Lincoln City 2 Yeovil Town 3 – Saturday 8th May 2004
In May 2004, Yeovil ended their first Football League season away at Lincoln, with an outside shot of getting into the playoffs. Regardless of the result, it had been a successful first ever campaign at League level, with the team always in the top half, attendances averaging over 6,000 and a televised FA Cup run which resulted in a creditable performance against Liverpool on the BBC.
It had clearly been Gary Johnson’s plan to persevere with the majority of his Conference squad and see how far they could go. There were not a huge number of summer signings, and most of those also were known mostly for their performances against the Glovers – Paul Terry (Dagenham), Simon Weatherstone (Boston), Lee Elam (Southport) and Jake Edwards (Telford), there was also Jamie Gosling from Bath. The only major signing who did not have mainly non-league experience was Hugo Rodrigues, continuing Gary Johnson’s love affair with exceptionally tall centre halves (arguably starting with Jimmy Aggrey, continuing with Luke Oliver and taken with him to Jamie McCombe at Bristol City).
Results were mixed. Opening wins against Rochdale and Carlisle raised hopes, as Kevin Gall opened with four goals from the first two games, but reality then set in with three consecutive defeats culminating in a 4-1 stuffing at Macclesfield. Yeovil found that the 3-4-1-2 that had served them in the Conference was not working so well in League Two because it left them too open at the back and there was no naturally left sided player following the departure of McIndoe to Doncaster. After Macclesfield, Gary Johnson brought in left back Ronnie Bull on loan from Millwall, which started a run of four consecutive wins with no goals conceded, including wins away at eventual champions Doncaster and at home to early leaders Swansea. It was clear that 4-4-2 worked much better with the personnel he had available, and it would be used for most of the 03/04 and 04/05 seasons.
The Glovers did well to establish themselves around the play-off places in the first half of the season, peaking in 3rd with a win over Scunthorpe just before Christmas, but their form fell away after that with only four points from the next seven games. They fought on though, and even though they had dropped to 9th with just a few games to go, the arrival of Dani Rodrigues in April sparked a late revival, as his spectacular overhead kick against Bury helped to turn that game around, as the Glovers won the next two to take them to the brink of the play-offs. A sell-out crowd saw Yeovil face 2nd-place Hull in their last home game, and narrowly lose 2-1 despite Hugo Rodrigues’ equaliser giving some hope.
We travelled to Lincoln on the last day with a slight hope of playoffs – we needed to beat the Imps who themselves occupied a play-off place, and also hope that Northampton dropped points at Mansfield. The two sides would finish 5th and 6th, but if Mansfield won, Yeovil could sneak above Northampton. In theory, we could also overtake Lincoln but only by overturning a -10 goal difference, and the chances of going away to a team who had conceded less than one goal per game all season was to say the very least, unlikely. Our best bet was to ensure we won, and hope Mansfield could do us a favour.
What followed was an encapsulation of Yeovil’s entire season in one game. Starting with Gall and Weatherstone up front (Dani Rodrigues was injured), Yeovil struggled to create any chances against Lincoln’s giant defence. Under Keith Alexander, Lincoln employed a 5-2-3 with two holding midfielders (or 3-4-3 if you’re being generous), they generally played on the counter-attack and lumped it up to their admittedly very effective front three of Simon Yeo, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Francis Green. They were very physical and giant at the back, including 6’5” Jamie McCombe and 6’7” Ben Futcher. This was the type of side that Yeovil often struggled against and in the first half, continued to do so.
Gary Johnson took off both strikers at half time and replaced them with Stansfield and Edwards, which had an immediate impact. It took Stansfield less than two minutes to get on the scoresheet, and Edwards added a second to put Yeovil 2-0 up but some absolutely suicidal defending in search of more goals almost lost the game altogether as two goals on the counter-attack let Lincoln back in at 2-2. There was a point when the Mansfield v Northampton game was 1-1, and with Yeovil winning we were in the play-off places, but Northampton got a winner in the second half and hung on. As the game threatened to fizzle out, again characteristic of the season, up popped Gavin Williams to at least win on the day with an 89th minute free kick.
On a side note, one player who really stood out that day was one Kevin Ellison, a wide left player who could defend but could also put a very decent cross in. Yeovil had been without a decent left sided player since McIndoe, and would go on to sign Adrian Caceres to replace him. Ellison was out of contract that summer and could have been a capable replacement, but signed for Chester where he scored 11 goals in 29 games. He would go on to play as a winger for most of his career, most notably at Morecambe where he played until he was 41, scoring 88 goals in almost 400 appearances.
Although the Glovers missed out on the playoffs, the season was a success and we hadn’t missed out by much. Our total of 74 points would be enough for play-offs in virtually any other season so we were unlucky to miss out. Conversely, the following season the Glovers would win League 2 with only nine points more, on 83 – the lowest total to win that division up until that point.
Our first League season had been a learning experience, as we were perhaps a bit too gung-ho in search of goals and were often caught on the counter attack, especially away from home. There are times when a point away from home is a good result, but Yeovil didn’t do draws – literally, as we did not draw a single game until December and only five all season. If a couple of those 12 away defeats had been converted into draws, we would not have needed Mansfield to do us a favour.
The season had also given Gary Johnson an idea of who could thrive at League level and where the squad needed to be improved, with up front being the obvious example. Although the Glovers had scored 70 goals which was not far off the leaders (Torquay went up automatically with only 68), there was no obvious focal point for goals and Gavin Williams was top scorer from midfield with 13 including penalties, with Edwards and Gall both getting 10. This was addressed with the two biggest signings of the summer being Phil Jevons and Bartosz Tarachulski, in addition to Scott Guyett at the back, Michael Rose as a specialist left back and Adrian Caceres in the troublesome left midfield position.
One player who could perhaps feel hard done by was Adam Stansfield who only started when Gall was injured or on international duty and never got a sustained run in the team. His first start of the season was at home to Swansea, when Yeovil won 2-0 and Stansfield got a goal and an assist. Arguably a striker cannot do more than that against the top team, and yet he was dropped for the next game. He scored as a substitute in his next game, but this was not enough and he was benched for the next three months. Every time he was recalled he scored, but he was only given seven starts all season, ending on six goals. That last game at Lincoln proved his value, taking less than a minute to score, but it would be his last game for the club. He had proven himself in the Conference and would go on to establish himself up to League One level with Exeter, scoring against us when the two teams met in 2010. We also know from his performances that he offered much more than just goals with his endless enthusiasm and work rate, so it is sad that a legend like Stansfield was not really given the opportunity for Yeovil at League level.
Team that day: Steve Collis, Andy Lindegaard, Adam Lockwood (sub. Nick Crittenden 59), Terry Skiverton, Hugo Rodrigues, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Paul Terry, Gavin Williams, Simon Weatherstone (Jake Edwards, 46), Kevin Gall (sub. Adam Stansfield, 46). Subs not used: Ryan Northmore, Steven Reed.
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