Sky Bet League Two: Lincoln City 2 Stevenage 2
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
A brace from former Stevenage winger Bruno Andrade was trumped by a superlative late double by the talented Ilias Chair as battling Boro drew 2-2 against Lincoln City.
It was an unexpected point at the hands of the League Two leaders at a packed and passionate Sincil Bank on Saturday as QPR loanee Chair hit two superb second-half strikes to outshine Andrade, a former QPR loanee to the Lamex, against Danny Cowley’s tough Imps in their backyard.
With Ben Nugent and Kurtis Guthrie suspended after their red cards at Tranmere last weekend, Ronnie Henry and Luke Wilkinson came into the side in a bid to add solidity and discipline into the side.
Three former Boro players lined up for the Imps – loyal servant Tom Pett and the legendary Michael Bostwick who many fans would have in their all time Broadhall Way XI alongside goalscorer Andrade, who featured when on loan from QPR and who would prove to be the most influential on a day when the league leaders wobbled in throwing away a two-goal lead.
The atmosphere prior to kick off was raw and powerful, which included a wonderful minute’s applause for the legendary late Gordon Banks.
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Boro started the day in 10th place five points off seventh and the final play-off spot, occupied by Carlisle on 53 points.
Lincoln started the match in top spot on 62 points, four points clear of second-placed Bury, while Mansfield in third lost their East Midlands derby to Notts County in the early kick-off.
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A shapeless start in the February sun was punctured by Joel Byrom’s 30-yard shot on 14 minutes which flew over Lincoln keeper Grant Smith’s goal as Maamria’s men had the better of the opening stages.
The talented Chair, who made such a memorable debut against Yeovil two weeks ago, looked likely when threatening the home backline.
And the 21-year-old fired a shot over Grant’s bar on 22 minutes before the Belgian with Moroccan heritage whipped in an excellent cross 60 seconds later. Unfortunately for Boro, Johnny Hunt’s back post effort went wide.
Cowley’s Lincoln were undaunted and nearly went ahead after Paul Farman, playing against his former club, spilled the ball in a crowded box, but John Akinde’s header was cleared off the line by Scott Cuthbert 11 minutes before the interval.
Chair troubled Grant again before the break with another long shot which demonstrated his technique as much as his audacity.
No wonder the skilful loanee told this correspondent he idolised compatriot Eden Hazard, for he too demonstrated flashes of ability far beyond the mundane. It was also to prove a marker for his later heroics.
Maamria’s men could be proud of their efforts going into the break goalless. However three minutes into the second half Andrade’s loping header evaded a backpedalling Farman whose desperate attempts to claw the ball away from the net failed as Sincil Bank erupted.
As the sun remained high, illuminating the magnificent cathedral perched atop the centre on a mount to survey the flatlands of the Fens, the scene was as evocative as it was stunning.
Yet however much the imposing structure, built in 1158, has viewed events in this oft-overlooked part of England it can’t have witnessed many better performances from a visiting player.
The side Cowley has assembled has taken them from non-league to the brink of the third tier of English football via an appearance at the Emirates in the sixth round of the FA Cup as they continue to dominate opponents at Sincil Bank and beyond.
But they had no answer to Chair’s excellence.
Chair showed glimpses of what he could do as his free-kick struck the apex of the bar and post from wide on the left channel – but it was a rare interlude in Lincoln’s overwhelming second-half superiority no matter how hard a determined Stevenage side worked.
That was until Chair sparked into life.
Yet Lincoln made it 2-0 in the 71st minute when a long-range strike from Andrade flew into the net past Farman from 25 yards to lodge an entry for goal of the day.
But that was before Chair’s two contenders for the same title – as well also having a curler cleared off the line.
As the clock ticked down and the sun set on events – as well as the Imps’ hopes of a victory – Lincoln Cathedral in the distance stood immoveable and proud.
Just like the magical Chair and his battling Stevenage side.