The points were shared at Sincil Bank after a game which will be remembered for two absolutely sumptuous strikes from distance for either side.
It didn’t appear that it would be a four-goal thriller come full time as the first half ended goalless, but Bruno Andrade netted a brace, his second a showstopper putting The Imps two goals in front, but then Stevenage’s Illias Chair matched the City man, by scoring two of his own, the second as memorable as Andrade’s earlier strike to break Imps’ hearts right at the death.
City made two changes to the side which drew against Northampton Town last time out, Harry Anderson missed out through suspension and Michael O’Connor dropped to the bench with Tom Pett and Michael Bostwick coming in after missing last weekend’s game against the Cobblers through injury.
After a wonderful minute’s applause in tribute to the great Gordon Banks the game got underway and The Imps were right on it from the start, pressing high forcing the visitors back into their final third. Stevenage though to their credit did well to withstand the pressure but with the crowd firmly behind City kept turning the visitors, forcing them to run towards their own goal, even in possession at times.
The wind was swirling around the stadium, making it difficult for both teams to read the flight of the ball, Michael Bostwick went close to testing ex Imp, Paul Farman in the visiting goal, the shot from distance had Farman scampering across his goal but the ball was blocked just inside the penalty area.
Joel Byrom was the first to get a shot off for Stevenage, his audacious effort from fully 30 yards was to gather speed as it headed goalwards but it wasn’t close enough to trouble Grant Smith in the City goal. The game was a stop start one, as neither side were able to get any fluency to their play but Bruno Andrade was doing his best to create a breakthrough down the right. However, when the Imps’ number 11 found Neal Eardley, the full back made a purposeful burst down the wing and found his progress halted illegally again stopping any momentum building for City.
Stevenage initially appeared to have the thought that shots from distance were the way to goal, Illias Chair, smashing a drive which fizzed over the top before the visiting right back, Luther Wildin did manage to fashion space to cross, his ball in made its way to the back post where left back John Hunt ghosted in but his header drifted wide. Experienced striker, Alex Revell, was the next to meet a cross with his head but his attempt followed the same fate as the previous opportunity with Jason Shackell putting just enough pressure on to force the error from the Stevenage number nine.
City had the opportunity to get a shot away when the visitors were penalised for handball just outside their own penalty area, with Eardley and Shackell over the ball it was anyone’s guess as to who would strike it, it was the full back curling an effort round the wall but Farman was there to save.
That strike breathed new life into The Imps who were back playing higher up the pitch forcing errors from the visiting defence, Stevenage did well to keep out their former midfielder. The somehow managed to keep the ball out of the net moments later, a cross was pinged into the danger area and it was spilled by Farman, John Akinde dived to head on target but unbelievably the visitors managed to hack clear from under the crossbar. Akinde was growing in stature, causing problems for Scott Cuthbert at the back for Stevenage. But, it was Grant Smith who was called into action up the other end of the field as Chair looked up and hit a dangerous swerving effort from fully 35 yards which the City ‘keeper did well to save, tipping over with the sunshine impeding his view.
With half time on the horizing The Imps went hunting for the opener, winning first a free kick which was headed out for a corner, the ball in made its way right to the back of the box where Pett hoisted it back in and Akinde met it, heading down and on target, but the ball was blocked right on the line and cleared.
The Imps 0 Stevenage 0
Stevenage started the second half brightly, winning an early corner but they couldn’t beat Shackell in the air, the City number five leaping highest to thump a header clear. However, the early burst from the visitors was soon forgotten about as The Imps took the lead.
Rowe took control of the ball centrally, showing great composure to drift wide beyond his marker and stand up a wonderful ball to the back post and there was ANDRADE to head home his sixth goal of the season.
The goal ignited the atmosphere and The Imps looked at the best, hungry for more, highlighted by the confidence shown by Bostwick to lash a first time volley from 30 yards just over the top. City were playing with a renewed patience in possession, passes were played with confidence and tackles were won out of possession and the visitors were clearly frustrated.
On the few occasions when Stevenage were able to get into the City area, the ball was despatched with almost ruthless efficiency, Bostwick in typical fashion sliding in to deny Hunt a chance to cross, and despite the best efforts of Michael Timlin to find space to shoot his options were limited as City closed down the space leaving the Stevenage player to miscue his effort over the top.
But with just under half an hour remaining it would be a tough ask for City to remain in total control and Dino Maamria’s side to their credit looked to fight back, a flurry of crosses from the right needed Smith to be alert to claim and calm things down.
Things turned back the way of City though with just under twenty minutes remaining when ANDRADE took things into his own hands with a goal of the season contender, The Imps number eleven couldn’t have hit a shot any sweeter, from fully 25 yards he put his laces through the ball and it arrowed into the goal beyond a helpless Farman.
Stevenage weren’t on their haunches for long, with their QPR loanee, Chair doing his best to reduce the arrears, he jinked inside from the left flank to hit a low effort that smacked off the outside of the post before bouncing to safety.
Andrade was close to netting his third of the game, after two more opportunities went his way, firstly connecting with a left wing cross to loop a header onto the roof of the goal but then he fluffed his lines somewhat as Akinde took two men with him to create space to slide into the feet of the number eleven but he couldn’t this time steer it home.
Akinde was yet again the provider for another City chance, this time for substitute, Shay McCartan, as the striker again took two men with him before slipping the ball to the onrushing colleague, McCartan however was well closed down by Luke Wilkinson who just managed to get in the way of the goalbound effort.
The visitors did reduce the arrears with just three minutes remaining, Illias Chair, curling a shot home from the edge of the box which may have took a deflection on the way through as the flight of the ball seemed to outfox Smith in the City goal.
Stevenage poured forward in the final minute and yet again, Chair, was the danger man curling an effort towards the back post but Shackell headed clear just as six minutes of time added on was announced.
The scoring wasn’t over as Chair levelled for The Imps, scoring his second of the game with an unstoppable effort which was measured to perfection, clipping the underside of the bar before going into the goal.
The Imps 2 Stevenage 2
21 Grant SMITH
5 Jason SHACKELL
7 Tom PETT
8 Lee FRECKLINGTON
11 Bruno ANDRADE
14 Harry TOFFOLO
16 Michael BOSTWICK
19 Danny ROWE
23 Neal EARDLEY
24 Cian BOLGER
29 John AKINDE
1 Josh VICKERS
4 Michael O’CONNOR (67’ for Frecklington)
6 Mark O’HARA (84’ for Pett)
9 Matt RHEAD
10 Lee ANGOL
17 Shay McCARTAN (70’ for Rowe)
25 Jordan ROBERTS
Goal: Andrade 48’, 71’
Booked: Bolger 51’, Toffolo 88’, Akinde 88’
1 Paul FARMAN
2 Luther WILDIN
3 John HUNT
4 Michael TIMLIN
5 Scott CUTHBERT
8 Joel BYROM
9 Alex REVELL
12 Illias CHAIR
24 Moses MAKASI
25 Ronnie HENRY
30 Luke WILKINSON
27 Oliver BYRNE
7 James BALL (81’ for Makasi)
11 Emmanuel SONOPE (73’ for Henry)
15 Terence VANCOOTEN
23 Jordan GIBSON
29 Liam SMITH (79’ for Byrom)
37 Joe MARTIN
Goal: Chair 87’, 90’
Booking: Wildin 89’
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Assistants: Michael George & Shaun Hudson
4th Official: Carl Boyeson
Attendance: 9,036 (206 Stevenage supporters)