Matt Rhead’s brace gave Lincoln City a fifth win in six with a 2-1 win over Forest Green Rovers at Sincil Bank.
The two sides promoted from the National League last season have had differing fortunes this time around, but Lincoln had to work hard to complete their league double.
Rhead netted once in each half to condemn bottom of the table Rovers to another defeat, Christian Doidge’s good finish the Gloucestershire side’s only response.
Cowley named an unchanged side from the one that beat Stevenage on Boxing Day, and it was the Imps who had the first sight of goal in a high tempo opening. Harry Anderson’s fizzed cross took a nick off a defender, and Bradley Collins had to be alert to parry away.
Rovers broke straight away, and the visitors had a brace of headers off target from Luke James and Doidge before Lincoln broke the deadlock.
The goal came courtesy of Neal Eardley, whose fabulous cross evaded everyone until Rhead stooped to nod home at the far post from six yards.
Both sides were restricted to shots from range in the following minutes, with the game largely even.
That was until Forest Green equalised midway through the half. It was the first time Lincoln’s defence had been breached in five games, and came courtesy of Doidge who received the ball with his back to goal, turned his man and finished low to level.
Reece Brown failed to test Vickers as Forest Green grew in belief, but Lincoln gained the ascendancy thereafter. Collins, though, wasn’t really tested and was comfortable in saving from Anderson and Green.
When Green found space 20 yards out minutes later, he couldn’t get Arnold’s pass out of his feet and the defence recovered, meaning the striker could only find Collins again and the sides went in level at the break.
The start of the second period mirrored the end of the first, Lincoln on top but Collins not tested. Green was the culprit again as his left footed effort was straight at the Chelsea loanee.
Scott Laird flashed wide for Rovers, but Lincoln retained the ascendancy and restored their advantage on 57 minutes. Forest Green contributed to their own downfall as Collins’ dreadful goal kick fell straight to Anderson on halfway, who drove into the box and squared for Rhead to net his second of the game with a delicate finish.
Collins made up for that by denying Lincoln sub Ollie Palmer with a fine fingertip save, but chances were few and far between after the goal.
The visitors had a lot of late possession in their bid to climb off the bottom, but rarely fashioned chances as Lincoln largely defended well.
That was until the last minute of normal time, when Doidge found a yard of space on the edge of the box and flashed an effort goalbound which Vickers denied with a wonderful hand away.
From the resulting corner, the visitors thought they’d equalised but referee Martin Coy had blown for a foul.
It meant Lincoln held on to ensure they remain third, occupying the final automatic promotion place going into 2018.
Lincoln: Josh Vickers, Sam Habergham, Matt Rhead (Ollie Palmer 72), Matt Green (Elliott Whitehouse 76), Rob Dickie, Michael Bostwick, Neal Eardley, Sean Raggett, Harry Anderson, Nathan Arnold (Luke Waterfall 91), Alex Woodyard. Subs not used: Paul Farman, Sean Long, Josh Ginnelly, Cameron Stewart
Goals: Matt Rhead (8, 57)
Forest Green: Bradley Collins, Scott Laird, Lee Collins, Emmanuel Monthe, Christian Doidge, Reece Brown (Jack Fitzwater 90), Charlie Cooper, Daniel Wishart (Keanu Marsh-Brown 60), Mark Roberts, Luke James (Jordan Stevens 71), Isaiah Osbourne. Subs not used: Harry Pickering, Omar Bugiel, Jordan Simpson, Callum Evans
Goal: Christian Doidge (24)