If Dave Bassett was shocked by the poverty of Manchester City's performance at Selhurst Park on Saturday, then it was as well for Francis Lee's prospects of luring the Crystal Palace manager to Maine Road that he did not witness their surrender at Sincil Bank last night.
In the first leg of their Coca-Cola Cup second-round tie, City's fabled capacity for calamity went into overdrive. A Lincoln side standing 15th in the Third Division and assembled for less than pounds 200,000 shrugged off the setback of Uwe Rosler's goal in 40 seconds, replying with four of their own against a team which cost pounds 6.5m.
A grim-faced Lee later declined to discuss reports that he plans to ask his Palace counterpart, Ron Noades, for permission to approach the 52-year-old "Harry" Bassett today. "Statements after games are for the two managers," the City chairman said tersely. "I don't comment at all."
There was a slight snag with that answer: City do not have a manager. Their 1,500-strong following had earlier amused the locals with their chant of "Nobody's blue and white army". But gallows humour subsided into disgust and dismay as City gave up three goals in 17 minutes either side of half-time. A late fourth prompted a chorus of "What a load of rubbish", followed by a mass walk-out.
Yet the evening had began so brightly for City. Despite the absence of the injured Georgi Kinkladze, they built down his favoured left flank through Rae Ingram and Paul Dickov. The latter turned a Lincoln defender before crossing to the six-yard area, where a stooping header brought Rosler his fourth goal of the season.
Spurred on by a demonic drummer in the crowd, Lincoln were ahead by the break. Terry Fleming deftly volleyed the equaliser beyond Andy Dibble on the half hour. Ten minutes later, Steve Holmes beat the goalkeeper to Mark Hone's free-kick to head the second, and City's collapse accelerated when Gijsbert Bos' header from Fleming's prodigious throw was helped over the line by Steve Lomas.
After a brief rally, in which Nigel Clough's shot shook a Lincoln post, City's misery was complete with 11 minutes remaining. Another long throw by Fleming gave Jon Whitney an embarrassing amount of time and room to pick his spot. The quartet of marksmen were bought for a total of pounds 60,000.
"Land and Hope and Glory" boomed out over the loudspeakers as disbelieving Lincoln fans flooded the pitch at the end. Asa Hartford, City's reluctant caretaker manager, kept his players locked in the dressing-room for 40 minutes before emerging to explain that he had not been surprised, either by Lincoln's "in-your-face attacking" or City's vulnerability at set-plays.
Hartford would not be drawn on speculation that Bassett would shortly become City's sixth manager in 10 years. John Beck, the Lincoln manager, proved less shy, saying: "Dave Bassett has a record of being able to lift struggling clubs. But if he does take the job he'll need backing and patience."
He added: "City are in a transitional period. They need some organisation, method, guts and determination to get out of their mini-crisis. But they will get out of it because they've got characters who'll battle."
Beck's analysis erred on the side of generosity, perhaps because he was reluctant to tempt fate for the second leg. By then, City may be showing When Harry Met Franny, but this was an X-rated horror.
Lincoln City (4-4-2): Richardson; Holmes, G Brown, Austin, Whitney; Ainsworth, Hone, Fleming, Sterling (Alcide, 34); Bos, Martin. Substitutes not used: Minett, S Brown (gk).
Manchester City (4-4-2): Dibble; Lomas, Wassall, Symons, Ingram; Summerbee, Clough, Whitley, M Brown (Crooks, 63); Rosler, Dickov. Substitutes not used: Frontszeck, Margetson (gk)
Referee: R D Furnandiz (Doncaster).Reuse content