2322: Lincoln City: Impressive Imps,
by : James Prentice
Wednesday wasn’t really the best night to play at home to one of the season’s pacesetters. Not only did Wrexham bring just 86 supporters from north Wales, the Champions’ League was on the television, and for some the lure of Real Betis v Liverpool or Chelsea v Anderlecht meant even a fleeting thought was never given to Lincoln City v Wrexham.
Approaching kick-off, there was a myriad of bottomless red seats at Sincil Bank, and not just in the away section. (One could only wonder how the bank balance of the local non-league side from across town, Lincoln United – who were hosting Guiseley in the Northern Premier League, would have suffered if their more illustrious neighbours could only muster 3,000 fans for a League 2 match.) But there was reason for optimism and solace to be found. City’s most recent midweek game had been against Crewe Alexandra in the Carling Cup and, despite attracting similarly low attendance to the Wrexham game, City barnstormed their way to a 5-1 win over the Championship side.
Lincoln would not last five minutes on the pitch against the likes of Liverpool or Chelsea (or even Anderlecht, for that matter), but watching football at their level is often like putting on a comfortable, if a little worn, pair of bedsocks. There are no big stars on astronomical salaries; there is more of a sense of community; and despite the cost of following any club, supporters’ wallets are unlikely to be raped and pillaged to Premiership proportions.
The Imps look to be on the up, and you’d better believe us. Prior to the Wrexham game they occupied the uneasy quarters of sixteenth position but sat in the more compromised tenth slot after a solid 2-0 victory. An even first half was banished when City threatened to hit fifth gear after the break. They were rewarded with a scrappy finish from Nat Brown but the same could not be said of the piece de resistance from Dean Keates, the gifted midfielder measuring little higher than a milk bottle, who swept home firebrand Franny Green’s cross after a lightening-quick breakaway.
After so many changes over the summer, the side is starting to take shape and roles are quickly being established. Not only is the defence beginning to resemble the old iron curtain, the manager, Keith Alexander, seems set to keep the 4-4-2 (though sometimes deviating to 4-3-3) formation that has seen the midfield improve no-end. While it is palpable that he has not yet decided on his best attacking pair (or trio), certainty cannot be far away.
While in recent seasons there have been runaway winners of League 2, it seems that things may well be different this year. In 2003/04, Doncaster and Hull were more than worthy of their promotions and last year Yeovil, Scunthorpe and Swansea (and even play-off winners Southend) stood out as being markedly better than the average League 2 side. The sun is nowhere near setting on 2005/06, but from analysing the first few weeks of action there do not seem to be any sides that stand out from the rest. Wrexham were strongly tipped as promotion candidates but have not looked overly impressive despite being close to the summit, while Notts County and Grimsby have invested precious little in their squads but are already being talked about lasting the pace. Northampton, many a bookie’s favourites for taking the League 2 crown, are languishing in the doldrums despite spending megabucks on their squad (unless their fortunes improve and fast, the copious expectation at Sixfields stipulates that manager Colin Calderwood’s head could be one of the first that rolls).
The attendance against Wrexham was akin to those in the bad old pre-administration days when, if the stadium’s Saturday afternoon occupation rose above 3,000, it was generally viewed as a success. Nowadays, they are expected to be close to 5,000, not just because the club has structured its seasonal budget around receiving the gate receipts that such attendances would bring.
Doubtless, though, the fickle stay-away Champions’-League-comes-first fans will be back for Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated derby with Peterborough United, the first for six years. Peterborough, until this season, have been on a higher plane to City, and surely those supporters will come back in their droves on Saturday. Upon kick-off, we could sing ‘where were you on Tuesday night?’, but will we care about such trivial matters if the Imps have another three points by 5pm? Will we hell.
16 September 2005