Remember how just a couple of days ago, I said May 14th was a good day for Imps fans in play-off history?
Well, May 17th is not. Played two, conceded eight, scored four and twice left a ground absolutely gutted.
The first defeat came in 2007, with the Imps chasing a deficit in the second leg of our tie with Bristol Rovers. Having gone there and lost 2-1, and having struggled in the final weeks of the season, few expected City to do well. It was the same lineup as five days previous bar one player – Nat Brown dropped out of the side and Ryan Amoo came in, which was us ‘going for it’ about as much as it could be. Dany N’Guessan and Martin Gritton were on the bench, should things go desperately awry.
They went desperately awry. Within minutes, Rovers were ahead, Stuart Campbell scoring an absolute rocket. By 11 minutes it was 2-0 on the night, Richard Walker’s cross was converted by Rickie Lambert with the Imps’ defence all at sea. When Jeff Hughes hauled down Lewis Haldane it should have been a penalty and 3-0, but I suspect the ref felt sorry for us and it remained 4-1 on aggregate. To be fair, The Gas were irresistible and definitely primed for promotion, whilst we were brushed aside with ease. Despite the seemingly impossible task, City got back into the game, Jeff Hughes scoring.
The Gas pressed on and made it 3-1 in 36 minutes, which effectively ended the tie. It was more woeful defending allowing Walker to score one for himself after we failed to clear. Even when Mark Stallard made it 3-2 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate, we didn’t expect to qualify, but in fairness, it was a stunning game to watch for the neutral. The problem for me was that I am never neutral when watching City, and for me it was like watching a spider trying to climb out of the bath, getting so far up then just tumbling back down.
The second half was quite different, the Imps never really looked like breaking down the resolute Gas defence. They did score again, twice, but only as we pressed with the game fading. Sammy Igoe (82) and Sean Rigg (90) made it 5-2 on the night, a score identical to that of our Cardiff defeat four years previous. Jeff Hughes, playing his final game for the club, added a third for City with the ground half-empty and the game long gone. He was off to Palace after the game, but surfaced at the Gas after which wasn’t surprising, seeing as how he dominated the two games between the clubs.
“It hurts and to be honest I am crying inside,” said John Schofield after the game. “But we can be proud of what we’ve achieved this season and can look forward to next season with optimism. I’m proud of my team and they will come back in on Monday and we’ll have a real good go next time.”
It still pains me that didn’t happen. Schoey’s team had produced some of the best football seen at the Bank until Mr Appleton rolled into town, but the soft underbelly was all-too-easy to expose. The defence looked decent on paper, Morgan, Beevers, Eaden and Paul Green, but there was a certain substance lacking. On reflection, the only centre back in there was Morgan (although I think Beevers played there), and there wasn’t another commanding presence.
This was also the final game of Paul Morgan’s Lincoln City career and with him went almost all of the successful Keith team of 2003. All that remained was Alan Marriott, who would be treated appallingly by Peter Jackson the following season, despite being one of the best keepers in the league.