Looking Back At: 1977/78 (Part Two)

Find Part one of Malcolm’s excellent series here

September

In what was his last appearance for the club Ian Branfoot retained his place at right back with Guest again on the subs’ bench for the following Saturday’s visit to Port Vale. The sole team change saw the 18-year-old Glenn Cockerill make only his third-ever start in the first team as a replacement for the injured Ward. The Imps played well in the early stages until, almost predictably, Graham Taylor’s early close season transfer target Jeff Hemmerman gave Vale the lead from a penalty awarded after Dean Crombie’s handball and the same player made it 2-0 before half time. A first goal of the season for Alan Harding was all City could manage in a poor second half display as the defeat saw them entrenched in the relegation zone.

The following Saturday saw the Imps play the team just above them in the bottom four as Peterborough United were the visitors. Good news was that Phil Neale was fit to make his first appearance of the season, coming in at right back with Ian Branfoot dropping out of the squad. The only change was the inclusion as substitute of 17-year-old striker Mark Cox who had recently signed professional forms with the club and scored four goals in a youth team match the previous week. Cox came off the bench to replace fellow teenager Cockerill, but a 1-0 defeat saw City sink to the bottom of the division.

Just prior to the Peterborough match George Kerr had belatedly acted to sign an experienced replacement for the departed Sam Ellis. This was 26-year-old Clive Wigginton who had come through the ranks at Grimsby, playing almost 200 games in the Third and Fourth Divisions before joining Scunthorpe and holding down a first team place for two seasons with them. He had not played for the Iron in the current season after walking out on them over a contractual dispute and had in fact been working on the construction of the Humber Bridge. For a fee of £5,000 he completed his round of the leading Lincolnshire clubs saying, “Lincoln are…a very good team. All they need is a big strong centre half.”

Following the defeat to Peterborough, Kerr then had to act again to sign another striker, having previously failed to replace the retired Percy Freeman. Perhaps still with hopes that John Ward would be able to return to fitness before too long he brought in a player on a month’s loan. This however, was to be a player no more experienced than those already at the club, although like Glenn Cockerill, the 18-year-old Alan Cork would go on to have a notable career in the game. With Derby County, the tall youngster had yet to appear in the first team and had a record of just four reserve team goals in the previous season.

 

The signing of Wigginton came just in time as Terry Cooper was now injured and had to miss the following Wednesday night’s visit to Oxford. Wigginton therefore went straight into the side partnering Crombie in defence as Cork replaced Cockerill in attack. Unfortunately, City went down to their second successive 1-0 defeat to leave them a point adrift at the foot of the division.

Undaunted by City’s league position I made the long journey to Portsmouth for the second season in a row and was rewarded with ‘a result’. With Alan Harding the latest to suffer an injury Alan Eden made his first start for the club. After a shaky opening period, the Imps took the lead when Peter Graham headed in a Dean Crombie corner for his first goal of the season. Alan Cork then deserved all the credit for an own goal by a Portsmouth defender midway through the second half. The 2-0 score-line produced City’s first league win of the season and lifted them two places up the league table.

The two points gained at Portsmouth was the first in a mini-run of improved results and was followed by the first home win of the season in another Friday night match. The visitors were current league leaders Chesterfield, and with it being a local derby the attendance was in the six thousands for the first time in the season. City fielded an unchanged team with the good news that Dave Smith was fit to return and make his first league appearance of the season, coming off the bench to replace Alan Eden. A Peter Graham header was enough to give the Imps an excellent win and lift themselves out of the bottom four at least until the following day’s results.

Home again the following Wednesday night City had the chance to move out of the bottom four once more with the visit of the team one place below them, Hereford United. However, a disappointing goalless draw meant they remained in 21st position in front of a crowd back down to just below five thousand. Dave Smith now returned to the starting line-up in place of Eden who was preferred on the bench to the fit-again Cooper.