Every once in a while you will see a goal that will be shown for years to come and defines a generation of FA Cup fans. There was Hereford’s Ronnie Radford, Lawrie Sanchez in the 1988 Final, Trevor Sinclair for QPR in the nineties, Steven Gerrard’s last minute screamer against West Ham in 2006, Ben Watson for Wigan against Manchester City in 2013 and now, you can add Lincoln City’s Sean Raggett to that list.
Due to personal reasons I couldn’t make the trip to Burnley, which was a shame as I used to live in nearby Blackburn and would have liked to have had the chance to catch up with friends and also watch the ice hockey team that I used to work for (Blackburn Hawks), but alas, like most others I was restricted to the showing on BT Sport, but even then I imagine that I, and the thousands in the ground and watching on the screens at Sincil Bank, felt just as tense. 3,210 Imps secured tickets and made the trek up to Lancashire more in hope than expectation. Realistically Burnley would defeat Lincoln in 99 of out 100 meetings, but that was the same for Ipswich and Brighton, and to a lesser extent Oldham. A 1-in-100 shot constantly seems to be enough for us these days.
Let’s make no mistake about it, despite fielding a slightly weakened team, Burnley still had a starting XI that could arguably hold their own in the Premier League. It was comfortably the toughest test of our cup run so far. Oldham and Ipswich were both exceptionally low on confidence, whereas Brighton’s wholesale changes proved that their lack of strength in depth will need addressing when they get promoted to the Premier League in a few months.
But anyway, the Imps kicked off and straight away the confidence of winning 15 of the previous 18 matches in all competitions was evident. Jack Muldoon wasted a chance early on but other than that it was a pretty scrappy and quiet first half. The Imps were certainly holding their own against the team that at the time sat twelfth in the Premier League. The second half was a completely different affair.
Joey Barton has never been the most popular figure with opposition fans but I had never personally had a problem with him….until midway through the second half when he stomped on Matt Rhead, all before then running into his elbow and feigning injury, trying to get Rhead sent off. I know that will sound petty to any non-Lincoln fan and exaggerated, but just watch the incident. It is one of the most shocking examples of cheating that I’ve ever seen, but successful teams are built off of players that couldn’t be described as honest (example, Arsenal’s 2003/4 “Invincibles” that only remained so by constantly diving under no contact whatsoever). The laughable part of the whole thing is that if you read his Twitter, you’d think he was completely innocent.
But anyway, I digress. In all truth the match wasn’t the best. City were excellent and soaked up pretty much anything that Burnley threw at them, but in truth neither goalkeeper was really stretched into a save. It was interesting though that the commentators were talking about how the longer the game went on, the harder City would find it due to the fitness levels, but if there is one thing that anyone who has watched a Danny Cowley side will testify to, they rarely get tired in games. The only time that I’ve seen them clearly on their last legs was pretty much the entirety of the defeat at Barrow last month, but that was understandable due to an overwhelming amount of games in such a small amount of time.
The final few minutes were quite end to end, but in truth it looked like it was going to a replay, which I’m sure no Imps fan would have complained about due to the extra revenue and Burnley being a far different prospect away from home……but then City won a corner. From that corner they won another corner. It seemed overhit but it was headed back across goal and nodded in by Raggett. It was stopped seemingly on the line by Heaton, but thankfully goal-line technological came to City’s aid and awarded the goal. The hesitant celebrations of Imps fans became delirious rapture as the goal was signalled, and every single member of the team rushed to crush Raggett under the pile of bodies.
It took me re-watching the final few minutes to realise something that no-one else seems to have noticed, mainly because we were all too busy celebrating, myself included. Danny Cowley allowed himself a brief moment of celebration before then organising a substitution and concentrating back on the game, all whilst the players were running towards the aforementioned pile. That is one of the best aspects of Danny Cowley, he will allow himself time to celebrate, but then has his eyes on the bigger picture. Six and a bit minutes of added on time later and the Imps became the first non-league team in more than 100 years to reach the FA Cup Quarter Finals
I sat looking at my TV not entirely sure what to do. I felt on the verge of tears of pride, whilst also having that buzzing feeling that can only come when something exceptional happens. This is a club that just five years ago lost to Carshalton Athletic in the FA Trophy, almost got relegated to the Conference North in 2013 and hasn’t achieved a finish higher than 13th (2008/9 and 2015/16) since our last jaunt in the Playoffs in 2007. It seems odd to say this but I support a team that are not only top of the league, but are in the quarter finals of two cup competitions. The treble is still on.
So now here comes the question, who do we want in the quarters? Well this is a tricky one because there is the side of you that wants to say “one of the truly big teams”, in other words, either of the Manchester sides, Chelsea or Arsenal, but facing any of them means the 1-in-100 that I mentioned earlier becomes 1-in-1000, but gives the club a big pay-day, especially if it’s away from home. On the flip side we could say that we want a game against a “lesser” side to increase the chances of getting through to the semi finals and sharing the gate money from a game at Wembley, as well as the prize money and two games likely to be on TV, however, they are more likely to not under-estimate us and will field a strong side.
For me, the worst team team to draw would be Millwall. That isn’t meant in a disrespectful way, but rather in a way where it would be a winnable game (afterall we’ve beaten three teams in divisions higher than them and one from the same division) but they would also not under-estimate us and they are buzzing after already beating three Premier League teams on their route to the quarters. They would arguably take us more of a threat than anyone else left that we could potentially draw. It also probably wouldn’t bring a mass amount of money for either team other than likely TV money.
In other news, what made the afternoon even better was seeing the results come in as both Dagenham and Forest Green, second and third respectively in the Conference, both lost, meaning that City now have a three point gap and two games in hand. Whilst nothing is obviously guaranteed, and there is still a lot of football to be played (a rapidly increasing amount of football), it would take a brave individual to bet against the Imps not being a League Two team next year.