Two years ago, or maybe a little over, I remember a League Cup match against Port Vale in which the Imps won 4-0, away from home.
It was the title-winning season and it was perhaps the first time I truly believed the side were capable of something special. To go away from home, matter not how bad the opposition play, and score four, or even five goals, is impressive. That night it was a relatively weak Port Vale side and we brushed them aside with consummate ease and professionalism. Within nine months, we were Champions.
I’m not saying that is the case here, but in swatting Bradford City aside like a pesky mosquito merely bugging us as we walk towards a tie with Liverpool, we proved a real point. The side we saw last season, post-September, was merely a precursor to a much bigger plan. The rhetoric about using another man’s tool was correct. We now have a tradesman in charge with his own toolbox full of tricks and the outcome has improved severely.
A few points from Devils’ Advocate here; it was a changed Bradford side, for instance, Reece Staunton has started at the back for them, but Richards’Everton came in instead. Clayton Donaldson has been on the fringes, but he got a start ahead of Lee Novak. To be fair, it was perhaps 80% of what they’d consider full strength, but I wouldn’t class it as such. Also, they defended really badly. They looked ill at ease with the 3-5-2 and despite crowding out Callum Morton, our midfield got the run of the place in the first half. Their wingbacks were also being relied upon to do much more, but didn’t.
Home advantage didn’t work for them as there were no fans in the ground if anything it went against them after conceding because they could hear every ‘eff and jeff’ from Stuart McCall, a Bradford legend who I wonder might have come back for one stint too many in charge. They are a couple of points to try to take some of the gloss off our win because it is important not to get carried away. I tried, very hard, not to get carried away after that Port Vale win too.
Before I go on, obviously the game had a poignant edge due to our relationship with Bradford. Lenny, The City Gent as he will always be, messaged me before the game to wish me luck. The huge flag on the left-hand side of the iFollow feed was a constant reminder of the 56 fans who lost their lives back in 1985. Any game between us will, to a degree, be secondary to paying respects and remembering those the two clubs lost. As a site which takes its name from a stand named after the Lincoln City victims, it would be remiss not to take a second before the analysis to remember that.
Still, football is a game that produces 90 minutes of competition whatever the relationship and emotion behind the teams, and this game looked to have lots of spice to it. I like Bradford’s midfield, Elliot Watt and Callum Cooke both young players with drive and energy. I fancied a bit of a battle in the middle of the park and we didn’t get it. Within minutes, we were ahead thanks to an unfortunate own goal, but let us not play down the quality of the delivery from Grant. If you put decent balls into decent areas, you tempt players to make mistakes and he did just that.
Before I could get my iFollow feed to work, it was 2-0. Connor McGrandles, a player I think will be vastly underrated this season, fired a strong effort at goal after Harry Anderson’s smart play. The rebound fell to Anthony Scully, in the right place at the right time. 2-0 before ten minutes. I’m told, by the radio and those who did have iFollow working fine, that we then controlled the game up to around the hour mark. I wouldn’t know, I only had Rob Makepeace and Thommo for company as the spinning wheel of death just kept on spinning whilst I ate my chicken lasagne (yup, chicken, in a lasagne…).
When I did get a picture, it was just in time for a neat finish which I think deserves a little more credit than the commentary team gave it. Rob certainly admired it, Thommo commented it was three yards out, but with the benefit of a replay, it was a footballer’s finish. Maybe Montsma should have been picked up earlier. Maybe the defence could be blamed but I tell you this: that looked like the finish of a striker. A neat, controlled volley sailed past the keeper and finally, I’d seen a goal. I cheered, the dog jumped and we pretty much knew round three, and Liverpool, were waiting for us.
After that, we just controlled the first half superbly. I felt we’d score every time we got forward, Harry Anderson was causing all sorts of problems down the right. I liked to see that, one of the things I often spoke about was how Harry seemed to struggle against 3-5-2 in the past. He’s certainly developing something different to his game, maybe he was helped by a weak wing-back, but he looked a huge danger every time he got away. Bradford took to any means necessary to stop him, and they did the same for Callum Morton. One foul, as Morton turned former Leeds man Paudie O’Connor, drew a yellow when I suspect it might have been a red had the game been 0-0.
It wasn’t though, I think at that point it was 4-0 courtesy of one of the best goals you’ll see this season. James Jones made it, bringing down a long, raking ball from Eyoma and playing a neat little ball to Scully. He then took the ball back and rifled in a wonderful 20-yard effort to effectively seal the deal and hand us the English champions in the next round.
Bradford had a couple of chances and maybe, if one had gone in, we’d have faced a different game. Alex Palmer parried a long-range drive well, whilst Donaldson acrobatically fired over from close range, but their attacks felt fleeting and forced. ours flowed, naturally. Anthony Scully missed a great chance just before the break, courtesy of Callum Morton’s break and wonderful ball. The former West Ham man maybe had too much time, but once again our fluid and efficient play saw us rake upfield before Bradford had a chance to regroup. When the half time whistle sounded, the two teams made their way to the dressing rooms. If they’d been boxers, Lincoln would have been punching their gloves and cheering, Bradford would be bloodied and bruised, looking dazed and a little confused.