As an Imps fan I think you remember the great matches you missed as much as the ones you didn’t. Sadly, I missed this rip-roaring trip to Premier League Fulham thanks to a holiday in Italy, a move I regretted for some considerable time afterwards.
The League Cup of 2005/06 provided some early respite from a tough start for Lincoln. It was the awkward season after Gain, Butcher, Yeo and Taylor-Fletcher left, the year Keith had to rebuild all over again. It ended in play off despair once again, but it started with defeats and a lack of hope.
The cup provided some solace as Championship side Crewe were destroyed in the first round, 5-1 at Sincil Bank. The reward? A trip to Craven Cottage. I wasn’t able to go, nor could I make the soft 2-1 home reverse against Peterborough in the game immediately before this huge clash. Fulham were football royalty and, although they did play a weakened side, they should easily have brushed aside an out-of-sorts Lincoln.
City started the game brightly, with Maheta Molango looking most lively. I’m not entirely sure that sentence has ever been written before, but Francis Green’s ball almost gave the on loan Brighton striker our first goal. He then wasted another chance before ten minutes were up, after capitalising on a mistake in the Fulham defence, he shot from a narrow-angle when a pass would have been the better option. Still, 0-0 after ten minutes was a decent start and we were on the front foot.
Soon Fulham began to assert some dominance and it wasn’t long before they took the lead. Ahmad Elrich fired a cross towards the back post where Zesh Rehman nodded in. Rather undeservedly, Fulham were ahead and before long, they made it two, but not before Alan Marriott showed his class.
A Fulham corner landed at the feet of Collins John, but his rasping effort was turned superbly over the bar. However, Marriott could do nothing minutes later from another corner. This time with his head, John tested Marriott who once again saved, but Heider Helguson headed home the second. It was 2-0 to the Premier League side and Lincoln looked in danger of an all-out collapse. A steadying of the ship saw out the first half, but with a two-goal deficit to claw back it seemed as though we were heading out of the competition with little more than a whimper.
However, Fulham didn’t come out all guns blazing, they seemed to think perhaps the job had been done. They protected their lead without taking undue risks, but limiting Lincoln to very little. They had their chance to make it 3-0 though and it became something of a turning point.
Substitute Tomasz Radzinski played a smart ball into the box where it found John, unmarked. He wrongly chose to shoot first time from barely six yards out, but Marriott pulled off a wonder save. That lifted the visitors and perhaps, for the first time in the game, gave them belief. there’s actually no ‘perhaps’ about it because within a minute, it was 2-1.
Gary Birch got his head down and ran at the Fulham defence, before playing a brilliant through ball to Francis Green. He was one of the Keith play-off era players to remain and very much the focal point of the attack and when a big effort was needed, he produced it. His shot from just inside the area evaded Ricardo Bastita in the Fulham goal and gave City hope. There were 20 minutes left to pull off the shock.
Fulham realised they were in danger and brought on a couple of relatively big guns at the time, American Brian McBride and Germany’s Moritz Volz. Immediately, the former almost gave Fulham their two goal lead back. The American international smashed a close-range effort towards goal but yet again, Alan Marriott was one hand to produce a wonder save. Mazza had nine great seasons at Sincil Bank, but many observers would point to this as one of his finest games.
If one of the subs had almost swung the game in the hosts favour, the other set up a frantic finale that hadn’t been thought possible at half time. Francis Green broke down the right at pace and delivered another great ball into the box. Batista and Volz got in a muddle with the latter diverting the ball away from the former and both watching as it trickled over the line. It doesn’t matter how they go in and City were now level with just eight minutes left. That meant extra time, unless either side could find an unlikely winner. Doubtless the Sky Sports correspondent, bored at half time, was suddenly the focus of much attention from Jeff Stelling’s studio.
With just three minute left it was City that could have snatched a famous win. Marvin Robinson, on for Lee Beevers in the 75th minute, broke free, one on one with the keeper. His rasping drive looked to be going in, but at the last second it struck the bar and bounced over for a goal kick. City were two inches away from beating top flight opposition on their own turf, something that it would now take eleven more years to do.