Lincoln put themselves firmly in the ascendancy in their Sky Bet League One play-off tie against Sunderland after second-half goals from Tom Hopper and Brennan Johnson gave the Imps a deserved 2-0 victory.
With nothing separating the sides at the break, Hopper fired Lincoln ahead after 51 minutes, before Johnson doubled the lead 15 minutes from time, although City had emergency loan goalkeeper Josef Bursik to thank after he produced two fabulous saves to keep the Black Cats out.
Lincoln’s first-choice keeper Alex Palmer sustained a head injury in training, so Stoke stopper Bursik came in to make his debut for the club.
For Sunderland, there was a first outing in two months for defender Tom Flanagan, while Aiden McGeady returned to the starting XI after being rested for the final two league outings.
In front of a raucous Sincil Bank crowd of around 3,000, with supporters able to populate the ground for the first time in over 430 days, home winger Anthony Scully enjoyed the first sight of goal, firing a fifth-minute shot from the edge of the box narrowly over.
There was an early blow for Sunderland when Denver Hume had to be replaced after just 10 minutes through injury, with Callum McFadzean entering the fray.
Imps’ on-loan frontman Morgan Rogers then burst through the middle of the park before driving wide of the target.
City were also forced into a change after 15 minutes when defender Adam Jackson broke down and had to be replaced by Lewis Montsma.
The big Dutchman brought out a low save from Black Cats goalkeeper Lee Burge, before the visitors had a first effort on goal after 28 minutes, with Flanagan’s header easily dealt with by Bursik.
Lincoln were creating the better chances and Johnson saw a surge forward end with a shot that hit Burge’s right-hand post, with the rebound cleared.
Lynden Gooch had an effort deflected over, before bending a 25-yard strike inches wide as Sunderland almost took the lead in the dying moments of the first half.
Bursik earned his corn with a super save from Jordan Jones inside two minutes of the second half, diving to his left to palm the winger’s fierce effort onto the woodwork. From the resultant corner, Bailey Wright headed against the crossbar as City’s goal somehow stood firm.
Lincoln, though, went down the other end and took the lead through Hopper – Jorge Grant’s shot was brilliantly saved by Burge, but the ball came back out to the Imps skipper, who crossed low for Hopper to drill home at the far post.
Bursik produced another one-handed save, this time from McGeady, before the same player curled over from 15 yards.
City doubled their advantage with 15 minutes remaining, when Johnson chased a backpass and, under pressure, Burge could only kick his clearance against the attacker and he had the easy job of walking it into the net.
Bursik breathed a sigh of relief as substitute Grant Leadbitter’s long-ranger was deflected narrowly wide of his right-hand upright.
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