The Man in the Middle: Bristol Rovers (A)

It’s our first trip down to Bristol in the EFL since 2007 this weekend, as we hunt for our first win since Justin Walker’s last-gasp goal in 2002.

In fact, our record down there is poor, with the win previous to 2002 coming in 1982, and three of the last five matches ending in thrilling 0-0 draws. What I do like, is yet another parallel with 82/83, that being the 2-1 win courtesy of George Shipley and Phil Turner. Hopefully, we can finish in a similar position to that season, earn a play-off spot and finally deliver football in the second tier to Imps fans.

Anyway, we can stop dreaming now and focus solely on tomorrow. We were blessed with a strong official against MK Dons, Bobby Madley, who could have sent Brennan Johnson off, but who exercised the sort of caution and restraint that a neutral respects. Do we have the same this week?

Referee: Will Finnie
Assistants: Paul Yates and Steven Plane
Fourth Official: Grant Taylor

Will Finnie came through the National League like the can of chocolate and marshmallow stout I had went through me on Wednesday – quickly and making a lasting impression. In 2018/19 he refereed 22 matches, sending off no fewer than nine players. Like the stout, I think the National League probably felt happy to see the back of him, but his officiating earned him a spot on the EFL list.

Walker fouled v Oxford – Credit Graham Burrell

He calmed down, three reds in 27 matches last season attests to that, and we saw him just once. He took charge of our Boxing Day defeat at the Kassam, as we went down 1-0 to Oxford United. I recall an incident in that game where John Mousinho could have been sent off for tugging back Tyler Walker as he went through on goal. At the time, some called for a red, but much like Madley on Tuesday, Finnie aimed to keep it 11v11 unless absolutely necessary and awarded a yellow. A good omen? Let’s hope so.

He has flashed a red in a game involving us this season, showing one to Nathan Thompson in the incident that saw us awarded a penalty against Peterborough at the Bank. As you know, we missed the penalty and the referee came under fire from their manager, but I felt he had a decent game. In fact, I said this of him:

“I felt Finnie had a superb game, allowing it to flow but also being strict enough with his cards to ensure it didn’t boil over. Hats off to him for that, it is easy to lash out at officials when they’re bad, but it is important to praise them when they do well.”

We might just be blessed with two great refs in a week, which is comforting given the record we have at the Memorial Ground. If we don’t get a result, at least we seemingly won’t be able to blame another good referee.

If you want to relive Justin Walker’s late goal, and a few other happy memories from trips down the M5, check out this article.