Looking Back At: 1977/78 (Part Four)

Today sees the conclusion of Malcolm Johnson’s excellent review of the 1977/78 season.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

March

 

The recently-postponed game at Chesterfield was quickly rearranged and took place the following Wednesday night, the Imps earning a point in a goalless draw which owed much to the efforts of Peter Grotier. The goalkeeper also played a large part in keeping the score down to only 1-0 as the Imps were then beaten at Swindon.

Meanwhile, transfer requests had again been made by John Fleming and Jimmy Gordon. Fleming, as he had not been able to break back into the midfield position he had occupied early in the season because Alan Jones had been favoured by Willie Bell on the right wing. Gordon, as before, was still unhappy after playing only four league games in four years. Also, according to Bell, Phil Neale had expressed a desire to play in a higher grade of football and had been told his name would be circulated as available for transfer.

City had fielded an unchanged team now for eight matches in a row which had seen them pull steadily away from the relegation zone and was built around the experienced defensive partnership of Clive Wigginton and Terry Cooper and a hardworking, hard-running midfield pairing of Phil Hubbard and Phil Neale. However, for the visit of Oxford United, one place above City in the league table, Bell now made a change due to a lack of goals as only three had been scored in the last six games. Mick Harford had not scored in any of these games, but with Peter Graham without a goal in the last seven it was the experienced man who dropped to the bench. Dave Smith had been the regular number 12 since returning to fitness and he now came into midfield with Hubbard given a try up front. The Lincoln-born man duly obliged with the only goal of the game against Oxford as City moved above their visitors to 15th place.

Transfer deadline day then followed, with, it was later reported, Willie Bell having enquired about signing Sheffield Wednesday’s unsettled striker Tommy Tynan. However, with Tynan not available for transfer Bell had made a move for Portsmouth’s leading scorer David Kemp only to be told on the morning of deadline day that the player had joined Carlisle – although it seems highly unlikely City would have come up with the £70,000 it cost the Cumbrian club to sign him. To replace Kemp, Pompey then offered City £12,000 for Peter Graham before changing their minds later in the day. Bell did bring a new striker in however, with the arrival on a month’s loan of 20-year-old Leicester City reserve Alan Hoult.

City then travelled to the West Country for two games, the first of these seeing Hoult replace Mick Harford in attack as Dave Smith kept his place in midfield. The Imps were well beaten by 3-0 at Exeter in a poor performance which marked the last appearance by Smith in his long Imps career as he was omitted for the game at Plymouth two days later. Harford and Graham resumed their partnership up front with Phil Hubbard back in midfield and Hoult also left out. A much-improved performance saw the Imps bounce back after a second-minute goal by Argyle striker Steve Perrin with a headed equaliser from Clive Wigginton. Alan Harding’s sixth goal of the season then secured both points, which although only moving City up one place in the league table to 16th stretched the gap to the relegation zone to eight points.

Visitors to Sincil Bank the following Saturday were Sheffield Wednesday, two places below City, but who since the appointment of Jack Charlton as manager the previous October had risen from bottom of the table to just outside the relegation places. Not surprisingly the highest attendance of the season of 8,811 turned out at Sincil Bank (although almost half were from Sheffield) and we certainly got our money’s worth. With an unchanged side City got off to a good start with an early goal from Mick Harford then Clive Wigginton doubled the lead after fifteen minutes with his second goal in two games, this time from the penalty spot after a foul on Harford. However, the visitors were awarded a penalty themselves after a foul by Brendan Guest barely a minute later. This was put away by Graeme Hedley and five minutes into the second half City were hanging on to their lead with ten men after Terry Cooper was sent off for a second bookable offence. But with Phil Hubbard dropping back into defence alongside Wigginton, who was having possibly his best game for Lincoln the Imps held on until injury time when Alan Jones hit a spectacular 35-yard volley into the net.

It was once common for there to be a full league programme of fixtures on Good Friday and Easter Saturday and again on Easter Monday but this was to be the last year in which it occurred. City were at home on Good Friday afternoon to another club from South Yorkshire, this time Rotherham United, and again another three goals were scored. However, possibly due to some enforced team changes three goals were also conceded to the side fourth from bottom. With Terry Cooper suspended following his sending-off the previous week Dean Crombie took his place for his first appearance under Willie Bell. Also, with Dennis Leigh and Alan Harding injured Phil Neale reverted to left back with Glenn Cockerill coming into midfield for his first game since the beginning of January. Instead of Dave Smith a surprise selection on the left was Alan Eden. In front of a reasonably healthy crowd of well over five thousand, despite two goals from Mick Harford City needed a late goal by substitute Alan Hoult on for the disappointing Eden to salvage a point which was enough to lift them to a season-high thirteenth place. The division was still wide open with only four points separating sixth from fifteenth place.

The following day saw another three goals shipped on a visit to Tranmere, the first goal coming from later Imps player Clive Evans. City’s goal was scored by the returning Terry Cooper as Phil Neale reverted to midfield with the left back slot taken by Keith Laybourne, the last of the four ex-Lambton Street Boys’ Club players to make his Imps debut.

Easter Monday saw the visit of Colchester United, with the crowd, despite it being another Bank Holiday, a thousand down on that of three days before. With Alan Harding still out, Alan Hoult came into the side again, replacing Glenn Cockerill who had played on the left at Tranmere. With Dennis Leigh fit to return a goalless draw ensued to leave City solidly in 14th place and eight points clear of the bottom four.