Lincoln City will be top of League Two with a four point lead on Christmas Day after a hard fought 3-2 victory over Newport County at Sincil Bank on Saturday.
The Imps ensured their supporters Christmas turkey will taste that bit sweeter as they came out on top in a pulsating encounter.
Going into the game Lincoln were looking to solidify their first place position, holding a one point lead over MK Dons. However, their visitors represented a significant challenge, with Newport harbouring their own promotion hopes this season.
The game started at a frenetic pace and Lincoln were able to make a tremendous start, scoring twice within the first seven minutes.
The first came through powerful striker John Akinde. Tom Pett crossed into the box and Akinde used his strength well, not giving up on bringing the ball down as he jostled with the defender. He got his reward as the ball fell kindly to him and he was able to finish past Newport keeper Joe Day from close range.
Lincoln’s own keeper Grant Smith was then called into action for the first time. He firmly pushed away Antoine Semenyo’s long range drive.
Moments later, Harry Anderson scored Lincoln’s second goal. The busy winger set off on a trademark run direct at the Newport full back. He drove into the box and fired a powerful strike across Day and into the far corner.
Manager Danny Cowley revealed that the goal was one which had been in the works on the training ground. He said: ”We’ve been working hard to get him to shoot across the goal, in training the quality have been work has been really good it’s nice that he’s been able to transfer that into today’s game.”
The Imps had raced into a two goal lead in enthralling fashion. The away side didn’t appear overly disheartened. Semenyo was lively in the early stages and he again forced Smith into action from long range.
Up until the 25 minute mark, it was Lincoln who were the dominant force in the game. The closest they came to a third was when Shay McCartan’s mazy run saw him with a shooting opportunity in the box, his effort was blocked. The resulting corner saw Anderson attempt a deft flick but Day was grateful as it drifted straight into his arms.
Newport’s performance level rose as the half went on. They began to put pressure on the home side, Robbie Wilmott bringing a fantastic save out of Smith as he tipped the winger’s drive from the edge of the area just over the bar.
Wilmott threatened the Imps once more with a dangerous cross which was scrambled away by Michael Bostwick. The away side were building momentum.
Smith again had to be on his toes to turn a Matt Dolan free kick round the post shortly after.
As half time beckoned, Lincoln were looking to see out the first period with their lead intact. However, pressure had been building on them and a Newport corner saw a goalmouth scramble ensue. Padraig Amond was on hand to provide a decisive finish and reduce the deficit to 2-1 at the break.
The half began incredibly brightly for Lincoln with those two early goals. Newport were then able to gain a foothold in the match and will have felt they deserved Amond’s goal minutes before half-time.
The pattern of the away side having the better of the game only continued after the break. The first chance of the half saw Amond head a Wilmott cross wide.
Lincoln came close to scoring from a set-piece. McCartan struck a free-kick well and Day had to react sharply to save. Danny Cowley then tried to inject new life into his side by introducing Bruno Andrade, the winger returning from his ankle injury.
Newport were next to come close. Smith turned a looping header from Josh Labadie over the bar. Semenyo headed wide from the resulting corner.
With just over 20 minutes left on the clock, Lincoln used the direct route to ideal effect.
A long ball up to Akinde was flicked on by the striker into the path of Pett. The midfielder’s bursting run was rewarded as he volleyed past Day to give Lincoln a crucial third goal and restore their two goal lead.
Post match Pett said: ”John’s massive for us. It was a great header by him and I just took it early, I think if I had taken a couple of touches the centre half gets tight on me.”
Lincoln had 20 minutes to see the game out and make sure of the three points. However, their task was made more difficult after 77 minutes when a Smith mistake allowed Jamille Matt to gather the ball in the Lincoln area. He twisted, turned and found Amond who finished cleverly over Smith to earn his second of the match.
Newport’s second goal set up a tense finish. Sincil Bank’s noise level remained high as the home crowd attempted to will their team to victory. The players responded and showed the character to see out the 3-2 win. Newport were restricted to long range efforts and hopeful long balls into the box, unable to create a clear cut chance to equalise.
The last moment of drama came on the touchline as Danny Cowley was shown a red card for dissent over a failure to award a foul for a challenge on Scott Wharton. Cowley said: ”I just said I thought his decision was a disgrace. It happens, I shouldn’t have said that it was a disgrace but I didn’t swear. They’ve got a yellow and red card system so I was surprised to see a red card.”
The final whistle went and Sincil Bank roared with delight. The Imps top at Christmas. The news of MK Dons defeat to Colchester meant that the lead would be four points going into the boxing day game at Crewe Alexandra.
Danny Cowley gave his thoughts on the match as a whole. He said: ”It was a crazy game. For 30 minutes it was probably the best we’ve played, maybe even in the whole of my tenure and then just came off of it before half time. You’re never going to control a game at this level for 90 minutes. It was a difficult second half.”
Cowley was keen to praise the Lincoln City fans after the game, saying: ”The supporters fought really hard. We all had to dig really deep to get that win. They sung vociferously without. It’s a good time to wish everybody associated with Lincoln City a really happy Christmas and buckle in because 2019 is going to get exciting.”
Report by Matthew Williams