I’ve been waiting for this article for a few weeks now. I knew it was coming up so I’ve been prepped, but now the game is here I’m hoping for some parallels.
This game, back in April 1998, was huge for the club, but it was huge for me. I got the bus into town and before the game, I got my first Lincoln City tattoo. Oddly, I’m also getting a tattoo this week – will history repeat itself?
I remember going to Wizardry In Ink as it was called, and paying £45 for the Imps badge. Whilst getting it done, the tattooist said Lincoln were rubbish, and we’d lose to Posh. I said not and he said if we won, I could go back and get my money from him, and he’d do the tattoo for free. I then got out of the chair and just made it into the ground as a key event happened (which I’ll cover) whilst my mate Jason had to wait and get his done. by the time he arrived, City were 2-0 up!
This was a crucial game, and not just because it was Posh at home. City were knocking on the door of the play-offs, but Peterborough were there as well. This was the game after Easter Monday, and it hadn’t been good to us – we’d drawn 1-1 with Hartlepool, coming off the back of two 1-0 defeats against Colchester and Macclesfield (the Battle of Moss Rose). Peterborough beat Cardiff City 2-0, leapfrogging us into the top seven. We had a game in hand, but a win for them would leave our fate in their hands, not ours.
It had been a tough season, City had lost manager John Beck and replaced him with Shane Westley. His approach was a little less abrasive in terms of the media, and we’d fought our way back into contention. However, anything other than a win here, and our hopes were over. Given that Posh had hammered us 5-1 earlier in the season, there wasn’t a lot of hope, and on the back of one point from nine, things were looking bleak.
The build-up was significant. Barry Fry referred to it as a ‘humdinger’, and with 4,000 Peterborough supporters expected, they were given the Stacey West, and blocks six and seven of the Linpave Stand (as it was). If the Imps could get a win, it would mean our next clash, with Exeter the following Tuesday, was yet another must-win. The games came thick and fast, but none of it would matter if we didn’t get on the right side of this result.
With Jon Whitney and Barry Richardson suspended, City were looking a little threadbare, although Paul Smith returned from a 10-week absence. There was no easing him back in – he was straight into the starting XI. City lined up John Vaughan, Grant Brown, Jason Barnett, Terry Fleming, Steve Holmes, Kevin Austin, Dean Walling, John Finnigan, Paul Smith, Lee Thorpe and Colin Alcide. The subs were Dennis Bailey, Jae Martin and Paul Miller.
Posh had a strong side on paper, and were title favourites at one point. Their side included Martin Carruthers and Jimmy Quinn, both prolific at this level, as well as former Wycombe man Miguel De Souza, another big name. Their names might have been big, but the expected Posh support was not, certainly not as big as they’d suggested. They fell some way short of the reported 4,000, bringing 2,235, making the total attendance 8,748.
As a fresh-faced ginger supporter with his first tattoo took his seat, Peterborough scored. It was an agonising moment, sitting down with a throbbing arm, sporting a badge we’d change within three years, and a huge roar going up from two sides of the ground. Jimmy Quinn had scored at the Stacey West End, but as he wheeled away the cheers turned to jeers, and City fans made that comforting ‘aaarrrggghhhhh’ that you hear when a side thinks they’ve scored and they haven’t. Referee Brian Rossington blew his whistle, the flag was up. Relief.
Within sixty seconds of that moment, it was the Imps’ turn to celebrate, and this time there was no noise from the visiting supporters. City went up the other end and picked up a free kick. Loanee John Finnigan whipped it in, and in the ensuing scramble, Colin Alcide poked home. ‘aaaarrrggghhh’ indeed, it was now 1-0 – could we actually be heading for the play-offs?
Paul Smith missed 10 weeks of the season, but it took him just six minutes to double the Imps lead. The big man Alcide was involved again, he flicked a ball on for Smith to steal in and stab the ball past Maik Taylor in the sticks. Peterborough thought they’d scored on 48 seconds, but 312 seconds later they were 2-0 down with their promotion dream in tatters. Oh well.
Alcide could have made it 3-0, sent through one-on-one with the keeper, but dreams of properly avenging the 5-1 defeat slipped as Taylor saved well. Still, Posh weren’t in the game, they looked ragged and beaten with double figures barely on the clock. Alcide was described as being ‘in control’ up top, with Thrope and Paul Smith fizzing around him. The three-man midfield of Fleming, Finnigan and Steve Holmes controlled the game, and the visitors didn’t have a clue how to get back into proceedings. Indeed, a 30-yard piledriver from Grant Brown was clawed away by Taylor as the Imps threatened to run riot.
On the stroke of half time, City got a third. Finnigan again provided the assist, and Alcide the finish to bag his tenth goal in 14 matches. The striker had been a revelation since John Beck departed, and his goals had fired us towards promotion. As the teams trudged off the field at 3-0 there wasn’t a supporter in the stadium who thought City would lose control.
We didn’t, although it was a more subdued second period. With one eye on Exeter, also harbouring outside chances of a top seven spot, City took the foot off the gas. We still had the better chances – Thorpe, Fleming and Alcide conducted a lovely move which resulted in the midfielder’s diving header going wide. Thorpe and Fleming both deserved goals, but the next Saturday fixture at the Bank would bring those. Alcide could have completed his first senior hat trick late on after Thorpe’s clever ball, but he fired over from ten yards. There was little at stake at that point – Posh had given up 360 seconds into the game, City were back in the top seven.
“I had thought it would be a tight game,” said Westley after the match. “It was a terrific performance, for the first 25 minutes we were devastating.” Indeed we were, as was the pint I’d had before the tattoo. I spent at least ten minutes of the evening huddled in the doorway of a bookie, a bloodied piece of loo roll over my tattoo. One supporter even stopped and ask if I’d been stabbed! I hadn’t, I made a joke about bleeding red and white, and I was still singing ‘sign him up’ in reference to John Finnigan, the outstanding Man of the Match. At the time, he was a youngster on loan from Forest, but his potential was clear. I was so elated, I didn’t even mind the tattooist had closed by the time I got out of the ground.
Three days later, I was back in the ground as Exeter were defeated by two goals to one, an attritional game in which a more functional Imps were presented with a serious challenge from the Grecians. Another draw (at Darlington) secured a play-off place within seven days, and within two weeks the unlikeliest of automatic promotions was earned as we beat Brighton 2-1. As for Peterborough, they didn’t recover, losing to Torquay and drawing with Hartlepool to finish ninth.