Determined Imps hit the bullseye against Darts
A hardworking Lincoln side ground out a 2-1 win against part-timers Dartford in the late-summer sun at Princes Park yesterday. The Imps began the game well but lacked a final ball as their hosts stood firm. Gary Simpson's side seemed to find the right balance between long diagonal balls into the channels for the tireless Ben Tomlinson to chase, and quick, incisive short passing on the break, which rattled their counterparts from Kent. All that Dartford really had in answer to Lincoln's bright start were panicky hoofs forward; food and drink for the impressive Nat Brown and Andrew Boyce, who continued their strong partnership at the heart of the Lincoln defence. Tom Miller came in at right-back to replace Dan Gray, whilst Sean Newton continued at left full-back. The Imps broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, when Newton got forward and won a corner, which was swung in by Danny Rowe, and, despite the fact that the ball wasn't really attacked, fell kindly to Luke Foster. Foster had been brought into the side in place of Jake Sheridan, presumably to help out in set-piece situations as well as shielding the back four, and Simmo's decision paid off when his powerful strike hit the post and dropped to Tomlinson, who finished from close range to score his third goal in two games. The goal was no less than Lincoln deserved, and it looked as though they could perhaps push on and score a hatful, as Dartford threatened to collapse after the restart.
A scrappy passage of play ensued, with Lincoln cruising somewhat, happy just to retain their lead and keep the ball away from their own goal, and Dartford struggling to get a foothold back into the game. The Darts were handed a chance to equalise after the referee made the dubious decision to award them a free-kick in a good position after Foster seemed to win the ball from the lively Harris. Justice was done, however, when Lee Noble's delivery evaded everyone and drifted out of play wide of Farman's back-post.
Lincoln fans could breathe a little more easily in the 33rd minute when the second goal was scored under similar circumstances to the first. Again, Newton won the corner and, again, Danny Rowe delivered. This time, the ball was attacked by Boyce, whose header was well saved by Alan Julian - a goalkeeper who had spent much of the half in conversation with the Imps fans who gave him a lot of stick, which was taken in good humour by the former Stevenage stopper - the ball fell for Boyce again, however, and he made no mistake, slicing home from six yards out. A quiet 10-minutes following that goal saw half-time arrive. The Imps had a comfortable lead, despite not really getting out of first gear.
The second-half began with the same personnel on the pitch as the first, however, the attitudes of the Dartford players seemed to have changed. Perhaps they had shown Lincoln a little too much respect in the first-half, and would certainly have to get 'up-and-at-'em' if they were to get back into the game. The Darts did exactly that in the 59th minute, when a good cross from Burns was headed in by their captain, Bradbrook, who beat Tom Miller in the air to nod past the helpless Farman. In previous seasons, Lincoln fans would have feared the worst, however, there seemed to be a genuine belief that the goal would be a mere consolation, such is the pride, passion and work-rate displayed by the new-look Imps, there was a real confidence that there'd be no collapse, and Simpson's men would hold out for the win. Jake Sheridan came on to replace Fairhurst, who'd had a very quiet game, and the winger was straight into the action when his driving run down the right allowed him the opportunity to square to Mo Fofana, who'd had a great game so far, stopping opposition attacks and playing the ball simply to another player in a green shirt. Unfortunately, Mo's probably the last player in the side that you'd back to score a one-on-one, and he dragged his shot wide of the post.
Much of the rest of the half was a quiet affair, with the game threatening to fizzle out, and both sides restricted to half-chances from set-pieces. The contest was brought back to life, however, when the hosts had a flurry of chances in the last few minutes. First, substitute Cornhill hit the post with Farman stranded, and then Dartford were denied what could easily have been a penalty, when a shot seemed to cannon off the arm of Nat Brown. In truth, the strike had too much power on for Brown to ever have got out of the way, but, as the cliché goes, I've seen them given. A couple of late crosses in the box came to nothing, as Dartford gave away free-kicks for over-zealously challenging in an attempt to secure an equaliser. A final cross was poor, and cleared comfortably by my man-of-the-match, Andrew Boyce. The final whistle was greeted by celebrations from the Imps fans and players alike, who are proving that, despite arguably not hitting anywhere near their best form so far this season, they can grind things out and get results against both big-spenders and plucky part-timers. Positive signs for Lincoln, as they remain in fourth in the Skrill Premier table.