Conference Retrospect : The 2011/12 Season

We’ve now served our six year sentence in non-league and will start the 2017/18 season back in the Football League. It was a period full of stress, disappointment, anger and disgust for the most part, and it all started back in the summer of 2011. 2011/12 was a season that featured arguably the most embarrassing result in the Lincoln City’s history, the manager being replaced, the new one having a revolving door policy and a LOT of former loanees returning to the club again.

So I suppose it is best to start off by talking about something that happened just after the finish of the 2010/11 season, a fans meeting with the board. Bob Dorrian hosted an evening where everyone tried to come to terms with the relegation to the National League, or the Conference as it was then known. Bob basically started talking about the sacking of Peter Jackson almost two years earlier and how they got rid of him because of the poor recruitment in the summer of 2009, and the meeting ended with several fans becoming very vocal about wanting Bob’s resignation as Chairman at Sincil Bank. It wouldn’t be the first time he would face that situation during the season.

On the footballing side it was basically a case of starting fresh as most of the squad were released, and you could tell that the club were in troubling times when even Andy Hutchinson, a goalshy striker for the Imps, rejected a new contract. Recruitment was slow during the summer, but on paper Steve Tilson recruited well, with the stand out signings being;

  • Kyle Perry – Scored 17 goals in 40 league games for Tamworth in 2010/11
  • Sam Smith – Scored 3 goals in 7 for Rushden and Diamonds in 2010/11
  • Jamie Taylor – Scored 15 goals for relegated Eastbourne in 2010/11
  • Simon Russell – Cambridge United’s Player of the Season
  • Alan Power – Rushden and Diamonds’ Player of the Season
  • Josh Gowling – Had impressed on loan from Gillingham in the previous season

Complete with one of the most hideous home kits in recent years, City headed into the pre-season fixtures with no idea what to expect from the season ahead. The results in the pre-season were however what you’d expect from a completely new side and one that was recovering from relegation, with a dominant 4-0 win at Ilkeston soon followed by defeat at Gainsborough, a match that saw midfielder Ali Fuseini storm off of the pitch because he didn’t approve of the referee not policing fouls on him more strictly. He was given a yellow card when he eventually returned to the pitch.

City’s season started with a trip to Southport, a ground that was covered in barbed wire. If anyone didn’t feel that relegation was real before then, they did when they entered Haig Avenue and it was so low standard that it made you miss Accrington Stanley.

Defeats against Kidderminster and Wrexham saw City in the relegation zone within the first three matches, but thankfully the Imps finally won at the fourth attempt when they travelled to Telford United’s Bucks Head. A tight game was settled by an impressive Kyle Perry brace after coming off of the bench, continuing a good start at the club for the striker. That match took place on August 23rd and was the club’s first win since March 12th, ending a run of 15 games without a victories across the two seasons. It would remain City’s only win for the opening month as the club then embarked on a four game losing streak.

One of those four defeats came at Braintree Town. The men from Cressing Road had only just been promoted from the Conference South, and the match was televised with a very bizarre 7pm kick off time due to the coverage of Premier Sports. City were awful, there was no two ways about it, and it was little surprise that it was settled by an Andy Yiadom effort. The final whistle was greeted with heavy boos from City fans, and Jean Francois Christophe made his way over to argue with the fans, thus further opening the void that the supporters already felt with everything Lincoln City.

City had to wait until September 20th to record a second win since relegation, with just under 1,600 seeing what turned out to be an impressive win against table topping Gateshead. It was an Ali Fuseini header past goalkeeper Paul Farman that proved the deciding moment as the Imps climbed out of the drop zone. It wouldn’t be the last we’d be hearing of Paul Farman as Imps fans.

Whilst there was a minor upturn in form, it was a 4-0 defeat in early October at Tamworth was the final straw for several Imps fans, myself included, and I took to my Youtube channel to complain about Tilson and Bob Dorrian….

I soon got my wish as Steve Tilson was sacked two days later, much to the relief of most Imps fans. The next day City put in an impressive performance as they recorded a comfortable 3-1 win at Alfreton, but that was followed by a run of five games without a win. The one positive about having Grant Brown in temporary charged was that youth was given a chance, with Karl Cunningham in particular impressing in his cameo appearances.

In that time City were obviously recruiting for a new manager and the list of candidates wasn’t exactly long or impressive, and the board decided to go with David Holdsworth, former Mansfield Town manager. On paper it wasn’t an awful appointment as he had done reasonably well with Mansfield Town in previous years, although he did have a reputation as having a revolving door of players.

That rotating door did indeed go into overdrive as Holdsworth brought in player after player over the course of the season. I believe I read somewhere that we had more one-appearance holders under Holdsworth than in the rest of the millennium combined. Some of the players worked out reasonable well to be fair to them.

One of his first was defender Richard Hinds, who was deemed as a bit of a coup. He had a highly successful career, getting promoted with Hull City and Scunthorpe United out of League One, and had featured regularly for Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship for four seasons. Hinds impressed with his class and he was comfortably the best defender in the nine games that he played.

Hinds would eventually leave City when Yeovil Town offered him a contract, and the season after joining them they became the third club that he had got promoted out of League One with. If I was to compile an XI of the players that played for us in the Conference but didn’t feature in the 2016/17 season, Hinds would be my first choice centre-back.

The instant success under Holdsworth and his revolving door of signings did not emerge though as the Imps were eliminated from the FA Cup in a replay by Alfreton Town. The first leg had seen goalkeeper Joe Anyon sent off, and whilst his replacement (Nick Draper) did well in his FA Cup cameo, the Imps knew that we needed a developed goalkeeper and they plumped for Paul Farman of Gateshead. Farman would play eight games for the Imps on loan, and would later join the Imps permanently after Joe Anyon left for League One. Meanwhile, the Imps lost the replay to Alfreton after Adam Watts (left), one of the survivors from the relegation team, gave away a penalty.

It would be Watts’ last appearance for the Imps after several fans launched a vile online campaign against him, including sharing his mobile number on social network sites and encouraging people to call him with abuse. He would go to Gainsborough and be part of their Playoff push.

Holdsworth’s first win came against Barrow at home, with both goals in the 2-1 victory coming in the space of two minutes, and his second two weeks later in a convincing 3-0 success over Ebbsfleet, with the goals coming from impressive loanee Conal Platt (who would later join permanently), Simon Russell and John Nutter.

Sandwiched in between that however was a 2-0 defeat at Wrexham that resulted in top scorer Sam Smith becoming injured for the majority of the rest of the season. Smith had made a promising start at Sincil Bank, and ended the season with a reasonable nine goals, impressive considering he spent most of it injured.

Results weren’t improving, but the majority seemed happy to give Holdsworth time, but in a season where the bar for the most embarrassing performance kept on getting higher and higher, no-one could have foreseen what would happen on January 14th. The Imps had already embarrassingly been held to a goalless draw at Sincil Bank to Carshalton Athletic, a club so far down the non-league pyramid that they produced an itinerary for the trip to Lincoln that would involve sight-seeing for the fans, but that result was worsened a few days later when, after several rearrangements, Carshalton took apart the Imps and eliminated the Imps with a 3-1 victory that flattered City as it could have been a lot worse.

Holdsworth’s rotating door went right back into action, with Peter Bore, Paul Robson, Richard Pacquette, Mark McCammon,  Tyrone Thompson and a whole host of loanees came in, but very few were noteworthy in a positive sense, but one of those that were was Danny Lloyd-McGoldrick, a winger that had played against City for Colwyn Bay in the trophy. The nippy winger won many fans during his spell at Sincil Bank, and at the time of writing he has just secured himself a transfer to League One Peterborough from National League North Stockport County.

The other positively noteworthy player that came in was striker Jefferson Louis. The well-travelled forward had a promising start by scoring in his opening two matches, and he made a difference to the attack that we needed. He was the target man Kyle Perry should have been…..speaking of Mr Perry…..

Just one win in nine was to follow, including barely avoiding defeat to Braintree thanks to a last minute equaliser, and a controversial goal from Kyle Perry in a match against Telford was talked about for weeks afterwards and was one of the reasons why he never played for us again. It was controversial in the sense that for some reason we loaned Kyle Perry to the Shropshire side, but amazingly allowed him to play against us. Despite still officially being our player, Kyle Perry celebrated his goal by goading the Imps fans. Unsurprisingly this didn’t go down well.

The last game in the run being a trip to Bath City. By March 17th Bath had only won four league games all season and were effectively relegated already. City fans were confident of a moral boosting victory, but that quickly went out of the window as the hosts went 2-0 up in the first three minutes of the game. Danny Lloyd eventually pulled one back, but it was fruitless and City were edging closer to a second straight relegation.

This was enough for some fans, fans who had watched the club turn from regularly appearing in League Two Playoffs to the verge of relegation to the Conference North in just a few short years. A walking protest was arranged to take place before the home game with Newport County, and several hundred would eventually take part. I personally think that this was the turning point at the end of the season, and it started a run of three straight wins for the first time in more than a year.

Bank Holiday Monday saw City host their penultimate game of the season against a Darlington side that had an exceptional fall from grace. The north-east side had been one of the leading contenders for promotion earlier in the year and included a few former Imps in their squad during the season, such as Aaron Brown. Financial issues took a MAJOR toll on their season and they after a 2-0 win over Tamworth on November 26th, they would only win two more games all season.

The Imps were dominant against a side that we had had troubles with in the past. Two days after losing 4-0 to Stockport, City were that same scoreline up at half time thanks to a Danny Lloyd double, as well as headers from Jefferson Louis and Jamie Taylor. Louis completed his brace in the second half to give City a 5-0 win. It would be the last time that the Imps would ever face Darlington as they went bust in that summer, although the phoenix club has since risen to the Conference North.

Mansfield beating Hayes and Yeading meant that the Imps were safe from relegation, but we were aiming to end the season with a relative high. With the season grinding slowly to an end, the Imps were the visitors for a televised game against Fleetwood. The men from just outside of Blackpool would have won automatic promotion with victory over City and Premier Sports were keen to cover the game. Despite everyone just assuming that Fleetwood would win comfortably, and Premier Sports became exceptionally petulant and unprofessional as the Imps took a two goal lead through Jamie Taylor and Jefferson Louis. Jamie Vardy would eventually pull it back to 2-2, but the Imps held out for an excellent point.

Following on from a final home game defeat to already relegated Hayes and Yeading, City ended the season with a 3-2 win at Ebbsfleet that could have easily ended 10-2.

It was a positive end to the season, albeit the lowest ever finish for a Lincoln City side, and gave people hope for the following season, but just when we thought the worst was over….we were wrong.

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