The last time Lincoln City played Oxford United was in December 2005, where a Richard Logan goal was enough to bag a Keith Alexander side three points on the way to the League Two play-offs.
That was the same season Oxford were relegated to the Conference and, until last season, they had failed to make it back into the Football League on every occasion.
Under Chris Wilders’ management the U’s, before tonight’s game, found themselves in 9th place with 47 points from 33 games. Steve Tilson’s Imps side, however, were seven places adrift in 16th place before this one, and seven places away from the relegation zone.
Despite losing 4-2 away to Barnet on Saturday, Tilson decided to name an unchanged team lining up in a 4-4-2 formation. U’s boss Wilders followed suit opting for the same 4-4-3 side that lost at home to Hereford at the weekend.
It was Oxford who had the early taste of play, but even though Simon Heslop struck a powerful effort from just over 20 yards it never looked like troubling Trevor Carson in the City goal.
Then on six minutes the ball found Gavin McCallum, who raced down the left flank before crossing a delightful ball into the U’s area. It caused confusion and eventually the ball fell to Josh O’Keefe who couldn’t trouble ‘keeper Ryan Clarke with the first attempt, but easily put away the second.
In the 20 minutes that followed the goal the only real action to report was when Luke Howell was replaced by Mustapha Carayol after a suspected hamstring injury.
Ashley Grimes has scored 13 goals so far this season, and he came close to increasing that figure on the half hour when Delroy Facey supplied a pinpoint cross from the left side. The ball met Grimes in mid air, but the Imps’ top goalscorer could only watch as his effort sailed over Clarke’s goal.
The score finishing 1-0 at half-time was almost a formality until a Trevor Carson howler ensured the teams would go in at the break evenly matched. Carson fumbled Tom Craddock’s initial 25-yard attempt on goal straight into the path of MacLean, who calmly put away one of the easiest goals this season.
As expected, Oxford came out at the start of the second half with the intention of going ahead for the first time in the match. It was striker MacLean who nearly completed that objective on 52 minutes, but his shot finished several feet above Carson’s goal.
It took until the 62nd minute until the next major effort would present itself. McCallum picked up the ball on the right wing before playing an incisive through ball to Carayol. The winger strived forward and played a dangerous cross into the box. It found an unmarked Facey who let fly with a right-footed shot, and as time seemed to stand still Harry Worley attempted to clear the ball but instead found the top corner of his own goal.
Carayol once again proved menacing with the ball at his feet, yet this time down the left flank. He continued his run before drilling a low ball into the penalty area, where it found defender Anthony Tonkin, who sliced the ball over the top of ‘keeper Clarke and into the Oxford goal.
Oxford were all but chasing this one now and U’s manager Wilders decided to replace Craddock for Alfie Potter. Minutes later both sides made their second substitution of the match. Striker Ben Hutchinson came on for Lincoln replacing Facey, while Jack Midson was switched with goalscorer MacLean for Oxford.
With Lincoln now well in control, and after the two abysmal errors from Worley and Tonkin, Oxford never had a chance of pulling the two goal deficit back in the closing stages.
Tilson used his last substitution by bringing off Grimes for Scott Spencer in a like-for-like move.
Lincoln closed the game out to record their 6th home win of the season and three points closer to the 50-point safety mark that Tilson has set for his side.
Imps winger Carayol, who played his first 60 minutes since coming back from injury was praised by manager Tilson after the game: “He was out for a while and I’ve spoke to him after the game, and I still think he needs to get fitter. He’s got so much ability and if he is fully fit he can rip this league up.
“He’s come on today [and] he’s been a pain in the backside for the two full-backs of Oxford, and created two goals. He’s had a really good night, and like I say he’s just got to get a bit more consistency and a bit fitter.”