Alfreton Town 1, Lincoln City 3
Barely a year ago a fixture between Alfreton Town and Lincoln City would have been high on the agenda in an FA Cup draw though rarely discussed as a League fixture, but both sides found themselves in Blue Square Bet Premier action at the Impact Arena on Tuesday night having arrived there from opposite directions.
Lincoln were only two points clear of the Reds before play but had parted with manager Steve Tilson 24 hours earlier, so former Alfreton skipper and central defender Grant Brown took charge of the Imps.
And it was Russ O’Neill who was left to oversee team affairs for the hosts with manager Nicky Law forced to sit in the stand as he served the first of his two match ban after being sent off at Kidderminster.
Lee Stevenson made his first start for the home side having joined from Mansfield Town on a month’s loan, the high-scoring midfielder having caught the eye when playing against the Reds for Eastwood Town last season.
Alfreton started in positive mode and within two minutes a long throw from Leigh Franks had seen Anton Brown’s glancing header cleared off the line by Mitchell Nelson before Connor Franklin’s driven cross was held by keeper Joe Anyon.
A glancing header by Paul Clayton from a Franklin cross triggered a trilogy of corners, the last of which saw Anthony Wilson head wide.
Ironically from their first attack and from their only corner of the game Lincoln snatched an 11th minute lead when Karl Cunningham’s delivery was headed in from six yards by Sam Smith in front of the BBC Look North cameras.
From that point though Lincoln looked dangerous every time they went upfield and within two minutes they had doubled their advantage again through Smith, who simply had to tap in after Gavin McCallum had raced to the by-line.
Clayton gave the Reds’ faithful hope when he headed in another Franklin cross at the back post in the 18th minute, then a curling drive from Levi Mackin missed everybody in a crowded box.
Another lethal attack saw Lincoln establish a 3-1 lead by the 24th minute when McCallum swept the ball past Reds’ keeper Joe Day in oceans of space from a long central punt by Alan Power.
Alfreton tried once again to cut the deficit with Jamie Mullan’s 33rd minute cross being headed on by Clayton only for Stevenson to completely miskick at the back post, then following a mazy run Mullan could only fire into the side-netting.
Mullan set up a short free-kick for Stevenson to drill wide four minutes before the break, then Clayton won a corner off John Nutter from a Brown pass before a timely tackle by Theo Streete at the other end stopped McCallum in his tracks.
A great block by Brown halted Cunningham’s progress nine minutes after the restart, then a decent free-kick by Streete led to Clayton being crowded out.
Both Streete and Jake Moult fired high and wide from distance as Alfreton found it becoming increasingly difficult to assert any pressure at all on the City defence, and it took a clearance by Greg Young as Nicky Nicolau’s cross picked out Jamie Taylor five minutes from time to keep the Reds in contention.
A glancing header by Kyle Perry drifted wide from a Taylor cross, then in added time a Franklin shot was blocked by Adam Watts from another Brown cross.
Lincoln may not have created too many chances throughout the 90 minutes but they took full advantage when they arose, and despite Alfreton racking up a corner count of 8-1 in their favour Imps’ keeper Anyon was rarely tested.
Alfreton: Day; Franks, Streete, Young, Franklin, Brown, Stevenson (Jarman 58), Mackin, Mullan (Senior 84), Clayton, A.Wilson (Moult 68). Unused subs: Hawes, Hall.
Attendance: 1,232 (410 from Lincoln).