A last gasp Albert Jarrett free kick spared Lincoln City the awkwardness of an FA Cup First round replay as they edged past Nuneaton Town 1-0 at Sincil Bank on Saturday.
City were outplayed for much of the opening 45 minutes in a half that was worsened by the dismissal of Clark Keltie for two rash challenges within minutes of each other just before the half time whistle.
However Nuneaton tired after the break and the man-short Imps dominated, with Jarrett’s goal the culmination of heavy Lincoln pressure.
City made just one change to the 11 that were beat at home by Northampton in midweek. Millwall loanee Ashley Grimes came into the starting lineup at the expense of Drewe Broughton, who dropped to the bench. The majority of Imps supporters were likely to be unfamiliar with most of the Nuneaton squad who lined up in a 3-5-2 formation. Arguably the most recognisable name, former Coventry striker Donovan Simmonds, was left on the bench for the Blue Square North side.
Lincoln attacked the Stacey West stand first half but nearly went behind straight away when Eddie Nisevic was allowed time inside the box, but he hooked his shot wide of Anyon’s left hand post.
City striker Ben Hutchinson had been under fire in the week after allegedly criticising the Lincoln fans. He was almost in bother again after 10 minutes here when he caught Nuneaton defender Stuart Pierpoint late. It looked nasty at first but Pierpoint was quickly to his feet and an apologetic Hutchinson escaped without punishment.
They had another chance after 21 minutes when Justin Marsden almost got his toe on a delicious cross from the right hand flank by James Armson.
The Imps had a penalty shout with 25 minutes on the clock. Ashley Grimes picked up the ball on the edge of the area before weaving his way past Pierpoint. Guy Hadland barged into the striker but referee Carl Berry was unmoved.
Soon after, City spurned the best opportunity of the game so far. Albert Jarrett’s in swinging free kick was knocked down but wouldn’t fall quickly enough for Grimes who blazed way over the crossbar.
Then disaster struck for Lincoln. Clark Keltie, who had just been booked for a late tackle on Adam Walker, lunged in again. It was a stonewall booking and pure stupidity from Keltie who was subsequently sent off.
Half time couldn’t come quick enough for the Imps. Nuneaton had arguably been the better side when Lincoln had 11 men on the pitch, but after the naive lunges of Keltie, they were likely to be truly up against it in the second half. Surprisingly that was not to be the case.
Grimes was sacrificed by Tilson at half time in order to bring on an extra midfielder in club captain Scott Kerr, who added the drive and tenacity that the Lincoln midfield had lacked in the first period.
City had the first chance of the half when another Jarrett free kick found Hutchinson in a good position but the ball came off the top of his head and behind the goal harmlessly. The next thing the Celtic loanee did was get himself booked for pulling back Adam Walker on 55 minutes.
Steve Tilson made his first change with 21 minutes left, withdrawing Hutchinson in favour of Delroy Facey. Hutchinson’s departure was welcomed by the Sincil Bank faithful, the majority of whom booed the striker off the pitch. At the same time, Carayol and Jarrett switched flanks in an attempt to disrupt the largely comfortable Nuneaton defence.
Howell was the next to go close for the Imps after Scott Kerr had broke from midfield and delivered the ball, but his header was tipped away by Alcock.
On 82 minutes, City came as close as they had done all game. Jarrett, who had been quiet throughout, suddenly sprung into life, jinking inside off the right wing and firing a vicious left footed effort against the post.
In the 88th minute of the game, Lincoln won a free kick just outside the edge of the penalty area and central to Alcock’s goal. Kerr and Clapham both showed interest but it was Albert Jarrett who struck the ball low and to the goalkeeper’s left, into the bottom corner. Lincoln had grabbed a last gasp winner to break Nuneaton hearts.
The game restarted amidst crowd trouble as dozens of the 940 Nuneaton fans attempted to break through the stewards separating them from the ecstatic home supporters.
Just before the final whistle blew, Nuneaton almost levelled matters, but Donovan Simmonds shot straight at Joe Anyon.
Speaking after the game, Lincoln boss Steve Tilson said: “There’s obviously relief from the fact we had one sent off with 45 minutes to play. But as the second half got underway and the longer it went on there was only one team who was going to win the game to be honest. We looked far superior to them even with ten men in the second half.”
Attendance: 3084 (940 visitors)
The Linc Man of the Match: Luke Howell