Since the Imps have become a non league club there have been plenty of gut wrenching, embarrassing defeats and plenty of inept performances. Away games at Barrow, Tamworth, Braintree, and the jewel of the crown the two games against Carshalton in the FA Trophy in the first season at the level. Last year also had more than its fair share of shit as well, as Lincoln gave incredibly poor performances against the footballing superpowers of Alfreton and Tamworth etc. In both of the previous seasons the club has been in a dogfight in the bottom third of the table and unless things drastically change, given what i witnessed at the weekend we can expect more of the same in 2014.
I have only seen the Imps a handful of times this season. Away matches (not road trips!) to Woking, Barnet, Nuneaton and most recently the Lincolnshire derby away in Codland. Home games due to the lack of a season ticket and an £18 admission fee for league matches have been even scarcer, as i have only seen the Imps lock horns with Forest Green Rovers and Stalybridge Celtic. Up until this point i hadn't seen Lincoln lose. The performances against Forest Green and away at Grimsby were above average with the others being mealy workmanlike run-of-the-mill 5th division fare.
So what tempted me to Sincil Bank last weekend? A combination of the following: 1) it was £10 to get in, 2) As any fan will tell you there is something special about cup football, and 3) it was a great chance to meet up with a friend who i haven't seen since the summer and has never been to a men's football match in her life and thus try to grow the Imps fan base even if it was only by one. Given how bad the Imps were i think i may have a hard time convincing her to return.
Arriving in the fair City early i high tailed it straight down to the club shop to purchase the new home kit. I was going to get the away one but they had sold out of
From there it was round to what was called the Centre spot bar for a few more beers. In here you get yet another reminder of how low City have sunk in the last 5 or so years. During the 90's right though to the play-off years this place use to be packed, If you weren't in before 1.30pm you couldn't get a seat and it was 3 deep at both bars. Nowadays seats are plentiful, the bar at the far end is shut, and the remaining one is hardly busy. On the plus side the food in there looks as excellent as it always has done. On the big screen Chelsea, lead by the greatest manager in the world, were busy putting the swamp dwellers from Hull to the sword at the KC stadium. As an Imps fan worth there salt knows Lincoln handed "ull" there first ever defeat at there brand new stadium during the 2002/3 season. Stuart Bimson's penalty giving the Imps a 1-0 win. How times change. A quick flick through the match day programme was another reminder of our status as a wart on the arse of the footballing world. Its a poor effort with very little to read in it, with some Central Midlands league programmes having more reading material (although it looks quite smart); it takes longer to read the Spot the dog books.
With Chelsea having wrapped up the points. We made our way into the stadium. As this was a cup game the club had shut half the stadium off. As normal the Stacey West was shut (don't get me started on this) and the top tier of the CO-OP stand was also closed. Now this is the most popular section of the stadium, has the best catering facilities etc, so it is a little strange that this section was shut off but then again this is Lincoln City; a place where customer service is yet to be totally understood. The mass ranks of over 120 North Ferriby fans were housed in a section of the South Stand. Recently the Imps have had (by their low standards) some decent results. Getting a 1-1 draw at Grimsby then following it up with a 0-0 home draw over league leaders Luton and beating Alfreton Town 4-1 at home. These results and the cheaper admission prices seemed to have brought a few more Imps fans out the woodwork, myself included i hasten to add, and the attendance was more than i expected with the lower tier of the CO-OP being pretty full. Mr Barlow Snr and the man of a 1,000 clubs decked out in a Juve scarf were amongst the spectators.
However any thoughts of a Lincoln revival were short lived as the visitors took the lead on nine minutes. That was when the game was effectively over as a contest. Lincoln never really looked interested and good old Gary Simpson's one up front formation is hardly one that is going to get you back into the game. The visitors must had been amazed at the ease of which they were able to cut through the Imps midfield. I have seen friendly performances with more bite in them that this shower from the Imps. North Ferriby made it 2-0 on 43 minutes when a poor header back from Nat Brown failed to find Paul Farman, which allowed the Ferriby striker to nip in for a simple goal; 0-2 and both game and Wembley trip over.
During the halftime break all the talk was how amazingly bad City had been. Normally during a shitfest like this the mood is one of anger but that was different. It was more one of amazement than the Imps could be this bad. Lincoln did have a little more fire in their bellies at the start of the second half and even put 2 or 3 passes together at times but never really forced the Ferriby keeper into a serious save. However in the 70th minute it was game over as Paul Farman in the Imps goal produced another trade mark goof as he failed to hold a tame shot, letting it spill put to an onrushing attacker. To try to cover this mistake he only succeed in dragging the Ferriby player down for a penalty which was dully converted. The Imps keeper (who i rate as the poorest keeper i have ever seen at Lincoln who has played over 20 games for the club) then repeated the trick in the final few minutes by failing to hold another shot, only this time the on rushing player smashed home the rebound before Farman could bring him down. 0-4 down to a part time side a league below us, fans waving white handkerchiefs and steaming for the exits with 20 minutes to play. Welcome to Lincoln City in 2014.
Afterwards in the pub i didn't know what to think. You just have to laugh really; inept, pitiful, sorry, clueless, gutless, all words that describe the Imps performance. I asked Gemma if she fancied the next game v Woking in a few weeks, Her response as you can imagine was less that positive.
So what's the big picture going forward in 2014? Well its hard to see Lincoln not finishing in the bottom third of the division. I have many concerns about the state of the team but most worrying was the lack of leadership coming from the bench and lack of tactical nounce being shown. I understand that playing one up front is sometimes a decent plan, away at the league leaders for example, however i think i will struggle to find another coach or manager who would use it when you are 0-2 down at home to North Ferriby United. Or persist in player a keeper who clearly isn't up to the job when you have somebody like David Preece on the bench who from what i have seen is easily up to this level of football, and has far more mental focus. Its all very disturbing however I fully expect Simpson to stay in the job, but I do feel however he is a very lucky boy. How many managers would survive a 5-1 defeat at Halifax and a 1-4 home defeat at home to conference north opponents?
I do think Lincoln will stay up this year. Hardly an achievement really, but that's as good as it gets these days. The club is treading water and its hard to see where the club is going in the boardroom, dugout, or on the pitch. Its all a bit of a pickle as they say.