THERE was a time when former Bootham Crescent boss Billy McEwan insisted his team welcomed opposition teams with a blast of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
One of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ other classics “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” might have been more appropriate, though, for the visit of every neutral’s favourite non-League side this season – Lincoln.
For the much-feted Cowley brothers – the Imps’ management team of Danny and Nicky – are starting to look a little rattled and irritated by the top-of-the-table, FA quarter-finalists’ inability to overcome a City side, who have occupied the lower regions of the league throughout the campaign.
By prevailing 2-1 in the first leg of the FA Trophy semi-final, Gary Mills’ team became only the second side in the National League to defeat Lincoln since Boxing Day – the other was Barrow in Cumbria and, as any seasoned Conference observer will appreciate, no opposition side ever wins at Holker Street!
The Minstermen also remain the only club – in a list including the likes of Championship duo Brighton and Ipswich – to have avoided defeat at Sincil Bank from the last ten visitors, following last month’s 1-1 league draw.
A repeat of that outcome would now send City to Wembley at their hosts’ expense which, considering the Imps have never played on the hallowed turf during their 133-year history, would clearly rankle the Cowleys, whose constant berating of the officials in the first leg illustrated how keen they are to end that wait and how they might be beginning to regard the team standing in their way as a potential nemesis.
There is more than a little deja-vu about this two-legged tussle, with Mills’ players heading to a hostile Lincoln ground for the second leg with a one-goal advantage five years on from being in the same situation as they prepared for a partisan greeting at Luton’s Kenilworth Road.
If the visitors can complete the job this weekend, then Lincoln, like Luton before them, will begin to believe Mills holds the Indian Sign over them.
For the first 45 minutes on Tuesday night as in the second half last month, Lincoln did demonstrate that they can overwhelm teams who don’t match their tempo and allow them to attack.
At half-time, despite only being one goal behind following Lee Angol’s 14th-minute penalty, City supporters, who had perhaps shown where their priorities lie this season with less than 2,000 turning up on the night, could have been forgiven for wanting to be put out of their misery to concentrate on the fight against relegation, given the dominance of Cowley’s team.
But a rousing second-half response by their team reignited the Minstermen faithful’s interest in the competition and a trip to Wembley and, after Vadaine Oliver and Aidan Connolly goals turned the tie on its head, Bootham Crescent was bouncing like the good old days.
Lincoln had earlier set the tone for a one-side first half when, after 49 seconds, Joe Ward tried his luck with a low 25-yard drive that Kyle Letheren gathered at the second attempt.
The City keeper also dealt with Adam Marriott’s attempt from a similar distance before Angol burst into the home box and Hamza Bencherif, after slipping over, flung out an arm to floor the on-loan Peterborough striker with a rugby tackle.
Angol then calmly went on sidefooted to Letheren’s left from the spot.
The visitors continued to press with Josh Ginnelly curling a free kick into the Longhurst and Sam Habergham’s 30-yard half volley whistling just over.
City’s first effort of the night on 32 minutes saw Jon Parkin fail to make clean contact on an ambitious 30-yard hooked attempt over his shoulder and the ball bounced gently to keeper Ross Etheridge. But Lincoln might have doubled their advantage just before the break when Jamie McCombe – brother of former Minsterman John – glanced a near-post header inches too high from Billy Knott’s right-wing corner.
Mills responded by introducing Connolly at half-time for makeshift midfielder Scott Fenwick and the hosts started the second period with greater purpose, culminating in Oliver quickly levelling the scores on 53 minutes after Bradley Wood had lifted over an early diagonal effort.
The spring-heeled striker leapt high after Amari Morgan-Smith had lofted in a left-wing cross and his back header, from close to the penalty spot, dropped into Etheridge’s bottom-left corner.
After Alex Whittle then made way for Adriano Moke due to a hamstring problem, the latter made his presence felt immediately, collecting a throw out by Letheren to drive to the edge of the penalty box, before his 69th-minute scuffed shot deflected off Connolly and deceived Etheridge to spin into the back of the net.
Connolly also drove wide of the near post from a narrow angle, before the visitors surged forward in search of a first-leg equaliser.
An Angol header on 81 minutes from Habergham’s left-wing cross was a comfortable height for Letheren, who had to be more alert to parry away a fierce, 15-yard Ward drive.
The City keeper also did well to push over a dipping header from Luke Waterfall with the subsequent decision to award a goal kick the subject of widespread hilarity.
A header by substitute Matt Rhead was then somehow scrambled away by the City keeper, who gathered a weak volley from the powerhouse forward moments later.
But City might have added a third on the break in the fifth minute of stoppage time when the tireless Oliver chased Sean Newton’s pass through the right channel and pulled the ball back for Parkin, but his mishit shot rolled back to Etheridge.
Kyle Letheren 8 – made vital saves at crucial points and stayed composed
Shaun Rooney 7 – distribution a little wayward but concentration grew as game went on
Hamza Bencherif 7 – gave away blatant penalty before but strong in second half
Sean Newton 8 – long passing was radar like and showed great desire
Danny Holmes 8 – played sensibly and found a team-mate more often that not
Simon Heslop 8 – covered well both in the middle of the park and when moved left
Scott Fenwick 6 – too many aimlessly hooked ball forwards before subbed at half-time
Alex Whittle 7 – considered in his forward raids but handled Ginnelly well
STAR MAN Vadaine Oliver 9 – kept going during difficult first half and work-rate inspired team after break
Jon Parkin 7 – not really his night but kept opposition defenders occupied
Amari Morgan-Smith 8 – always tenacious and willing to close opposition down
Subs: Aidan Connolly 8 – busy (for Fenwick, 46), Adriano Moke 8 – positive (for Whittle, 65).
Subs not used: Luke Simpson, Tyler Walton, Sam Fielding,.
Ross Etheridge, Bradley Wood, Callum Howe, Jamie McCombe (Luke Waterfall, 80), Sam Habergham, Joe Ward, Elliott Whitehouse, Billy Knott (Alan Power, 73), Josh Ginnelly, Lee Angol, Adam Marriott (Matt Rhead, 73). Subs not used: Jack Muldoon, Terry Hawkridge.
Lincoln star man: Wood – always strong and quick to break forward
Referee: Anthony Backhouse rating: 6/10 – little lenient and a few big oversights
Booked: Angol 48, Rooney 64, Oliver 89
Attendance: 3,294 (1,358 from Lincoln)
Shots on target: City 4, Lincoln 7
Shots off target: City 1, Lincoln 4
Corners: City 2, Lincoln 7
Fouls conceded: City 14, Lincoln 12
Offside: City 2, Lincoln 1