Defining a Season : Part 3 : 2002/3
By Nathan Jackson
June 1 2006
After 2 years of seasons that Imps fans want to forget is a season that no Lincoln fan would have possibly imagined. City made their first ever trip to the playoffs despite being tipped for relegation and even though the Imps were mauled in the final, it was still a great season for Lincoln.
We go back to the end of 2001/2, Alan Buckley and his assistant, Keith Alexander both entered the summer on the back of a humiliating season that saw the Imps finish 22nd and go into administration. City had to find cost cutting measures and Alan Buckley was one of the first to suffer as he was let go by the club. Keith Alexander was put in temporary charge whilst the club searched for another manager, however, Keith was soon given the job on a permanent basis and when on to build the foundations of one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history. His first acts were to bring in defenders Ben Futcher and Simon Weaver, midfielder Scott Willis and strikers Simon Yeo and Dene Cropper. All had come from non-league and City were subsequently predicted to be relegated.
City’s first home game came against Rochdale, ironically the team that could have played the very last game at Sincil Bank. The game was pretty dull with neither side looking like they were going to win it until with about 10 minutes to go, new signing Simon Yeo found himself running down the wing before getting to the corner point of the 18 yard box. He smashed the ball that curled magnificently in mid-air before hitting the back post and then falling into the back of the net. The whole of Sincil Bank couldn’t believe what they’d just seen. A truly brilliant goal that we couldn’t have dreamed of scoring for many years. City eventually went on to win 2-0 with the other goal coming from Dene Cropper.
The next match was arguably the most controversial of the whole season. Carlisle, like City, had won 4 days previously and were looking to make it 2 in a row but it was made more difficult for both sides in the 7th minute when both sides had a player sent off for something that only the referee managed to see. Even the two players, Simon Weaver and Ritchie Foran didn’t know what they were getting sent off for. The action calmed down until just under half way through the second half when Carlisle got a penalty, Trevor Molley stepped up and slotted away the penalty. Another Carlisle player was sent off for punching Simon Yeo. City soon got a penalty of their down, but Yeo smashed it against the post and it ran across the goal line before going out for a goal kick. Trevor Molley was sent off in extra time for a dangerous tackle. At the same time, a fight had started in the executive area between stewards and sent off Carlisle player, Ritchie Foran. Foran was asked to stop spitting in the executive area and Foran’s chairman got involved and a massive fight broke out.
One week later came the most eagerly anticipated game, the game away at Boston United. Boston had controversially won promotion from the conference and were automatically deducted points for financial irregularities, meaning they started the season on -4. The game had sold out in all stands as it was the first ever league game between the two teams. City had the ball in the net in the 4th minute when Simon Yeo snuck in to a goalmouth scramble and hit the ball into the net but it was ruled out for offside despite there being a defender on the line. City eventually lost 2-0 thanks to goals from Simon Weatherstone and Daryl Clare, Simon Yeo was also sent off in one of the Imps worst performances of the season.
Remember back to the 2000/1 when Ian Atkins said that because the game was called off twice, it meant that we were too scared to play them. We thought that would be the silliest excuse we’d heard in a long time. Southend came to Sincil Bank in September 2002 on the back of an average start to the season. The game eventually finished 2-1 but that’s not the memorable moment in this case, that proud accolade belongs, to Rob Newman. Southend’s players hadn’t looked even slightly bothered at any point during the game and barely deserved their goal. Newman however, instead of blaming his blames, blamed the defeat on…………..the pitch. This excuse was given throughout the season but the rest of the times were because the pitch had little or no grass on it thanks to an unbelievable amount of rain before the Rushden game and after that, the pitch was never the same. Newman said our grass was too long to play on and that’s why he’s players looked like they couldn’t be arsed to be there. I find this hilarious considering when City won 1-0 at Southend in March later that season, the grass at Roots Hall was longer than the grass was at the game at Sincil Bank.
The LDV Vans Trophy 1st Round saw the Imps at home to York City. York had fielded a very strong team, whereas the Imps squad consisted of mainly reserve players. Yeo put the Imps into the lead in the 42nd minute but York founded themselves winning in the second half after 2 goals in the 3 minutes that easily went by goalkeeper, Paul Pettinger. Ben Futcher did manage to equalise with just over 10 minutes to go but York went back in the lead within a minute. It headed into extra time and City looked to be heading out, however, in the 92nd minute, the ball wound up falling to Yeo on the edge of the area after a scramble and he managed to shoot past everyone and make it 3-3. So it looked to be heading for extra time but 33 seconds later, City were winning after another goalmouth scramble saw Chris Brass put the ball into his own net to seal a dramatic come back for the Imps.
Four defeats in a row followed some after the match against York, one of those, was a 2-1 defeat at Carlisle in the FA Cup so the Imps had the first weekend of December off. They returned the next weekend to a home game with Cambridge United and the game finished in a 2-2 draw that saw 3 players sent off. City went on a massively impressive run with saw only 1 defeat in 17 games. City turned a midtable mediocrity into a playoff push thanks to wins over Macclesfield, Swansea, Rochdale, Carlisle, Hull, Hartlepool and Southend. The run ended with a 2-0 defeat at Exeter.
The Swansea game was one that we shouldn’t really have won, although City had absolutely dominated the game, they hadn’t done enough with the ball to warrant a win against virtually relegated Swansea. However, in the final minute of extra time, Cornelly lofted the ball upwards for Paul Smith to smash goalwards, the ball hit the post and then hit Swansea defender, Kris O’Leary’s knee and back into the goal. Although Imps fans were delighted, you could help but feel sorry for Swansea.
One of the games mentioned above, was a game against Carlisle. City had already lost twice to Carlisle that season and the game had already been called off once. It had been snowing for the last week or two and the game looked very unlikely to be on so only 41 Lincoln fans made the trip to Brunton Park and those 41 saw arguably, the best performance of the season from City. New signing Chris Ward gave City the lead on the 6th minute with a header from only a few yards out. Scott Willis doubled the lead on the half hour with an audacious effort. If you’ve seen Figo’s goal against Man Utd then it’s near enough exactly like that and is arguably the best goal scored by any City player in recent years. Carlisle players were forced to spend half time on the pitch after the first half display, despite it being -5 degrees. City soon made it 3 through Peter Gain with an excellent effort from the edge of the area after dancing around a few defenders. Paul Smith quickly made it four, after a mistake from goalkeeper, Matt Glennon. Carlisle did eventually put one back but that didn’t bother the delighted 41 Imps fans.
4 days later came a day that every Imps fan can be proud of. City’s first ever trip to Hull’s new KC Stadium. The stadium had been open since boxing day and no team had won there, Exeter had drew but everyone else had suffered defeat and a late playoff charge looked on for Peter Taylor’s men. I think it says a lot about a few Lincoln fans that the previous season, we’d only taken around 700 to Boothferry Park but now that Hull had a nice shiny new stadium, 1,300 Lincoln fans turned up to the KC, erm, dedicated. Anyway, the game was pretty much dominated by Hull and they should have been at least 1 or 2 up at half time although City probably had the best chance of the half when Cornelly broke through on goal but skied his shot. Midway through the second half, Bailey burst into the box but was bundled over by Damien Delaney. Stuart Bimson stepped up and smashed the ball into the net from the spot. Hull very rarely threatened to get back into the game and Lincoln even had another goal disallowed. City however went onto to win 1-0 and become the first ever away side to win at the KC Stadium, something only 4 other teams have managed since.
A few weeks after, City faced run away leaders Hartlepool United. Hartlepool had set the division alight, losing only a small handful of games up until that point and people had already given then the title and anyone who thought they wouldn’t win promotion, was laughed at. Both teams entered on the back of good runs, Hartlepool hadn’t lost in 12 and City had only lost one of the last 13 so it was truly a case of the two form sides meeting each other. Hartlepool controlled the game but City foundselves ahead just before half time thanks to a overhead kick from Allan Pearce. A truly brilliant goal from Peter Gain saw him run half the pitch, rounding several players before slotting the ball away put the Imps 2 up with 10 minutes to go and Matt Bloomer’s close range header made it 3-0 a few minutes later. It was remembered as the best Imps performance of that season whereas in all honesty, the scoreline flattered us and Hartlepool should have got at least a point. We definatly didn’t deserved to win by 3 goals and the only time we looked threatening was when we scored, other than that, we were poor that game but then again, if anyone said to me that you’d be absolutely dominated in a game but win 3-0, I’d definatly take it.
Skip forward 2 months and we get to the final game of the season, a tricky looking game against Torquay and it proved so as City struggled to make an impact. City only needed a point to absolutely guarantee a playoff place but a defeat combined with an Oxford win, would see them in the playoffs instead of the Imps. Oxford obliged with their end of the deal with a 2-0 win over York who themselves could have got in the playoffs if City had lost and they’d beat Oxford. City went into the final few minutes 1-0 down and the season was looking over, we heard of the party going on in Oxford. All of a sudden, Butcher smashed the ball up field and it bounced about 20 yards from goal and striker Simon Yeo, who hadn’t scored in the League since the home game against Southend (must have been the long grass), swung out his left leg, the ball sailed into the net and sent Sincil Bank ballistic. Sincil Bank has very rarely seen such joy from fans and I even broke down crying and City were into the playoffs. The part I love about this even more is that when we scored, Oxford were still partying and then all of a sudden, in the middle of “Oxford are going Up, Oxford are going Up, and now are you gonna believe us and now are you gonna believe us and now are you gonna believe us, Oxford are goi” and then pure silence. I have wished ever since that I could have been at Sincil Bank and the Kassam at the same time just to witness this glorious moment.
So we get to it, the Playoff Semi Final first leg against Scunthorpe at home. Anyway who tells you this wasn’t the best game at Sincil Bank this millennium will be lying to you. The atmosphere was electric from both sets of fans and it made for an excellent game. I can’t even begin to tell you how great this game was, it was truly memorable. Full of different emotions and the game swung and although Scunthorpe were never in the lead, every time they score, the tie seemed to be back in their favour. City raced into a quick 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Simon Weaver and Paul Mayo. Alex Calvo-Garcia pull one back midway through the first half before Richard Butcher had a goal disallowed for City. In the second half, good work from Cropper saw Paul Smith increase the lead before Paul Mayo had another goal disallowed. Scunthorpe then scored 2 goals in a minute from Calvo-Garcia and Stanton. Two goals from Simon Yeo eventually saw the game finish 5-3 and this will go down as arguably, the best game ever seen at Sincil Bank.
Brian, Brian, Brian, where art thou common sense Brian? Now, if they previous two excuses you seen in the Top 50 were silly, they this was just ridiculous. At the final whistle of the game, Brian Laws just walked straight by Keith Alexander’s out-stretched hand. Laws then said he didn’t shake Keith’s hand because of an incident that happen in the League game at Sincil Bank back in September, this despite the fact that he’d shaken Keith’s hand in both the league games. Then Brian Laws blamed his side’s defeat on the state of the Sincil Bank pitch which a semi decent excuse because the state of the pitch was awful to say the least but then, the excuse looked a bit silly just days later when City again beat them, on their pitch which sort of makes his excuse of the Sincil Bank pitch a bit stupid.
City had started the season as favourites to go down due to buying all those non-league players, no-one saw City as having a chance, not even some Lincoln fans, but Keith Alexander took the Imps to the playoff final and effectively stuck his fingers up at all the critics. City’s squad of no hope former part timers had made the biggest most prolific game of the league season, the playoff final. They faced Bournemouth, a side City had beaten just 5 weeks previously. City eventually lost 5-2 but no Lincoln fans particully cared, at the beginning of the season, City fans would have been happy to finish 22nd to avoid relegation, anything else was just a bonus. No-one can deny that Bournemouth deserved tot win the game but City silenced a few critics by playing a lot of football rather than the long ball tag the Imps became stuck with.
One of the goals in that game for City came a few minutes after Bournemouth had opened the scoring. A corner from the right was swung in and leading scorer, Ben Futcher headed the Imps level and sent the 14,000 Imps fans absolutely mental. I can’t recall a single time that I have celebrated a single goal more and that was our moment, that was the time we showed the country that we weren’t just there to be rolled over, although it turned out that we didn’t get rolled over, we did end up as the only side that lost at the Millennium Stadium that season, the score a goal. No other losing side had managed to score so that was a slight consolation.
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