So I’m back for the first away day of 2017. The FA Cup third round always throws up a few shocks, so it’s always good to see a lower league side coming up against one of the bigger sides.
However, you can only do this if you go to a match, because TV channels refuse to accept that lower league clubs exist. There were five non-league sides who made it to the third round, yet none of them make it to TV. Instead we get Manchester United v Reading. Really? Do people with any knowledge of football really want to watch Man Utd put out a second choice XI against a Championship side at Old Trafford? That was the 55th consecutive FA Cup tie United have played that was on TV. Everyone who enjoys football or understands the English game is bored of this rubbish. For non-league clubs TV revenue can make a huge difference. Man Utd can afford to spend £89 million on Paul Pogba, I doubt they need the £80k TV money.
This year’s third round took me to see Championship club Ipswich Town take on National League side Lincoln City at Portman Road. The Imps beat Oldham in the second round at Sincil Bank, and have been flying in the National League in recent months. Ipswich on the other hand are on pretty poor form and there are a number of fans who want to see Mick McCarthy’s spell in charge of the club come to an end.
As I live in Lincoln it was a good two and half hours down to Ipswich, a trip that was being made by nearly 5,000 City fans. This is a staggeringly good support for a non-league club, and it created quite an atmosphere in the stands. Even with half an hour to go until kick off there were a number of fans chanting, more than any noise that came from the home fans all day. This was my first trip to Portman Road, and it was pretty clear from the off that this was a very old fashioned stadium. We were seated in the upper tier of the Cobbold Stand, which Lincoln got all of, as well as a section of the bottom tier. I had heard that the food at Portman Road was among the best in the Championship, and the Chicken Balti pie I bought before the match certainly did not disappoint.
The Lincoln end filled up a good 15 minutes before kick off, and the Ipswich fans trickled in, with eventually 12,000 home fans turning up. And it was the 4,800 Imps celebrating after just seven minutes, when some good work outside the area led to the ball being played out to Nathan Arnold on the right wing, whose low cross into the box was turned home by Theo Robinson at the near post. Robinson was the man who got Lincoln to this stage with a brace against Oldham in the second round, and it was a simple finish to complete a good move, leading Lincoln fans to bring out the ‘Dambusters’ celebration.
The lead didn’t last long however, and Ipswich were level just five minutes later. Tom Lawrence picked up the ball inside his own half and drove right at the heart of the Lincoln defence before firing through Paul Farman’s legs from just inside the penalty area. Although it was a good run, it has to be said it was really poor defending, and Farman should have done more to keep it out. The half passed largely without incident after that point. Arnold had the only real chance of note, hitting a shot from the edge of the area that was comfortably saved by ‘keeper Dean Gerken.
The second half began pretty much as the first had. Arnold was once again denied by Gerken, this time from a much better chance with a much better save, before Robinson was inches away from getting on the end of an inswinging cross. He wasn’t to be denied for long however. Farman’s long kick wasn’t dealt with by Christophe Berra, before Robinson ran in behind to brilliantly volley past the helpless Gerken. Even though it was only from 12 yards out, he controlled the dropping ball really well. I saw it described in one news article as a ‘tap in’, but if it was a tap in it was one of the greatest tap ins ever scored. Robinson then attempted what was probably a recreation of Mario Balotelli’s celebration from Euro 2012. He was promptly booked.
This again led to the Dambusters celebration from the stands, and quickly followed by the classic football chant of “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” aimed at under-pressure Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy. It seems wrong to sing about people losing their job, but sometimes the timing is just perfect. I’m sure he’ll be given if a decent pay-off if he does get the boot anyway.
Unfortunately Lincoln appeared to drop back way too early in the match and it seemed like just a matter of time until Ipswich got back level. And the time did come with just four minutes left, Matt Rhead losing possession to Lawrence just inside his own half, before the long range Leicester man found the bottom corner from 25 yards out. I’m afraid that fingers will again be pointed at Farman, as it wasn’t the most powerful effort, and he probably should have been able to keep it out.
Lincoln did have one final chance to nick it at the death, Alex Woodyard breaking through on goal. He doesn’t end up in this position much however, and that was clear by the uncertainty he showed in the position, and he eventually lost out to Josh Emmanuel. And that was that. On the face of it, a draw was probably a fair result, though Lincoln will feel that they deserved, and perhaps earned, the victory.
The replay is down for next Tuesday, and I will be there, so I’ll write a report for that. As for the fourth round, the draw is pretty poor, and I’m not sure which game I’ll be able to get down to, so I’ll have to think about that one.
As for the game at Portman Road, it was quite an atmosphere created by the 4,800 Lincoln fans, and it was fantastic to see a number of Ipswich fans remain behind at the end of the game to applaud the Imps off. It is a very good ground to visit, and we were treated with what was a very entertaining match.
Rating out of 10: Good ground, good food, at £5 for under 20s good price, and a fantastic game with a brilliant atmosphere. 9/10