The Imps don’t have a bad record against non-league opposition in the FA Cup – the last to beat us (as a league club) was Kettering 13 years ago, and since then, we’ve successfully navigated ties against Bowers & Pitsea, Nuneaton, Telford and Northwich Victoria.
Technically, you could add Halifax Town, Worcester City, and Altrincham to that, but if you did, we’d also have to factor in that defeat at Whitehawk, so we’ll move swiftly on. I’m not sure that beating sides lower than you in non-league counts. Anyway, before Kettering, you had to go back to the year 2000 for non-league opposition, the year we beat Bracknell Town 4-0 and then lost to Dagenham in the infamous Matthew Ghent game.
If you go even further back, you come to a tie away at Witton Albion on November 13th, 1993. Back then, Keith Alexander was in charge for the first time, and it was a fresh and new Lincoln taking to the field. There are parallels with this season – a non-league side away in the FA Cup in a manager’s first season in charge of the club, with lots of new faces as well. Back in 1993, the gap was minimal – Witton Albion were in the GMVC, and we were in Division Three, the current League Two.
As such, Witton had only had to battle through a single qualifying round, beating Northallerton Town 2-1 at Wincham Park, setting up a visit by the Imps.
Witton was seen as a tough tie for City – they had been runners-up in the FA Trophy in 1992 and won the Northern Premier League by 16 points the year before. They had a few famous faces in their ranks – Neil McNab and Simon Grayson turned out for them in 93/94, but neither played against the Imps. Billy Garton, once of Manchester United, was the most recognisable name on the opposition teamsheet. Former Leicester keeper Keith Mason, Steve Senior and Colin Rose all had experience in the Football League. Imps duo Ben Dixon and Steve Parkinson were both on loan at Witton, but neither was allowed to play.
As for the Imps, we hadn’t had the best of starts to Keith’s reign, but things were picking up. We went into the First Round tie with just one defeat in nine and having given Everton a scare in the League Cup. Chesterfield had recently been beaten in the Autoglass Windscreens Shield, and Keith named the same side for both ties. Mike Pollitt started in goal, and with both Matt Carbon and Mark Smith injured, John Schofield started in the middle of the defence with Grant Brown. Ian Baraclough and Dean West manned the flanks, with Paul Smith, Tony Loughlan, Dave Hill, David Johnson, Tony Lormor and Neil Matthews making up the rest of the team. Steve Mardenborough and Davie Clarke were the subs.
The game got off to a sensational start. Steve Senior had played for more than a hundred games for York City and Wigan during his career, but he didn’t manage three minutes of this tie – he was sent off for dropping Tony Loughlan off the ball. It was now struggling Witton, in the bottom half of the GMVC and destined to finish bottom, playing with ten men against a side on a good run of form in the Football League. It should have been a rout, but on a murky afternoon, the Imps couldn’t break the stubborn opposition down.
On 12 minutes, it looked like City might take a bizarre lead. Matthews challenged Mason for the ball, with the keeper rushing out of his goal to hoof clear, only to slip on the typically poor non-league pitch. He was prone on the turf, helpless, as Dave Hill lofted his effort up and over the bar from 40-yards with nobody in the sticks. An entertaining opening then saw Witton have the best chance, Dan Maynard blocked Pollitt’s clearance after a short backpass from Brown, but the rebound fell to Schofield, rather than a Witton man.
Witton had the best of the opening 35, but fitness began to show, with Schofield drawing a good save with a 40-yard piledriver (the Echo’s words, not mine – there seems to be a lot going on from 40 yards). It is perhaps reflective of the half that just before the referee blew for the break, City earned their first corner of the game, compared to four from Witton. Half time score, 0-0.
City started the second period brightly, Magic Johnson driving just wide from outside the area, and then the Imps earned their first corner of the half immediately afterwards. A ball from Dean West from the corner was almost sliced into his own net by Glenn Walker. City were turning on the style now: Neil Matthews fired wide after cutting in from wide, but Witton came back into it and by 67 minutes, had nullified the pressure. That meant a change for the eleven men from City – Tony Loughlan came off, and Steve Mardenbrough took to the field.
City’s nerves were settled not long afterwards. Matthews played in Johnson, with the £32,500 signing seemingly feigning to shoot, only to coolly feed in Dean West, who slotted the ball past the stranded Mason. Finally, the ten men of Witton were broken, and City had the lead. Witton weren’t finished, and sub Benon Blackwood sparked a mini-revival for the home side; Pollitt called into action twice.
With a place in the hat at stake, City kept pushing forward, and deep into injury time, the deal was sealed. Mardenborough broke down the left flank, but his cross was cut out. The ball fell kindly to Tony Lormor, who smashed a 25-yard drive into the roof of the net to finish the tie.
The result was no slur on Witton Albion, who battled bravely with ten men, but it didn’t help them in their conquest for GMVC safety – they ended the season bottom of the table and haven’t been back at that level since.
Elsewhere on first-round day, there were few shocks. Bolton Wanderers, a big name back then, were trailing Gretna 2-1 at half time of their clash, but a late Owen Coyle brace earned them the win. Division Three Colchester were beaten 4-3 at home by Sutton – the game had been 2-2 with four minutes left, but after Colchester took the lead on 86 minutes, Sutton bagged a brace. Northampton were beaten at home by Bromsgrove, whilst Enfield (Cardiff) and Nuneaton (Swansea) earned impressive draws, but lost the replays.
It was Bolton who the Imps drew in the next round, and that tie brought the Sky TV cameras. It was a bumper Sincil Bank crowd which witnessed our 3-1 defeat, and the premature end of our mini cup run.