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A failure to keep clean sheets cost David Holdsworth his job at Lincoln City

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

David Holdsworth

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The eyes which had so often blazed with the intensity of a winner were struggling for oxygen to keep the flames alight.

This was not the David Holdsworth who roared defiance, but a man who sensed he was having one for the road in the last chance saloon.

As he tried to explain the capitulation of a 3-2 defeat at Hereford, having led 2-1 at half-time, those who knew his mannerisms could see he was not himself.

With the inquest under way and questions on how much longer he could realistically say the same things in terms of the team's defensive fragility, some Lincoln directors emerged pitch side.

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David Featherstone, the vice-chairman, David Beck, the Supporters' Trust elected director, both wanted a brief with their manager, alarmed at how a lead was allowed to slip away.

This was not an unusual occurrence. After every game City's directors would quiz Holdsworth win, lose or draw.

Talking over the decisive third goal which as good as inked the last letters on his P45, he animatedly explained to his employers where the weaknesses were for the very last time.

After City's directors had digested his defence, they then carefully discussed the fate of their manager.

However much respect the board had for him, the numbers did not provide a compelling argument to risk facing more verbal fire and brimstone from the supporters.

Lincoln had not kept a clean sheet in 17 games, had posted one win since the turn of the year, a run which had left them four points off the bottom four.

Eventually, with their minds made up, Holdsworth was informed of his fate on Sunday, ending his reign after 16 months.

The reaction to his departure was supported by the majority of the fans who had lost faith in his ability.

And rather crassly there was public grave-dancing from some of his former players.

Lincoln's former captain Josh Gowling, a man who had crossed swords with Holdsworth, tweeted that it was the best news he had heard all day.

Curtis Woodhouse, who coached the club last year, leapt to his friend's defence telling the centre-back that it was not big or clever to kick a man when he's down.

It was proof as to how Holdsworth's strength of character always meant he was never a person you could be indifferent to.

You either liked him or you didn't. His was a strong personality which had been shaped from a hugely tough upbringing on a council estate in the East End of London.

His father split from his family early on in his life, leaving his mum to look after him and his twin brother Dean, who, as he admitted, got into plenty of scrapes.

Football became the escape route from those troubles. Watford, and particularly Graham Taylor, taught him discipline and gave him a ruthless streak that he took into his management style.

The way he booted Ali Fuseini and Gavin McCallum out the door not only saved the club money, but drew a line in the sand as to how he would deal with underachievers.

In an age where managers are afraid to confront egos, Holdsworth's running regimes from 7am to 3pm soon made them aware of what fate awaited them if they did not leave the club.

He has seldom been given credit for the way he axed the dead wood who were happy to pick up their pay cheque, but not perform where it mattered.

There was no room for passengers and as he admitted "he was not bothered about anyone who did not share his objectives".

It was another example of his principles and he certainly did not tolerate cliques either.

He quickly demolished those which existed in Lincoln's dressing room in the ashes of the Steve Tilson era.

This season he built a more united dressing room, raiding his contacts book to acquire quality despite operating with "one of the lowest budgets for 40 years".

He brought players to the club who finally gave them a new determined identity.

The 10-game unbeaten run, allied to a superb FA Cup success at Walsall, showed what he and they were capable of.

But a failure to recruit a top centre-back and a crippling injury list after Christmas meant he always ran the risk of not consolidating a comfortable mid-table position.

He tried to sign centre-backsDean Holden, Guy Branston and Michael Wylde, but could not afford them.

The fans grew frustrated, especially as more than 60 players were recruited during his reign. But he would angrily refute suggestions he was a tinkerman.

His defence was that any club which offered one-year contracts would always see a high turnover of players.

In the end, and despite scoring goals freely, keeping them out proved his undoing.

For a proud man who built his reputation on an unforgiving and bruising defensive style, it was odd the back end of the team was never proficient.

Effort and determination were always there, but the failure to keep clean sheets was a mortal blow.

Not only did it cost him his job, but those who peered into his eyes at Hereford could see it also extinguished the blaze of a winner.

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