Lincoln City must learn relegation lessons and move on
By Michael Hortin
BBC Lincolnshire Sport producer
Manager Steve Tilson was unable to save Lincoln City from relegation
The roots of Lincoln City's fall from the Football League can be traced back much further than the last 11 games of the season, when the Imps picked up just two points from a possible 33 in League Two.
But focusing first on the immediate there can be little doubt that some of the players thought that the job had been done as the Imps neared the 50-point mark in early March.
At the same time the management team, who brought in loan players who took City on a five-game winning run in January and February, suddenly found they had to fall back on and try to motivate contracted players who had not seen sight of the first team in weeks.
Manager Steve Tilson also frequently bemoaned a lack of leadership in the team, while at the same time leaving experienced players out of the side.
In a similar vein, the decision to allow club captain Scott Kerr to leave at the end of January to join York City was a bone of contention for many fans who felt Kerr's leadership may have helped in the relegation fight.
Nobody should assume it will automatically happen. It will only come if and when the club identifies its failings, rebuilds and moves on
It is fair to say that injuries played a role too, particularly that of striker and captain Delroy Facey, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in March and missed the remainder of the season, but for me all managers have to contend with that kind of problem.
While there can be very few squads where all the players get on all the time, it seems clear that factions and cliques within the Imps camp made Steve Tilson's job all the harder.
But it would be unfair to put all of the blame for the relegation at the door of the current manager and players, as the roots for the demise go much deeper - in fact many feel the slump goes as far back as to when Keith Alexander left Lincoln in 2006 after reaching the play-offs four years running.
Whereas under Keith the Imps largely recruited hungry players who bought into the club's community ethos, after his departure more player signings were failures than were a success.
With a reasonably quick turnover of managers the board of directors also found themselves not only paying off and recruiting new managers, but also paying off many players unwanted by the incoming managerial regime, at great cost to the club.
Looking to the future, the Imps' board and manager need to take their inspiration from the club's history.
Lincoln did not fall to the foot of Division Four in the 1986/87 season until the final day
They went down on goal difference after Torquay drew at Crewe with a late equaliser after a dog had run onto the pitch and bitten a player
Lincoln's closest rivals in their season in the Conference were Barnet, whose last-day win in 2011 sent the Imps back to non-league
When City were relegated to the Conference in 1987, folklore has it that the club's directors, minutes after an away defeat by Swansea, borrowed the boardroom at the Vetch Field to meet and decide how they would get back to the Football League at the first attempt.
They also brought back manager Colin Murphy who, with his "Murph's Mission", galvanised the Imps fans and led them to the Conference title and an immediate return to the League.
In the same way the board, whose hearts are in the right place and who care about the club, now need to think through a clear plan of action and communicate it to supporters.
At the same time Steve Tilson, whose stock is not the highest with many fans at the moment, now needs to connect with supporters and help build a real "Team Lincoln" spirit.
Those who support City should take some solace from looking at clubs such as Doncaster, Torquay and Oxford who have bounced back stronger after their own relegations to the Conference.
However, nobody should assume it will automatically happen. It will only come if and when the club identifies its failings, rebuilds and moves on.
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