Danny Cowley said he was proud of his side’s “never say die attitude” after a 96th minute John Akinde goal recovered a point for Lincoln City last night.
The visitors, Exeter City, had led since the 21st minute through a Matt Jay free kick but the Imps had been building pressure towards the end of the game and equalized with almost the last kick.
Lincoln went into the match knowing a win would put them 5 points clear at the top of League Two, they were playing the game they had in hand on the teams around them.
Although they knew it would not be easy, Exeter were seventh prior to kick off and knocked Lincoln out of the playoff semi-finals last year.
As what has become commonplace, Sincil Bank was packed with almost eight and a half thousand noisy Imps fans.
The drums beat began and so did the match.
Lincoln started brightly, controlling the game and registering their first shot on target through John Akinde when he was given a sight of goal by Jason Shackell following a corner in the 13th minute.
However, following the chance it seemed the Imps could not keep possession and began to see warning signs that they might concede.
Exeter’s number 20 Kane Wilson found his way past Harry Toffolo several times to cross dangerously and in the 20th minute Jake Taylor gave The Grecians their first shot on target.
Just a minute later came the opener.
Exeter won a free kick on the edge of the left side of the penalty area and their number 17 Matt Jay stood over the ball.
He curled the free kick into the top right corner and turned to the 123 ecstatic travelling Exeter fans to celebrate.
Lincoln tried to respond to going a goal down by switching their man in form, Bruno Andrade, to the left.
The winger had six goals in four games before the match and instantly made an impact on the left side, setting Harry Toffolo up for a cross but the left back could not beat Exeter’s first man.
Lincoln’s next big chance came with two minutes left to play in the first half when Tom Pett weaved through several Exeter defenders to get a clear shot at goal from just inside the penalty area.
The number seven could only put it straight at Christy Pym though. The Imps went into the break trailing by a goal.
Danny Cowley’s side came out of the dressing room and still looked to be struggling.
Lincoln could not create chances and the next significant opportunity came Exeter’s way, when in the 67th minute Ryan Bowman miscued his shot from yards out.
A change in the style of play was needed for Lincoln. On came fan favourite Matt Rhead in place of Danny Rowe, so the Imps had two target men up front.
With 15 minutes to go Akinde was clean through in the penalty area and had a direct chance to equalize for Lincoln, but he went to ground and did not get a penalty.
In the confusion that followed the referee’s decision which seemed to have shocked even the Exeter defenders, the ball found its way onto the post and was then cleared off the line.
Akinde said after the game that he was held back and the referee had told him he “probably made a mistake”.
The Imps built pressure in the final five minutes, winning several corners, yet they were still looking for the elusive equalizer.
The fourth official’s board went up. Four minutes were to be added on. Four minutes to salvage what could be a crucial point in Lincoln City’s promotion campaign.
With two minutes left, Lincoln had a corner cleared on the line and to some Imps fans it felt like all hope was lost.
As they started to file out, Exeter made a substitution, ultimately it probably cost them the game.
The ref let the game go on into the sixth minute of added time.
Harry Toffolo took a long throw, Matt Rhead flicked the ball onto Akinde who slid it under Pym with his left foot.
Sincil Bank erupted with elation and the draw had been rescued at the death.
Danny Cowley said after the match: “I’m proud of the efforts of the players and their endeavour.
You can criticise us tactically, you can criticise us technically, but never criticise our character because we’ve got fighters and we’ll go to the end”.
Attendance: 8589 (123)
Story by Aaron Mayhew