Lincoln City’s Danny Cowley triumphed where more celebrated managers have failed this season by masterminding his minor league battlers to a stunning 1-0 FA Cup victory at Burnley’s Turf Moor fortress on Saturday.
Sean Raggett’s header in the 90th minute sealed Lincoln’s victory against a side 81 places higher up the English ladder as they became the first minor league club to reach the quarter-finals of the competition since Queen’s Park Rangers in 1914.
It was no fluke either as Cowley’s side comfortably held at bay a team who a week ago were well worth a 1-1 home draw with Antonio Conte’s runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea.
“We said it was a one in a 100 chance and thankfully we got that opportunity,” Cowley, who this time last year was working part-time at Essex minnows Braintree Town while continuing his teaching career, told BT Sport.
“The last eight of the FA Cup sounds pretty good.”
Lincoln joined a select list of minor league sides to knock out top-flight opposition in the world’s oldest cup competition.
Among the biggest shocks were Luton Town’s win over Premier League Norwich City in 2013, Sutton United’s classic upset of Coventry City in 1989 and Hereford United’s infamous defeat of Newcastle United in 1972.
Burnley had beaten Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool and Claudio Ranieri’s champions Leicester City at home this season and despite manager Sean Dyche making six changes they still fielded a side packed with top-flight experience including Joey Barton.
Yet Lincoln, who beat Championship sides Ipswich Town and Brighton and Hove Albion in previous rounds, were more than a match for their hosts in a scrappy game.
Only in the final 20 minutes did they start to suffer but up popped Raggett to head the ball past the despairing dive of Burnley keeper Tom Heaton.
To add to the drama there was doubt over whether the ball had crossed the line, before the referee awarded the goal to spark celebrations in the 3,000-strong Lincoln contingent.
“From the view we had, it was difficult to see if it was over the line and you are just willing the referee to point to the centre circle and it was a great moment when it happened,” Cowley’s brother and assistant Nicky said.
“An incredible, a fantastic day. You wake up in the morning and you hope it’s going to be that day.”
The result was all the more notable as Burnley, who have won nine and drawn two of their 14 Premier League games at Turf Moor this season, fielded a strong starting line-up and Dyche made no excuses.
“They used everything they needed to use. They played our pitch well, played resolutely with their back four not going anywhere and they got the ball forward,” he said.
“I think they only had one chance, credit to them. My team were nowhere near the level they can show.”