Match report: Lincoln City 1 Ipswich Town 0 – Embarrassing FA Cup defeat for lifeless Blues
Nathan Arnold scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as non-league Lincoln City sent Ipswich Town crashing out of the FA Cup in embarrassing fashion.
Just like in the first meeting of the sides at Portman Road 10 days earlier, a 2-2 draw, the National League table-toppers played with more heart and invention – only this time the humiliation was played out in front of a terrestrial televised audience.
Ex-Braintree boss Danny Cowley has taken the impressive Imps into the fourth round of the world famous competition for the first time since 1976. Town, meanwhile, are still without an FA Cup win since 2010. And this was the first time they have been knocked out of the competition by non-league opposition since 1960.
Last Saturday’s 3-2 home win against Blackburn was mooted as a potential turning point in a stuttering season. It’s been followed by another huge step backwards as Town’s worrying decline continues. Club legend Terry Butcher labelling the display as ‘a disgrace’ was hard to hear.
Blues boss Mick McCarthy made five changes to the team which produced a bold and vibrant display in beating Blackburn three days earlier. Dean Gerken replaced Bartosz Bialkowski in goal as expected, while there was no surprise that Grant Ward and Jonathan Douglas were brought in as fresh legs. Fringe duo Paul Digby and Leon Best were more left-field selections – Digby’s last senior start was in the League Cup against Stevenage last August, while Best’s was in the 3-0 loss at Newcastle last October – ahead of Saturday’s trip to Huddersfield.
Kevin Bru, Freddie Sears and Andre Dozzell all dropped to the bench, while Adam Webster was out of the squad completely.
Lincoln boss Danny Cowley, meanwhile, named the same team which started in the first meeting of the teams. He’d made six changes for their subsequent game, a 3-1 win at Gateshead in the FA Trophy.
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After the public announcer had read out the home line-up with gusto, Dambusters, The Final Countdown and the Rocky theme was blasted out of the speakers at a packed Sincil Bank. By the time Eastenders had finished and BBC went live in Lincoln the atmosphere had reached classic FA Cup fever pitch.
The raucous Imps fans needed no extra encouragement, but it was provided to them nevertheless as Ipswich – Christophe Berra in particular - started nervously.
The Scottish international was arguably the Championship’s best centre-back just 18 months ago, but his form has slipped recently and McCarthy’s insistence this week that it would be ‘ridiculous’ to let his trusted stalwart return to his native Hearts didn’t seem quite so.
Whatever the 31-year-old tried in the opening 10 minutes went wrong. In three separate incidents he tangled with Theo Robinson to give away a foul, mid-judged a long ball over the top and then kicked a simple pass straight into touch.
Leicester City loanee Tom Lawrence is the only Blues player with any sort of confidence at the moment and it was him who set off on a trademark direct run from deep in the 10th minute. Unusually for him the final shot was powderpuff.
At the other end Lincoln No.9 Matt Rhead resumed his role as chief bully. With a large frame, not entirely muscular it must be said, and suspect combover the 32 year-old looks like a 1950s football throwback. Boy is he effective though.
Town didn’t get close to winning an aerial challenge with him throughout the first period. In the 24th minute, after a knockdown by the big man, Digby had to come to the rescue with a desperate last-ditch block on Robinson.
McCarthy prowled and growled on the edge of his technical area. Blues fans watching on the box will have been hiding behind the cushion.
Lincoln upped their pressure at the half hour mark and created three big goalscoring chances before the break.
First, box-to-box midfielder Alex Woodyard planted a centrally positioned header the wrong side of the post following Nathan Arnold’s perfectly-placed deep cross.
It was at that moment that Lincoln fans, just like in the first leg, started chanting ‘Championship, you’re having a laugh’ at their confidence-shot counter-parts. Again, they were justified.
Rhead powered in to put a difficult header just wide, following Terry Hawkridge’s dinked ball into the area, then the half ended with Gerken making a super save to keep out Rhead’s stabbed far post effort.
The half-time whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the visitors.
Any hope that the Imps may lose a bit of their intensity after the restart was fanciful. Rhead left Berra in a heap with a forearm across the face which earnt him a booking, while the firm but fair challenges did not relent.
Town’s players, meanwhile, continued to treat the ball like a hot potato.
The Blues finally got out of their own half and, after some decent build-up play down the left, Emmanuel’s turn and low shot just inside the area was beaten away by Paul Farman before being hacked behind.
Then came a moment which summed up how much more Lincoln wanted it. Both Cole Skuse and Jonas Knudsen seemed to be favourites to win a loose ball, but fired-up full-back Bradley Wood steamed in to win a ground-shaking slide tackle.
The play became increasingly ragged and more of more of the neutrals watching on the box will have long switched over.
McCarthy made a double substitution with 15 minutes to go – Dozzell and Sears replacing the ineffective Ward and Best.
It did little to lift the visitors though and, just as it looked like the game was heading to extra-time, Lincoln conjured up a dramatic winner.
After countering at pace, substitute Adam Marriott did superbly to hold the ball up before finding the sprinting Arnold with a through ball. The winger, calm as you like, rounded the on-rushing Gerken.
LINCOLN CITY (4-4-2): Farman; Wood, Waterfall (cpt), Raggett, Habergham; Arnold (Muldoon 90+), Power, Woodyard, Hawkridge (McCombe 90+); Robinson (Marriott 79), Rhead.
Unused subs: Walker, Long, Miles, Weatherell.
Booked: Rhead (49), Wood (90)
IPSWICH TOWN (5-3-2): Gerken; Emmanuel, Digby, Chambers (cpt), Berra, Knudsen; Ward (Dozzell 75), Skuse, Douglas; Lawrence, Best (Sears 75).
Unused subs: Bialkowski, Webber, McDonnell , Bru, Morris.
Booked: Douglas (65)
Attendance: 9,067 (1,094 away)
Referee: Ben Toner