Little old Lincoln, from the National League, were somehow still in all three competitions heading into March for the first time in their history.
February was a strange month. Weather-permitting, it is supposed to be the beginning of the final third of the football season: a time when everything becomes a bit tense, when everyone can focus on the league, now that the cup competitions are over for another season.
Try telling that to Lincoln City. Little old Lincoln, from the National League, were somehow still in all three competitions heading into March for the first time in their history. A team of part-time butchers and candlestick-makers (if you read certain ill-informed newspapers) won at Premier League Burnley to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in 133 years. That team of part-time milkmen and car mechanics (if you happen to be an ill-informed Arsenal supporter) also won through to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy for the first time ever. What about the league, though? City played just three league matches, leaving them with a backlog of fixtures that will surely prove too much for them (if you happen to be an ill-informed Tranmere supporter).
So, would you sooner have games in hand, or points on the board?
City’s outstanding season so far has drawn comparisons with 1975-76, especially since the loss of our legendary former manager in January. Well, here comes another one. Going into March this season, City have a massive 14 league games still to play in just two months. However, going into March 1976, City had an incredible 17 league games still to play because of a certain run in the FA Cup. On 17 March 1976, City went into their home game with league leaders Northampton three points behind them (two points for a win, remember), but with four games in hand. The hot topic in the city pubs was exactly this same argument: would you rather be in Northampton’s shoes with a three-point lead, or in Lincoln’s with the games in hand? Surely playing 17 games in 52 days would prove too much for Taylor’s men? Whatever your opinion, City really had to avoid defeat to Northampton to stay within shouting distance of them that night. As it happened, a relatively easy 3-1 win changed the perspective of the run-in, and the history books show that City coasted to the title by the middle of April. What is often forgotten is that they did it with just fifteen players.
The good news is that City have both games in hand and points on the board this time around, which is a very unusual position to be in. With two months of the regular season remaining, the Imps are in pole position in the National League despite two fantastic cup runs and a relatively small squad of players to do it all with. They have two games coming up that assume the same importance as that game against Northampton 41 years ago; wins over Forest Green and Dagenham & Redbridge should move City very close to the title, and there will still be seven relatively comfortable games to play.
Taking a quick look at the mathematics involved, City have averaged exactly 2.117 points per game this season; maintaining that ratio would produce an end of season total of 98 points, which at the time of writing only Tranmere (100) and Forest Green (99) can beat. Further, if City avoid defeat to Forest Green, that knocks that one on the head too. So there we have it: 2.117 points per game will surely win us the title. And according to the last count, we have twenty-two players to take us there, which is seven more than Taylor had.
So, would you sooner have games in hand, or points on the board?
In what proved to be one of the best months in the history of the club, who did our members consider to be February’s star players?
Player of the Month is SEAN RAGGETT, who attracted worldwide fame for his winner at Burnley. Makes you glad we have two-year contracts on some of these players.
Second place goes to ALAN POWER, who continues to impress in central midfield. Alan has a great chance of being our home player of the season, which represents a fantastic comeback for a player who could not get a game at the start of the season.
Third place goes to MATT RHEAD, which will come as a surprise to many, given his poor recent scoring record. However, it proves beyond any doubt that his contribution to the team goes well beyond goals scored – not bad for a cheating pub player, as some would have you believe.
The average team score per game of 6.88 was the second highest of the season, beaten only by January. Every player scored above the par score of 6.0, even poor Elliott Whitehouse…but there is just 1.34 between top and bottom, conclusive proof that February was a great team effort.
1. Sean Raggett 7.48
2. Alan Power 7.43
3. Matt Rhead 7.40
4. Luke Waterfall 7.21
5. Sam Habergham 7.161
6. Joe Ward 7.156
7. Alex Woodyard 7.12
8. Bradley Wood 7.00
9. Callum Howe 6.94
10. Jamie McCombe 6.89
11. Paul Farman 6.86
12. Nathan Arnold, Sean Long 6.73
14. Jack Muldoon 6.65
15. Josh Ginnelly 6.61
16. Adam Marriott 6.50
17. Terry Hawkridge 6.40
18. Dayle Southwell 6.30
19. Billy Knott 6.23
20. Elliott Whitehouse 6.14
Individual ratings by match:
Welling: Josh Ginnelly, Dayle Southwell 7.25
Woking: Matt Rhead 7.19
Burnley: Sean Raggett 9.64
North Ferriby: Luke Waterfall 8.00
Boreham Wood (FAT): Joe Ward 8.30
York: Sam Habergham, Alan Power 7.43
So where does that leave us regarding the current player of the season standings?
1. Alex Woodyard 7.43
2. Sean Raggett 7.16
3. Nathan Arnold 7.06
Sean Raggett has closed the gap on season-long leader Alex Woodyard in February, to the point at which there is now barely a quarter of one mark between them. Can he catch Alex over the final two months of the season? Can Nathan Arnold? Will there be a dark horse emerge from the large chasing pack?
nb We have excluded Callum Howe (7.18) until he has played a statistically-significant number of games.
Home player of the season:
1. Alex Woodyard 7.36
2. Alan Power 7.23
3. Adam Marriott 7.15
Alan Power continues to close in on Alex, and Adam Marriott appears in the top three after some relatively low marks given to Nathan Arnold in February which have lowered his average.
nb Callum Howe (7.26) and Sean Long (7.12) have been excluded, as above.
Away player of the season:
1. Alex Woodyard 7.53
2. Sean Raggett 7.38
3. Matt Rhead 7.16
Once again, big Sean has closed the gap hugely on Alex here thanks to something he did at Burnley. But that is what making the Gazzetta dello Sport European Team Of The Week does for you.
nb Callum Howe (7.08) has been excluded due to having played insufficient games.
August Player Ratings: The New Era Begins
September Player Ratings: Why We Should Take A Leaf Out Of George Harrison’s Book
October Player Ratings: Three Cheers For Gary Crowley!
November Player Ratings: Lincoln City Are The Jaguar Of Non-League Football
December Player Ratings: Parallel Lines
January Player Ratings
Average Player Ratings v Welling United (a)
Average Player Ratings v Woking FC (h)
Average Player Ratings v Burnley FC (a)
Average Player Ratings v North Ferriby United (a)
Average Player Ratings v Boreham Wood (a)
Average Player Ratings v York City (h)
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Article Photograph provided by Graham Burrell.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) March 17, 2017