The Imps missed out on a second trip to Wembley in as many months as Exeter City progressed to the SkyBet League Two Playoff final. Goals from Jayden Stockley, Hiram Boateng and Ryan Harley put the hosts three goals to the good before Matt Green pulled one back for the visitors to give them hope but the Grecians held out to book their place at the national stadium.
The Imps made one change going into the second leg at St James’ Park, in came Lee Frecklington with Scott Wharton dropping to the bench. The game got underway under the evening sunshine, with the travelling contingent of Imps’ supporters enjoying themselves as they were in fine voice as the game got underway.
Both sides were pressing forward quickly, Matt Green for the Imps putting in a dangerous centre which made it’s way across the box to Harry Anderson, but his sidefoot towards Matt Rhead was cleared. Up the other end Ryan Harley was the first Exeter player to try a shot in anger, but the number seven snatched at it with the ball rolling harmlessly wide of target. Harley was keen to get shots away from outside the box, but again when he did so it wasn’t to trouble Ryan Allsop. Jayden Stockley was then to set up Robbie Simpson who at the second attempt prodded the ball towards goal from close range but again, like his colleagues he too was off target.
The Imps were running hard, battling for everything and slowly making their way forward in the game. A clever free kick routine and cross, caused havoc in the Grecian’s penalty area with the ball being hacked away at the last with Elliott Whitehouse inches away from getting a touch deep inside the box. It was nip and tuck with both sides seemingly one pass away from a clear run on goal as the defences were focussed completely on the task at hand.
Hiram Boateng fired a low cross right across the face of The Imps’ six yard box which no one got on the end of as the home supporters held their heads in anguish. However, the home fans were off their feet as the Grecians scored from the second of two quick corners. The ball in was half cleared before Jayden Stockley pounced to smash home inside the box at the back post in front of the home supporters.
The Imps were to withstand the biggest spell of Exeter pressure well, soaking up their attempts to score a second. Anderson’s energy was infectious and it seemed to rally the visitors even more, and when the winger was brought down out wide on the right, a dangerous ball in from Eardley was a whisker away from being forced home as it whistled right through the danger zone. The Imps thought they’d equalised with five minutes to go to half time when Elliott Whitehouse lashed home an effort from the edge of the six yard box but the assistant referee had spotted an infringement inside the penalty area. Again though despite the disappointment the visitors rallied, with their longest spell of possession and pressure Anderson again heavily involved but The Imps couldn’t score ahead of the break.
Exeter City 1 The Imps 0
The Grecians won an early corner in front of the Imps’ supporters but Rhead and Green linked to avert the danger. But the home side were to go two goals in front as Boateng carried the ball ten yards before curling an effort beyond the despairing dive of Allsop and in off the upright.
Exeter continued to drive forward and Jake Taylor drilled a low effort straight into the arms of Allsop as the home supporters began to dream of a trip to Wembley. The Imps were doing their best to hit back quickly, Rhead had a shot blocked and James Wilson won the ball back in determined fashion to lift the contingent from Lincoln. Danny Cowley sent on Ollie Palmer for Anderson as The Imps were doing all they could to turn the tie back in their favour.
Woodyard was dogged in the tackle with Green as industrious as ever as The Imps were making inroads more than they had in the opening 45 minutes.
Palmer made a purposeful run down the right and won a corner, Frecklington floated the ball in and it was just cleared, the cross back in bobbled around the box and Rhead headed on target but it didn’t have the purchase on it to beat Christy Pym.
Harley though was to strike a cruel blow into the hearts of The Imps, taking a touch before hammering a vicious drive into the corner of the goal giving Allsop no chance. As always the fight from the visitors was there, never giving in and determined to make a fist of the game. Winning corner after corner, The Imps couldn’t be accused of throwing in the towel despite the seemingly insurmountable deficit.
The Imps made a valiant effort to turn the tie around and they got a lifeline, Rhead flicking on for GREEN to turn the ball beyond the advancing Pym to net his seventeenth goal of the season with little over ten minutes remaining to set up a tense finale. Rhead headed a late corner just wide of target as Cowley’s side tried and tried to make a late comeback but it wasn’t to be.
Exeter City 3 The Imps 1
1 Christy PYM
2 Pierce SWEENEY
6 Jordan TILLSON
7 Ryan HARLEY
8 Robbie SIMPSON
11 Jayden STOCKLEY
15 Jordan MOORE-TAYLOR
21 Dean MOXEY
25 Jake TAYLOR
38 Jordan STOREY
44 Hiram BOATENG
12 Paul JONES
3 Craig WOODMAN
4 Lloyd JAMES (85’ for Simpson)
5 Troy ARCHIBALD-HENVILLE (76’ for Boateng)
19 Liam McALINDEN
20 Matt JAY
28 Kyle EDWARDS
GOAL: Stockley 27’ Boateng 47’ Harley 69’
Booking: Stockley 88’
22 Ryan ALLSOP
4 Elliott WHITEHOUSE
5 Luke WATERFALL
9 Matt RHEAD
10 Matt GREEN
15 James WILSON
16 Michael BOSTWICK
19 Lee FRECKLINGTON
23 Neal EARDLEY
26 Harry ANDERSON
30 Alex WOODYARD
1 Paul FARMAN
2 Sean LONG
6 Scott WHARTON
7 Tom PETT (73’ for Frecklington)
8 Ollie PALMER (55’ for Anderson)
12 Ellis CHAPMAN
14 Jordan WILLIAMS
Booked: Eardley 18’ Bostwick 83’
GOAL: Green 78’
Referee: Darren England
Assistants: Wayne Grunnill & Gareth Mellor
Attendance: 5,645 (363 Imps’ supporters)