Substitute Ollie Palmer scored a decisive late winner as Lincoln City moved back into the play-off places with a thrilling 3-2 win over Exeter City at Sincil Bank.

With six of the top eight playing each other, it felt like an important day in the League Two play-off race, and the game between eighth and fifth at Sincil Bank didn’t disappoint.

Exeter took a slender lead, given to them by Jayden Stockley, into a second half where momentum swung this way and that. Danny Rowe and Matt Green turned the game on its head, before Jake Taylor levelled again and then Palmer won it for Lincoln in a breathless finale.

Ollie Palmer scored a late winner to lift Lincoln City into the play-off places

Imps boss Danny Cowley made one change to the side that drew at Morecambe last week. It came on the wing, Danny Rowe replaced Jordan Williams.

And it was Rowe who had the first chance of the game. A cleverly worked free kick saw Sam Habergham slip him in down the left channel, but he couldn’t connect properly and Christy Pym saved.

Two minutes later, it was Exeter’s turn to threaten from a free kick when Stockley’s low effort was turned around the post for a corner.

But it was from that corner that the Grecians took the lead, Stockley the man to give it to them as he rose highest to nod past Allsop.

It was against the run of play that Lincoln found themselves behind, and for five minutes they continued to have more of the play despite the goal. Matt Green headed wide from Neal Eardley’s fine cross, while Rowe found himself crowded out by Exeter’s five-man defence.

But having not scored while they were on top, the impetus went out of Lincoln’s game and they became frustrated by Exeter’s well-marshalled defence.

Chances were few and far between after that even though City had more of the ball. They next came close seven minutes before half time, when Michael Bostwick’s cross was deflected and Whitehouse struck it sweetly on the volley, but just over Pym’s goal.

Then, Habergham’s corner was met by Scott Wharton on the edge of the six yard box, but the centre half couldn’t get enough of a touch and could only glance wide.

But it was Exeter who came closest to another goal before the break. Stockley scored their first from a corner and came inches away from doing it again when he crashed a set piece off both posts before the ball rebounded into Allsop’s grateful arms.

In a game widely regarded as one Lincoln couldn’t afford to lose if they were to keep in touch with the play-offs, the Imps needed a second half goal. They had the first chance after the break, but a Whitehouse scuffed wide from the edge of the box.

Then, Wharton twice threatened from corners, first heading goalbound where Dean Moxey cleared over his own bar, before his header from the resulting corner was plucked from the goal line by Pym.

And with Lincoln pressing, the equaliser they sought came just a minute later. Whitehouse, arguably one of Lincoln’s best players on the day, had a snapshot saved by Pym and there was Rowe to nod home the equaliser from six yards.

The cheers for that goal had barely died down when the Imps turned the game on its head. From another clever free kick routine, Eardley slipped in Green in the right channel, who took one touch before drilling home below Pym.

Now the complexion of the game had changed, and it was Exeter who had to come out of their shell. Hiram Boateng tried to do just that, firing narrowly over from 25 yards.

Both sides made changes as the game entered the final quarter of an hour, and it made for a thrilling finale. Exeter still sought their equaliser, and came within inches as Jordan Storey crashed an angled drive off the bar. Dean Moxey’s follow up was superbly, blocked as Lincoln survived.

But they didn’t survive for much longer and Exeter levelled with 12 minutes to play. Lincoln failed to clear a ball into the box and Jake Taylor stroked home a neat finish from 15 yards to restore parity.

The game was now perfectly poised heading into the final stages, and a minute later Lincoln thought they’d hit back immediately. Palmer headed home and celebrated for fully 30 seconds before realising that referee Tom Nield had blown for a foul, much to Lincoln’s disbelief.

Just three minutes later, it was Lincoln’s turn to hit the woodwork when Eardley drilled a cross into the box, and Luke Waterfall looped a header off the bar as it was Exeter’s turn to survive by a matter of inches.

But like Lincoln before them, Exeter didn’t survive for much longer and the Imps scored the decisive goal with four minutes to play. Palmer was left in space at the far post to drill home from a cross and send Sincil Bank into raptures.

The Imps could have had a fourth late on, but Harry Anderson opted to go alone and drilled wide when the supporting Green and Whitehouse would have been better options.

But fortunately for Lincoln it didn’t come back to cost them, and the closest Exeter came was when Stockley curled a 25-yard free kick over.

And after six minutes of stoppage time, Lincoln held out for what felt like a pivotal three points in the race for the top seven.

Lincoln: Ryan Allsop, Sam Habergham, Elliott Whitehouse, Scott Wharton, Matt Rhead (Ollie Palmer 76), Matt Green, Michael Bostwick, Lee Frecklington (Luke Waterfall 74), Neal Eardley, Danny Rowe (Harry Anderson 72), Alex Woodyard. Subs not used: Paul Farman, Tom Pett, Jordan Williams, James Wilson

Goals: Danny Rowe (60), Matt Green (62), Ollie Palmer (86)

Exeter: Christy Pym, Pierce Sweeney, Lloyd James (Robbie Simpson 68), Jordan Tillson, Jayden Stockley, Dean Moxey, Kane Wilson, Luke Croll (Craig Woodman 68), Jake Taylor, Jordan Storey, Hiram Boateng. Subs not used: Paul Jones, Liam McAlinden, Matthew Jay, Ryan Loft

Goals: Jayden Stockley (11), Jake Taylor (78)

Attendance: 9,785 (406 visitors)