For the third time in a month, I am following Lincoln City in the FA Cup. The trip has so far seen the Imps knock out Championship side Ipswich Town, which, although it took two games, was a thoroughly deserved victory. A home game with Brighton was considered a much tougher test, given that they are a much better team and in much better form. Obviously this isn’t an away game at all for me, given that I was actually able to walk down to Sincil Bank.
Much like the first game with Ipswich, the game was at three o’clock on Saturday, meaning it was ignored as far as TV coverage is concerned. Instead the games televised included Southampton v Arsenal, which was the most one-sided game of the weekend, and Manchester United v Wigan, the 56th consecutive United FA Cup game that has been on TV. They will be on TV in the Premier League at least 25 times this season, at least eight times in the Europa League, and at least four times in the EFL Cup. Everyone is bored of Paul Pogba making an error and the commentator saying something like ‘he’s just adapting to English football.’ Let’s see something different for once. It’s not every week you see someone like Matt Rhead come up against one of the form teams in the top two divisions of English football.
You may have seen pictures of the size of the queue waiting for tickets for the game. When it was just season ticket holders, people were queuing up at 4am, when it got down to the few tickets that went on general sale, there were people waiting outside the ticket office at 11pm, about 11 hours before it actually opened.
One thing that has remained constant with Lincoln throughout the FA Cup run, and throughout the entire season, has been the atmosphere. The Ipswich replay was the highest attended game at Sincil Bank since it became an all-seater stadium in 1995. The presence of the ‘617’ in the left side of the Co-op Stand provides constant chanting throughout the 90 minutes during both FA Cup and league games. The record attendance was broken yet again on Saturday, with 9,469 supporters, including nearly 1,400 away fans.
The game began much as you would have expected it to. An early ball into the Lincoln penalty area was misjudged by City centre back Luke Waterfall, and Glenn Murray’s header was well kept out by Imps ‘keeper Paul Farman. Lincoln seemed to come back into the game more after that, and got the ball in some good crossing positions, though were never able to pick out either Matt Rhead or Theo Robisnon. Brighton’s quality was coming through however, and they nearly took the lead in spectacular fashion when Solly March skipped past three players in midfield before firing against the bar from 30 yards out.
Lincoln’s luck ran out just a few minutes later, with a long cross field ball picking out Murray, who despite the question of offside, headed down to Richie Towell, who smashed in his first Brighton goal. It was an impressive finish, and one which showed the Championship class of Brighton. Chris Hughton had made a number of changes to his regular league side however, and at times it showed. The Imps were having some joy down the left side, with Brighton right back Fikayo Tomori, making his debut after joining on loan from Chelsea, picking up a yellow card for hacking down Robinson. Their best chance of the half fell to Nathan Arnold, the hero of the Ipswich replay, who curled an effort from 25 yards out that was tipped round the post by Brighton ‘keeper Niki Maenpaa.
In a second half that simply summed up the cliché ‘a game of two halves’, Lincoln came out and took control of the game. Farman’s long ball forward resulted in Murray pulling down Robinson in the box, and the referee rightly pointed to the spot. It was almost ironic that it was Murray who gave it away, given that he spent much of the first half on the ground appealing for cheap free kicks. Robinson unfortunately collided with Maenpaa as he fell to the ground, leading to a long stoppage. The ‘keeper left the field with what seemed to be an arm injury, and was replaced by Casper Ankergren, who has barely played any football over the past two years.
Captain Alan Power stepped up, and calmly sent Ankergren the wrong way. Power celebrated with what was apparently a Conor McGregor impression, because he’s supposed to look like the MMA fighter. I don’t see it to be honest.
From then on, Sincil Bank was bouncing. The atmosphere reached a new level with Lincoln fans once again bringing out the Dambusters celebration. It got even better just a few minutes later, when the ball was worked out to Arnold on the wing, who crossed to the back post where it was expertly turned past Ankergren by Tomori. Into his own net. I have no idea what he was trying to do, and I’m not sure he did either. The Bank once again erupted, with chants of “Who are ya?” and “Championship, we’re having a laugh”, very much like the replay with Ipswich.
Hughton reacted by throwing on Tomer Hemed and Jamie Murphy, though he may have regretted leaving Anthony Knockaert on the bench, a man certainly capable of making an impact going forward. The pair didn’t really have much effect on the game, and a lot of credit for this has to go to centre back pairing Sean Raggett and Luke Waterfall, as well as centre midfielder Alex Woodyard, who were fantastic all day. A lucky deflection saw the ball land at Hemed’s feet in the area, but his volley was brilliantly blocked by Raggett.
While Lincoln’s centre backs were superb, Brighton’s were pretty poor. Uwe Hunemeier’s poor clearance was blocked by Rhead, setting up Arnold to slide the ball through to Robinson, who wasn’t going to miss. It was his fifth FA Cup goal of the season, and from his performance on the day, he certainly deserved it. For the fans, that was it. What took place on the pitch then had little significance. Hundreds poured down to the front awaiting the final whistle, though many missed that the fourth official had signalled for another eight minutes to be played.
In those eight minutes, Farman made an excellent save to deny Hemed, though very few Lincoln fans noticed, as they had pulled out the FA Cup classic “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wembley.” Fans poured on the pitch as the final whistle went, with many rushing to congratulate their heroes. It was a win they utterly deserved and much like the Ipswich game, it would have been an injustice had they been beaten.
The atmosphere throughout the game was incredible, and I’m sure it’ll be something I’ll experience again in the next round, whoever Lincoln are drawn against. Danny and Nicky Cowley must take a lot of credit for the work they have done with the Imps, and they fully deserve the success they have had. Those who say the magic of the cup is gone are deluded. Ask Wolves fans, Lincoln fans or Sutton fans. Try telling them that the magic of the cup has gone.
Rating out of 10: Great atmosphere, good pricing at £5 for U18s, and an incredible game. 10/10