Three months - and something like a thousand get-well cards and messages - after undergoing life-saving brain surgery, Keith Alexander slipped back into the hot seat at Sincil Bank on Saturday.
It was fitting that, after resuming work on a part-time basis a week ago, his first game in official charge since collapsing with two burst blood vessels in November should be a Third Division derby against Boston United, Lincoln's fierce rivals from down the River Witham.
As a journeyman striker, he had played briefly for the Pilgrims, and both clubs were determined to demonstrate their relief at his remarkable recovery. At five to three, as he made his way down the tunnel, both sets of players formed a guard of honour and the 7,000-crowd rose to welcome him back.
"It was a nice touch, which I didn't know anything about," Alexander revealed afterwards. "I tried to get out on to the pitch earlier but the referee stopped me and said 'where are you going?' so obviously he knew what was happening. I didn't want any fuss because the game is about players."
During the rather dour 1-1 draw - ruined by a strong, swirling wind - it was business as usual down on the touchline. Alexander spent most of the match leaning against the side of the dug-out talking with the club's physiotherapist Keith Oakes, who, in tandem with assistant Gary Simpson, has kept the Imps in the play-off places in Alexander's absence. "It was great to have him back," said Oakes. "He was still the same old Keith - very laid back and softly spoken but a little bit quieter."
The manager occasionally emerged to talk to individual players and left the more general exhortations to Simpson. Only an apparent stamp by the Boston striker Graeme Jones on Lincoln's captain Paul Morgan brought the remonstrating Alexander out of the dug-out.
"I can't say that I felt under any more pressure than normal this afternoon," Alexander said. "Gary likes to shout and the last thing you want is too many people shouting. I like to watch the game."
Despite being assured that his illness was not connected to the pressures of football management, Alexander has decided to pace himself. A new contract, offered before his collapse, is on the verge of being signed and his return has given the club a huge fillip. "The gaffer has taken everything in his stride," said the wing-back Mark Bailey, "and when he came into the changing room, it was as if he'd never been away."Reuse content