Lincoln City waited 134 years to get to Wembley – but for many it was well worth the wait.
The Imps won the Checkatrade Trophy in front of 27,000 of their supporters under the arch as they marked their first trip to the home of English football by lifting the silverware in the Royal Box shortly after 5pm.
Despite going into the game as underdogs against a Shrewsbury Town side flying high in League One, Elliott Whitehouse’s first half strike proved decisive as the Imps’ magical rise under Danny Cowley continued.
Around a quarter of the population of Lincoln descended on a drizzly and dreary north London and the Imps fans were vocal throughout, particularly when the red and white stripes walked onto the pitch for the first time, as the weather didn’t appear to dampen their spirits.
It might have done, though, had Bryn Morris’ sweetly struck effort been a couple of inches lower, the Shrews man skimming the top of the crossbar just six minutes in after Lincoln failed to fully clear a corner.
Shortly afterwards, Matt Rhead was booked after a collision with Shrewsbury ‘keeper Dean Henderson, despite those in blue and amber calling for a more serious punishment.
Despite their divisional disadvantage, Lincoln had more of the play early on and, after forcing a couple of set pieces to no avail, broke the deadlock on 17 minutes.
It was a classic Lincoln goal, a set piece straight from the training ground on which the Cowleys work so hard. Sam Habergham’s right wing corner was fired into the near post where Luke Waterfall prodded goalbound. Henderson could only parry and Whitehouse, wearing his trademark short sleeves and gloves, slid home the rebound from eight yards.
The goal sent the West end of the stadium into delirium and gave Lincoln’s defence, usually so tight under the Cowleys, a lead to protect.
And protect it they did. Shrewsbury looked rattled, perhaps the occasion getting the better of them as Aristote Nsiala in particular gave Lincoln a host of free kicks.
The sides exchanged chances midway through the half, as first Shaun Whalley flashed wide on the angle for the Shrews, before Rhead held off two defenders before curling a shot goalbound which Henderson was comfortable in dealing with.
The League One side came closest to erasing their deficit shortly after the half hour mark. It was a corner again that provided the threat, and Omar Beckles’ header looked destined to level until Ryan Allsop’s stunning save clawed it away.
It was a piece of goalkeeping which was in keeping with the venue, and Beckles couldn’t quite believe he wasn’t wheeling away in celebration.
As half time approached, Henderson was called into action to hold Danny Rowe’s free kick, while Shrewsbury’s Carlton Morris fired over in first half stoppage time as the Imps took their slender lead into the interval.
The Cowleys, wearing their usual sky blue tracksuit tops, would have been delighted with their side’s first half showing but for Shrews boss Paul Hurst there was plenty to say at the break.
And while Shrewsbury came out with more intent after the break, and had the lion’s share of the ball, Allsop was rarely called into action. They had a spell of heavy pressure ten minutes into the half but Lincoln’s solid defensive line, led by captain Waterfall and the formidable Michael Bostwick, barely gave them a sniff of goal.
Indeed, it was Lincoln who had the best chance of the half on the hour when the ball broke to Rhead 12 yards out, who was unable to keep his shot down as the ball ballooned over.
That proved to be Rhead’s last action, with the striker replaced by Ollie Palmer to a standing ovation from the fans in red and white.
Recognising that Shrewsbury were gaining a stronghold, Cowley beckoned Lincoln’s fans into making some noise and they responded in turn, urging their side on.
When the Shrews did gain half a sight of goal, Bryn Morris’ effort was deflected behind for a corner and Beckles sliced wide.
But the last 20 minutes passed without alarm for Lincoln, whose back line ensured that Allsop, stunning first half save aside, had only routine work to do.
It ensured that Waterfall could lift a second piece of silverware in 12 months and gave Lincoln fans a day to remember on their first trip to watch their side at the national stadium.
And with the Imps pushing for the League Two play-offs heading into the final month of the season, who’s to say they won’t reach Wembley again. You know the saying about London buses…