level on points, two ahead of Reading and still three ahead of Doncaster who were now fifth.