Late turnaround puts Lincoln City five points clear at the top

Sam Habergham’s free kick two minutes from time completed a late, late turnaround as Lincoln City moved five points clear at the top of the National League with a 2-1 win over Torquay United.

When Ruairi Keating headed the struggling Gulls in front with ten minutes to go, the Imps were shellshocked as their lead at the top looked like being cut in front of a seasonal National League high crowd of 9,011.

But Harry Anderson scored for the second game in a row four minutes from time to level affairs, before Habergham sent the majority of the crowd wild to complete a dramatic late comeback.

It was a late show so often associated with champions, and Lincoln could now win the title at Gateshead on Monday if they win in the north east and Tranmere fail to beat Guiseley.

Sam Habergham stands over the free kick that would win the game for Lincoln in dramatic fashion. Photo: Danyal Khan

Danny Cowley made three changes to his side that beat Chester on Tuesday, with Sean Long, Josh Ginnelly and Jack Muldoon all returning to the starting eleven.

And it was one of the returning trio that had the first shot on goal less than a minute in. Ginnelly received he ball in the left channel and flashed a shot across the face of goal which Matt Rhead couldn’t touch home and visiting ‘keeper Brendan Moore was untroubled.

Lincoln started the game brightly and had the better of the early chances, Rhead having a header comfortably held and Muldoon seeing an effort turned around the post for a corner.

On his first start since the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, Muldoon was looking lively and when he looked to beat Giancarlo Gallifuoco on the outside, the Torquay defender slid in well to block his goalbound effort.

Torquay’s first effort on goal came through Luke Young’s free kick that went far too high, before the Imps resumed their control and Rhead’s far post header dropped onto the roof of the net.

That said, it was the Gulls who came closest in the first half hour when a left wing corner was flicked on and Gallifuoco forced a fine save from Paul Farman, who clawed his effort away just before it crossed the line.

And it was right back Gallifuoco who came close again five minutes before half time with a fierce drive that flew narrowly wide of the upright.

As an open first half came to a close, Muldoon forced Moore into a fingertip save with his 20 yarder and, despite chances at either end, the sides went in level.

With both sides seeking an early breakthrough in the second half, the Gulls had the first sight of goal after the break when Young’s free kick was bundled goalbound by Aman Verma, Farman making the near post save.

Then, Farman comfortably held Gallifuoco’s weak effort as Torquay started the second half on top.

Recognising his side were on the back foot, Cowley introduced Elliott Whitehouse, Anderson and Marriott from the bench within seven minutes of each other in the hope of changing the flow of the game, but it was the 73rd minute before the Imps had a chance of note in the second half.

And it was the closest either side had come all game. Sam Habergham did superbly to keep the ball in on the left and whip a ball into the box, which Marriott glanced agonisingly onto the post.

Then, Rhead’s acrobatic effort went wide as Lincoln knocked on the door.

But the deadlock was to be broken at the other end with 11 minutes to play. Sincil Bank was stunned into silence as Jamie Reid worked space on the left and crossed for Keating to head past Farman from close range.

As Lincoln made their way back to the centre circle, Cowley urged his players to lift themselves and two minutes later Nathan Arnold’s powerful strike called Moore into routine work.

And on 86 minutes, they pulled level. Two of Cowley’s substitutes were involved as Marriott’s strike from the edge of the box was too hot for Moore to handle, and Anderson stroked home the rebound from eight yards.

And when Marriott was fouled 25 yards out two minutes later, Sincil Bank held its breath as Habergham stood over the resulting free kick. The left back stepped up and curled a glorious strike beyond Moore to send majority of the 9,011 into delirium.

And in the blink of an eye, it was now Torquay showing urgency to get the ball back in play but Lincoln had the chance to secure all three points when they had an indirect free kick a yard inside the box. Arnold fed Whitehouse, whose goalbound drive was blocked.

And the Imps restricted Torquay’s chances in stoppage time to move five points clear at the top of the league in what felt like the day when the title was sealed.