Saturday sees our first friendly of the pre-season that fans are able to attend (we have a behind closed doors friendly a few days earlier) and it's a derby against Lincoln United. I definitely have a soft spot for our city neighbours, and at around 50 visits, it is my most visited ground after Sincil Bank and Old Trafford. I've decided to go through some of the most most memorable things about our trips to Ashby Avenue down the years.
The First Visit
The first match I ever saw at Ashby Avenue was a friendly between the Imps and United. It was July 2002 and the Imps had just gone through a massive cull of the expensive playing staff, and what was brought in was a legion of non-league players. Although it seems very strange now to say this given how the 2002/3 season went, there was virtually no optimism ahead of our first pre-season game of that year as the low-budget Imps went made the short trip to Ashby Avenue.
City were very poor and lost the game 1-0 to United. I think it was one of the lowest feelings I have ever felt after a game as I was convinced the Imps would be relegated at the end of that season, fortunately that wasn't the case though.
The derbies against United have often showcased trialists. Some, such as Adrian Patulea do well and get offered an Imps deal (that game was at Sincil Bank), others on the other hand tend not to do that well, or do well but don't earn deals.
Some of the players during the time who have impressed but inevitably failed to earn deals are Moses Jjunju in 2002, three Portugese players in 2004 (one of whom scored three goals), Fiston Manuella and Kevin Smith, a Scottish striker who was prolific in the 2007/8 pre-season but wasn't offered a deal....he eventually played for Notts County following their promotion to League One, just after scoring 18 in 28 for Raith Rovers.
No doubt Saturday will see the usual guessing game of who the trialists are again.
Goals and late drama
I used to visit Ashby Avenue whenever they had a game when City weren't playing and there were very few games where there weren't many goals, and there are two that stick in my mind for the fact that there were late comebacks.
During the same season the Whites also had another goal filled game with late, late drama. I can't specifically recall who United were playing, I'm tempted to say Leek Town, but either way United were heading for a rare win (they only won twice at home during that season) as they lead 3-1 approaching the 90th minute....however, three goals in five minutes saw Leek take all 3 points back west. To call the defending shambolic in those last few minutes would have been an understatement.
At the end of the 2007/8 season it seemed inevitable that United would be relegated. They had started the season very well and were in the Playoff picture early on, however, their excellent away form during the first half of the season completely deserted them in the second half and combined with a poor home record, they knew that a defeat in a home game against Fleetwood (yes, the same Fleetwood that are now playing in League Two) would see them go down. Despite a spirited and dominating display, Lincoln United would inevitably lose 3-0 to Fleetwood in a game where the away side scored with their only three efforts on goal.
A City is United
It's 2009/10 and United are still pretty dire at home but have managed to get through four qualifying games
|Cambridge's following that day|
Despite this, 873 people packed into Ashby Avenue, more than seven times higher than the average attendance of United in any season. Most of the home crowd was made up of Lincoln City fans who had decided to get behind the eighth tier club. The Imps fans see an ex-Imp give United the early lead as Jamie Forrester, a long time scurge of Cambridge in his days at Northampton, scores a wonder goal from 30 yards, and United could have easily made it two or even three on another day, however, three goals in little over six minutes saw Cambridge take a commanding lead that they held all the way through.
Cambridge would reach the second round before being eliminated by York.