Two goals in stoppage time put City within two points of the title...Elliott Whitehouse, Harry Anderson and Lee Angol were all handed starting places as the Imps travelled to Gateshead knowing that victory combined with a Tranmere Rovers slip-up at Guiseley would see them clinch the 2016/17 Vanarama National League title.
City kicked off on what was a greasy surface following a pre-match dousing from the sprinklers and shower of rain and were the first to press with Whitehouse's fourth minute drive being palmed behind by Dan Hanford for an early corner which came to nothing.
Two minutes later Sean Raggett picked up a yellow card following a foul from behind on ex-Imp Jordan Burrow before things became somewhat scrappy with neither side able to get a foothold in the game as the quarter-hour mark came and went.
A scrappy game continued into the second quarter of the game with a high boot on Woodyard seeing City win a free-kick 30 yards out. Keeper Hanford claimed Habergham's centre under pressure from both Raggett and Luke Watefall and the chance went begging.
Gateshead's response came in the 29th minute and when referee Peter Wright deemed Raggett's challenge on Luke Hannant was inside the box and worthy of a penalty. Paddy McLaughlin duly sent Paul Farman the wrong way from the spot to edge his side in front.
Nine minutes after this set-back and with news filtering through of a Derek Asamoah goal for Guiseley against Tranmere, Angol fired straight at Hanford after Rhead knocked down a long Farman drop kick.
In the 42nd minute Hanford pulled off a superb save, tipping over an Arnold volley after Rhead headed down a Farman free-kick into his path; Rhead having his shirt almost pulled off his back in the process of setting his colleague up.
The first real spell of City pressure continued as Anderson forced another corner but when Waterfall kept this alive, Raggett and Rhead both found themselves in an offside position and play restarted with a Gateshead free-kick.
HT: GATESHEAD 1 IMPS 0
Adam Marriott replaced Lee Angol ahead of the start of the second half and the Imps were the first to press following the restart, forcing an early corner but this was cleared by the home defence.
There was a very strange decision in the 55th minute when Adam Marriott was flagged offside from a throw-in. The officials refused to communicate let alone listen to City's protests and as the game restarted a Gateshead counter-attack ended with them winning a corner.
Josh Ginnelly for Harry Anderson was City's second change as the hour mark approaced and shortly afterwards Billy Knott replaced Elliott Whitehouse in a final throw of the dice.
After a Habergham corner was claimed by Hanford, play switched to the other end where the City left-back was forced to block a James Bolton cross. When the resultant corner was played deep, Rhead was left grounded after a clash with Liam Hogan. A yellow card for the Gateshead skipper was the outcome.
Six minutes later JJ O'Donnell was booked for delaying the taking of a City free-kick and with 15 minutes on the clock a Raggett header from a Knott free-kick was held by Hanford.
Another Knott free-kick followed with Waterfall seeing his header clip the top of the bar and the ball went out for a goal-kick. After a City corner Mitch Brundle replaced O'Donnell for the hosts and then Raggett volleed inches wide following a long throw into the box.
City kept pressing and in the 89th minute a Long cross was handled by Fyfield just inside the box and up stepped MATT RHEAD to drill home clinically from the spot.
In the second of four added minutes Gateshead's York picked up a booking, presumably for dissent after a free-kick went City's way, and when Farman pumped the dead ball forward Rhead knocked the ball down and there to control the ball with his chest and volley home superbly was NATHAN ARNOLD for a last-gasp winner.
Arnold was booked for over celebrating before play restarted but the hosts were shell-shocked, as no doubt would be those Tranmere fans who had seen their team win 2-1 at Guiseley.
Two points and the title will be City's...
FT: GATESHEAD 1 IMPS 2
1 Paul FARMAN
3 Sam HABERGHAM
4 Elliott WHITEHOUSE
5 Luke WATERFALL
9 Matt RHEAD
12 Sean LONG
25 Sean RAGGETT
26 Harry ANDERSON
28 Nathan ARNOLD
30 Alex WOODYARD
31 Lee ANGOL
2 Bradley WOOD
7 Jack MULDOON
10 Adam MARRIOTT (for ANGOL h/t)
34 Billy KNOTT (for WHITEHOUSE 62)
36 Josh GINNELLY (for ANDERSON 59)
GOALS: RHEAD (90 pen), ARNOLD (90+3)
BOOKINGS: RAGGETT (6), ARNOLD (90+4)
13 Dan HANFORD
2 James BOLTON
3 George SMITH
4 Manny SMITH
5 Liam HOGAN
6 Jamal FYFIELD
7 Wes YORK
15 Jordan BURROW
25 Luke HANNANT
26 Paddy McLAUGHLIN
27 JJ O'DONNELL
8 Mitch BRUNDLE (for O'DONNELL 84)
18 Nyal BELL
19 Jake WRIGHT
22 Gus MAFUTA
23 Shaun MACDONALD
GOAL: McLAUGHLIN (29 pen)
BOOKINGS: HOGAN (66), O'DONNELL (72), YORK (90+2)
REFEREE: Peter Wright
ASSISTANTS: Alan Hull & Hristo Karaivanov
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Dean Hulme
ATTENDANCE: 3,770 (2,486 City supporters)