With Northampton losing at Brentford, City’s win over Cambridge put them a point ahead of the Cobblers again and still with three games in hand. Tranmere had drawn at Southport and remained in fourth place, five points adrift of Reading and it was to Prenton Park that City were bound the following Friday night. But unchanged for the seventh game in a row, the Imps were largely out of sorts to a side who had dropped only two points at home all season. A second half penalty by the league’s leading scorer Ronnie Moore after Sam Ellis had punched a shot off the line, and a goal from ex-Chester forward John James ended another unbeaten run for City, this time of 14 league matches.
Northampton could only draw at home to Rochdale so that meant City were still top on goal average while a win for Bournemouth cut the lead over fifth place to nine points.
With City playing on the Friday night, as usual I fitted in another game the following day. This was another trip to Birmingham, but this time to St Andrews to see the home side play Middlesbrough in the First Division. Birmingham City were at that time managed by Willie Bell, to arrive at Lincoln a few years later, and among the players on view two had future Lincoln connections. In the Birmingham side was midfielder Gary Emmanuel, later to turn out in a couple of County Cup games for the Imps, and future coach Phil Boersma was playing for Middlesbrough. Other notable players of the day on view included Howard Kendall and Trevor Francis for Birmingham and Graeme Souness for the visitors.
The next game was a visit to mid-table Rochdale who were playing their third successive game against a top five side and had drawn with both Northampton and Bournemouth. They proceeded to make it three in a row against City who made a first change to the line-up after seven games with Alan Harding now fit to return to the side. However, John Fleming was now injured so Dick Krzywicki moved over to the right as Phil Neale continued in his now regular place on the bench. For me it was a second disappointing drawn game at Spotland in two seasons as City did everything but score, with Harding and Ward particularly guilty, and were indebted to Peter Grotier for a last minute save to preserve a point.
City dropped to second again, a point behind Northampton who beat Cambridge 4-2 but still with three games in hand, while Bournemouth’s 4-1 win over Watford cut the gap between them in fifth place and City to eight points. I must admit that despite everything I began to worry at this point as the result at Rochdale meant the Imps had now gone two games without a win – equalling the worst of the season! – and picked up just two points from the last three away games without scoring a goal (although only two had been conceded). Thoughts of last season – were we starting to slip?
But there was no need to worry as full advantage was taken of three home games in a row which made up for any deficit in the away results. It also helped that the first two of these games were against the bottom two sides in the division, starting with Workington who were paying what turned out to be their last ever visit to Sincil Bank.
John Fleming was still injured and now Dennis Booth was down with flu so the versatile Phil Neale took his place with 17-year-old apprentice midfielder Peter Sellars having to be named on the subs’ bench. It was not a good start for City when with ten minutes played Workington scored for only the fourth time away from home all season thanks to Sam Ellis putting the ball into his own net. But City bounced back with Neale’s first goal for the club as he went on to give a man of the match performance, and then a Workington own goal put the Imps ahead at the break. Goals from Ward and Freeman midway through the second half put City in control of the game and at 4-1 young Sellars was brought on for a taste of the action which unfortunately included breaking his nose. The Imps remained in second place as Northampton had a narrow victory at City’s next opponents Southport. Reading ended a long run in third place by drawing at home to Torquay which allowed Tranmere, winners against Crewe to overtake them.
Being, as I’ve said before, really keen in those far-off days I went along to Meadow Lane on the night before City’s Wednesday night meeting with Southport to see Notts County take on Hull City in a Second Division match. The game was another to feature several players with a later Lincoln City connection, with goalkeeper Eric McManus in the Notts team along with Ian Bolton who scored his side’s goal. Peter Daniel was at full back for Hull, for whom striker David Sunley was one of the scorers in their 2-1 win.
Although Dennis Booth had recovered from his bout of flu there was evidently something of a minor epidemic at Sincil Bank as Alan Harding, Dick Krzywicki and Percy Freeman had now all gone down with it. With John Fleming not yet fully recovered from a groin injury Graham Taylor acted quickly to bring in two players on a month’s loan from Nottingham Forest. These were big striker Bert Bowery, aged 21, who had scored two goals in three appearances for the Second Division club, and a 20-year-old named Tony Woodcock who was described as a ‘utility forward’ and had played in a total of 11 league games for the Nottingham club, all prior to the current season. Both loanees went straight into the side to face Southport, Bowery taking Freeman’s place, with Woodcock on the left in place of Harding. Dennis Booth was fit to return, but Fleming was only able to be on the bench so Phil Neale now switched to the wide right position.
Southport were four points adrift at the bottom of the league having won only two games all season and although they recovered sufficiently to finish 23rd, like Workington this was to be their last ever visit to Sincil Bank as a Football League club as two further re-election applications saw them voted out. City had little trouble in running up their biggest win of the season, with Phil Neale leading the way with two goals, plus one each for Ward, Ellis and both of the loanees, Woodcock’s being the first senior goal ever scored by the future England striker.
Northampton surprisingly were beaten 1-0 at Workington on the same night which allowed City to go back to the top by one point, now ten points clear of Exeter who had moved above Bournemouth into fifth place. City’s place at the top was short-lived, though as three days later Northampton beat Scunthorpe to overtake them again with the Imps unable to do anything about it, their game at Bournemouth being called off due to the Cherries being another club suffering from a flu epidemic.