Monday 26 June 2017

Beer put on hold as Lincoln get back to basics

'Alan Power had one in his hand, didn't he? I think he likes to enjoy a drink in his social time, but this isn't social time'

Alan Power celebrates with Lincoln team-mate Terry Hawkridge. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Alan Power celebrates with Lincoln team-mate Terry Hawkridge. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

The commemorative DVDs are probably being pressed as you read these words.

There will be reunion dinners, 20th anniversary events, 30th anniversary events, where-are-they-now features.

And in a generation's time - perhaps when Lincoln go on their next giant-killing spree - the greying, wrinkled Cowley brothers and a bald, toothless Matt Rhead will be wheeled in front of a camera to relive their moment of triumph.

A single line on a news ticker in New York's Times Square on Saturday night: "Lincoln shock EPL Burnley."

Truly, this was the shock heard around the world and, in forcing the ball over the line in the 89th minute, Sean Raggett wove not just his own name, but Lincoln City's, into the rich and golden history of the FA Cup.

Gilded

For Danny and Nick Cowley, meanwhile, beating Burnley is increasingly looking like the easy part.

No sooner had the final whistle blown at Turf Moor than manager Danny and assistant Nick were being inducted into the curious, lightly gilded world of minor FA Cup celebrity.

First there was a trip down to Salford to appear on Match of the Day. It was back to the BBC yesterday for appearances on Breakfast and Newsround.

Then came the deceptively long trek back to Lincoln for the quarter-final draw, which pitted them against Sutton United or Arsenal.

Somehow, in the middle of all that, they managed to find the time to watch three videos of North Ferriby United, their next opponents in the National League tomorrow night.

And, despite becoming the first non-League side to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals since 1914 - when Europe was on the brink of war, George V was on the throne and Arsene Wenger was trying to put a brave face on Arsenal's latest defeat by Bayern Munich - as the Cowleys survey the glittering road ahead, all they can see is more obstacles.

You suspect this is how they like it. Danny had actually been planning to make a swift exit from Turf Moor to go and scout North Ferriby's game against Dover. He reckoned that if he got a move on, he could catch the second-half. Eventually sanity, and the euphoria of victory, prevailed, but he was still resolutely looking forward rather than back.

"The focus is on Ferriby," he said. "That's the truth. We've got to analyse the Burnley game for Monday morning and then we've got to watch at least three North Ferriby games. But everyone wants us to go on the telly. We're going to have to work this all out."

When you are focused on your target, no detail goes unheeded.

Lincoln's progress to the top of the Conference and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup owes a good deal to their use of advanced video-analysis software, the like of which is almost unknown at non-League level.

Fitness is another priority and, despite going toe-to-toe with a Premier League team conditioned and prepared at lavish expense, Lincoln still had the legs and the lungs to go and burgle an 89th-minute winner.

Nor is this a squad who have had years to blend and bond. Non-League football, with its six and 12-month contracts, is not really like that.

Hardly any of the Lincoln players have been there for more than a couple of years, which makes the Cowleys' feat even more impressive.

"I saw something special going on at Lincoln," said Raggett, who signed from Dover last summer.

"I'd played against Danny and Nicky when they were in charge of Concord and Braintree. I know they're top quality.

"We're together, there are no cliques, and we get on well. You can see that on the pitch."

Given they have worked tirelessly on their set-pieces all season, there was bound to be a certain satisfaction in the fact that the winning goal, a couple of minutes from time, came from a corner.

"We spend a lot of time rehearsing them, normally in the freezing cold," Danny said.

"So to score with a set-piece was pretty apt. We didn't want a replay, because of our fixture schedule. So I was pleased we got a corner."

Sam Habergham took that corner, Luke Waterfall headed the ball back across goal, Raggett got the final touch, and the rest is history.

Saluting

Yet it is what happened afterwards that probably gives you the truest insight into this Lincoln team.

When they finally finished saluting their 3,000 travelling fans and returned to the dressing room, they found a crate of sponsors' beer sitting there waiting for them.

Danny took one look at Nick and decided to throw it out at once.

"We're a professional football team, and we're mid-journey," he said.

"We're mid-season. Alan Power had one in his hand, didn't he? I think he likes to enjoy a drink in his social time. But this isn't social time.

"We can't get carried away with ourselves. We have to use the momentum we've gained from this competition to inspire us, to keep working hard.

"The players have seen that. If they're willing to work relentlessly hard, then great things can be achieved." © Daily Telegraph, London.

Telegraph.co.uk

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