Tuesday 13th September 1994
Lincoln City 1 Wigan Athletic 0 (Endsleigh League Division Three)
Since returning to the Football League in 1988 after a season in the GM Vauxhall Conference any further hoped-for progress had rather stalled and Lincoln City were now under the charge of their fifth manager in six seasons and still in the fourth tier, now named Division Three.
City’s current manager, 48-year-old Sam Ellis, had been captain of the Imps’ record-breaking 1975/76 side under Graham Taylor before joining Watford soon after Taylor himself in 1977. Ellis had progressed to the coaching staff at Vicarage Road before becoming a manager in his own right at Blackpool in 1982. During a seven-year spell with the Tangerines he had achieved promotion to the third tier and kept them there until being sacked in 1989 due to a lack of further progress. After a season and a half at Bury, which included taking them to a play-off place in Division Three, he joined top-flight side Manchester City as assistant to Peter Reid. Departing the then Maine Road club when Reid was sacked in August 1993, Ellis had spent some time towards the end of the previous season assisting Imps manager Keith Alexander on a casual basis. Perhaps not so surprisingly he then succeeded Alexander in the hot seat after a disappointing 18th-place finish.
The Imps had made a moderate start to the season, with victories in both legs of the League Cup first round against third tier side Chester City. But, yet to draw a game, three defeats out of three away from home were only balanced by two wins out of three games at home, the latest of these being a 3-2 win over Mansfield the previous Saturday which left City in 16th place.
Wigan Athletic, following their election to the Football League in 1978 had won promotion to the Third Division four years later and remained there until relegation in 1993. Their second season back in the fourth tier had started poorly with defeats in all of their first four games and despite putting Division Two side Crewe out of the League Cup this had led to the departure of manager Kenny Swain and his replacement by former Wigan midfielder Graham Barrow who had left Chester during the summer after leading them to promotion. Starting with a defeat at home to Barnet the new boss had then overseen Wigan’s first league win of the season at Hereford which saw them next to bottom of the league with 13 goals conceded in six games.
The teams were:
- Russell Hoult
- John Schofield
- Nicky Platnauer
- Steve Foley
- Colin Greenall
- Grant Brown
- Dean West
- Alan Johnson
- Phil Daley
- David Puttnam
- David Johnson
- Trevor Hebberd (for D.Johnson)
- Udo Onwere
- Andy Leaning
- Simon Farnworth
- Paul Rennie
- Mark Wright
- Greg Strong
- John Robertson
- Ian Kilford
- Paul Harford
- Neil Morton
- Pat Gavin
- Neil Rimmer
- Matt Carragher
- David McKearney (for Morton)
- Brendan Ormsby
GK Martin Haley
In goal for the Imps was 21-year-old Russell Hoult, on loan from Leicester City three years after a previous two-game loan spell, and preferred from the start of the season by Sam Ellis ahead of the more experienced Andy Leaning.
It was not an ideal back four for City, put together due to players having to be shuffled about to balance those available with needs elsewhere due to injury. The one specialist right back on the books was Paul Smith, the only player remaining from the Conference season. He had originally played as a striker for City, but for the last three seasons had mostly featured at full back. However, with Smith seemingly out of favour with Sam Ellis the right back position had been filled from the start of the season by midfielder John Schofield. But with ‘Schoey’ now having to revert to a midfield position due to a variety of reasons the full back role was being filled by City’s eventual record appearance holder, Grant Brown. Signed by Colin Murphy for a record transfer fee of £60,000 in January 1990 after a lengthy loan period from Leicester City, Brown was normally a central defender. At left back was 33-year-old Nicky Platnauer, signed from Mansfield the previous February after experience with a string of clubs, most notably Cardiff City, Coventry and Notts County.
With Brown the tallest member of the back four at right back, the two central positions were filled by players with an average height of less than six feet. Alan Johnson had joined from today’s visitors at around the same time as Platnauer. The 23-year-old Johnson had been highly rated by Wigan, and his transfer fee had been set by a Football League tribunal at £40,000 with further payment depending on appearances. He was partnered by a similar type of player in Colin Greenall. Now aged 30, he had been one of several experienced players signed in the summer by Sam Ellis. Joining on a free transfer from Chester where he had been ever-present in their promotion-winning side in the previous season he had played under Ellis for both Blackpool and Bury.
In the centre of midfield in City’s 4-4-2 formation for this game was the hard-working John Schofield, signed by Colin Murphy from Gainsborough Trinity in November 1988 for a fee of £10,000 and the supporters’ choice as Player of the Season for 1993/94. Starting the season at right back he had returned to his usual midfield role due to the recent absence through injury and suspension of former Fulham youngster Udo Onwere who had joined in the summer after around 90 appearances for the London club and who was now on the subs’ bench for this match.
Partnering Schofield in the centre of midfield was another of Ellis’s experienced player signings of the summer. This was 31-year-old Steve Foley who had joined on a free transfer from Stoke City after being almost ever-present for them in the previous season. He had in fact almost 300 appearances behind him at second-tier level for Swindon Town and Sheffield United as well as Stoke. Having missed the start of the current season due to injury he had made his Imps debut in the previous game.
City’s two flank players were Dean West and David Puttnam. The 21-year-old West was a City youth product and had made his debut in the last game of the 1990/91 season. The popular and skilful Puttnam was another Colin Murphy signing from Leicester City, joining at the same time as Grant Brown. Initially on loan, he had then cost a fee of £35,000. Player of the Season for 1992/93 he had missed much of the calendar year so far due to injury and had only recently returned to fitness.
Up front for City was another former Wigan player in Phil Daley, signed by Sam Ellis in the summer for £40,000. The 27-year-old, although a useful target man was not noted as a goalscorer, with a record of around a goal every four games with his only previous club. Partnering him should have been the more prolific Tony Daws, but the former Scunthorpe United man had been hit by injury in the first game of the season, resulting in his place being taken by the very talented but sometimes disappointing David Johnson who had started the season playing wide on the left. The 23-year-old had been signed by Keith Alexander just after the start of the previous season for £32,000 from Sheffield Wednesday where he had made a handful of appearances. With his skilful play he had soon become popular with the supporters earning the nickname ‘Magic’ Johnson but although he had finished the previous season as leading scorer it was with a total of only 13 goals.
On the subs’ bench along with Onwere was the most experienced of all Ellis’s close-season signings. Now aged 36, Trevor Hebberd had first come to the fore as a striker with Southampton before having the best days of his lengthy career as a midfielder in the top division with Derby County and before them Oxford United, scoring in their League Cup Final win in 1986. Latterly playing as a defender for Chesterfield from whom he had joined City, he was now back in a midfield role. Goalkeeping substitute was 31-year-old Andy Leaning who had joined from Bristol City in February.
Simon Farnworth, in goal for Wigan had spent all his career on the books of clubs in his native Lancashire. Ever-present for Wigan in the previous season after joining them from Preston, he had also played for Bury and Bolton. A minor claim to fame for Farnworth is that he is reputed to be the last goalkeeper in English League football to play a match without wearing gloves – for Bolton Wanderers in the 1986 Freight Rover Trophy Final at Wembley.
Right back Paul Rennie had started his career at Crewe, making a handful of appearances for them and then Stoke City before joining Wigan for the start of the previous season. Rennie was partnered at left back by Mark Wright, who had started his career with Everton, making one league appearance for them, and was now in his second season with Wigan after limited experience with Huddersfield Town. Making up a youthful back three were Greg Strong, Matt Carragher and John Robertson. The 19-year-old Strong had won a regular place in the first team towards the end of the previous season and would go on to have a 20-year career with clubs in England and Scotland including a brief spell with Boston United. Robertson, a year older, had come through the youth ranks at Wigan to establish himself in the first team. In just over a year’s time, he would be joining Lincoln as one of the many players brought to club at that time by John Beck. Matt Carragher had broken through into the first team at the age of 17 just under a year ago.
Another player to have played once for Everton at the start of his career was midfielder Neil Rimmer. Now 26, he was in his seventh season with Wigan on his way to over 250 games for them after joining from Ipswich in 1988. Attacking midfield player Ian Kilford had made one league appearance for Nottingham Forest before joining Wigan for the start of the season after a previous spell on loan. Paul Harford was playing the third of three games on loan from Blackburn Rovers where the 19-year-old’s father, former Imps centre half Ray Harford was assistant manager to Kenny Dalglish.
Centre forward Pat Gavin had joined Wigan at the start of the previous season from Northampton. A Londoner, he had previously played for Peterborough and Gillingham. He was partnered up front by Neil Morton who had started his career with Crewe and like Gavin was now in his second season with Wigan after in his case joining from Chester.
Substitutes were utility player David McKearney who had made over 100 appearances for Crewe before joining Wigan in the summer of 1993, and veteran centre half Brendan Ormsby. The 33-year-old had plenty of experience in the top two divisions for Aston Villa and Leeds United in his younger days and after a spell as player-coach for Irish team Waterford had recently joined Wigan on a non-contract basis. Goalkeeping substitute was young trainee Martin Haley.
The attendance for the game was 2,030 which was five hundred down on the previous Saturday’s figure which had doubtless been swollen by visiting supporters from Mansfield. But there was little danger, apart from the following week’s visit of Crystal Palace in the League Cup, of the current ground capacity of 5,100 being tested. It had been reduced to this figure with the closure from the start of the season of the Sincil Bank side in preparation for the final piece in the jigsaw of the complete rebuilding of the ground. With a new £1 million stand scheduled for completion the following March supporters were able to see the progress of work on the removal of the old bank of terracing.
City’s main attacking threat came in the first half of the game with defender Colin Greenall having a goal ruled out after just 29 seconds for pushing. He had further opportunities when he headed a corner straight into the arms of Wigan goalkeeper Simon Farnworth and minutes later from another corner crashed a shot against the bar. Farnworth also kept the scores level with a brilliant save from a cracking David Puttnam shot after the left winger had run at the Wigan defence.
Wigan hit the bar themselves late in the first half with a blistering volley from Paul Harford and after an otherwise poor first half the visitors came more into the game after the break with Ian Kilford, a handful for City’s defence throughout, testing City keeper Russell Hoult with a stinging shot from outside the box. With the visitors now seizing the initiative boos were heard from the frustrated City supporters, and it was against the run of play in the 69th minute when skipper John Schofield popped up to score his third goal of the season, blasting the ball home from ten yards after Phil Daley had headed on a right-wing cross from Dean West.
With around 16 minutes to go and Wigan dominating midfield in search of an equaliser Sam Ellis withdrew striker David Johnson and sent on midfielder Trevor Hebberd as City were reduced to pumping high balls into the Wigan half. Grant Brown nearly doubled the lead, however, with a 25-yard free kick which clipped the bar, but there was a let-off for City when Wigan striker Pat Gavin ran clear of the defence only to shoot straight at Hoult.
The win moved City up four places in the league table to 12th in a 22-club division and they were seldom to rise any higher for the rest of an inconsistent season with 12th in fact being their final placing.
Sam Ellis, for a centre half, had been something of a showman in his playing days for City, but as a manager he was producing a dour side that was prone to moving the ball sideways more than forwards. After five defeats from seven games from the start of the following season and with City in an increasingly desperate state he was replaced for a brief period by former Chelsea star Steve Wicks before the arrival of John Beck saw a slow but steady revival of the club’s fortunes.
Wigan were left bottom of the league following their visit to Sincil Bank and their defeat was followed by five more in their next seven league games before improved results from the beginning of November saw them finish comfortably in mid-table just two places below City. Two seasons, later under the guidance of manager John Deehan they would win the championship of the third tier and start on a slow climb that would eventually take them to the Premier League.