Captain Luke Waterfall headed a 94th minute winner as Lincoln City earned a dramatic 2-1 win over Colchester United at Sincil Bank.

With the scores level at one apiece deep into stoppage time, substitute Waterfall rose highest to nod home Alex Woodyard’s cross and seal a crucial three points in the Imps’ play-off push.

Earlier, Courtney Senior had quickly cancelled out Elliott Whitehouse’s penalty, and Lincoln were down to ten men after Michael Bostwick’s red card by the time Waterfall won it late.

Imps captain Luke Waterfall headed home a 94th minute winner in a dramatic finale at Sincil Bank

Waterfall was left out of the starting eleven as Whitehouse came back in, meaning Bostwick reverted back to centre half.

But Lincoln were flat in the opening stages and, in truth, for large spells of the afternoon. Colchester started the brighter, and had the first chance in a high intensity first minute when Kane Vincent-Young blazed over after running in behind the Imps’ back line.

Then, Ben Stephenson curled over following a short corner as the visitors had the better of the opening stages.

Lincoln’s first chance came through the returning Whitehouse, as he latched onto a clever free kick routine and saw a close range effort saved by Sam Walker, with appeals for a penalty turned down.

The crowd sensed the Imps’ nerves early on, twice urging their team on after Colchester attacks came to nothing.

And that support nearly had the desired effect when Harry Anderson cut in from the left but blazed over the Stacey West Stand from 15 yards.

Then, Neal Eardley’s whipped cross looked destined for Matt Rhead only for Luke Prosser to head behind for a corner as City stepped up the intensity.

Eardley himself then scuffed straight at Walker after cutting inside as Lincoln started to gain the ascendancy.

City came close again on the half hour when Green’s effort from the edge of the box was deflected just wide, but crucially you never felt like Lincoln were really knocking at the door during the goalless first half despite finishing it the stronger.

City needed a goal, and their intent was made clear by the half time substitution that saw Ollie Palmer introduced.

Indeed, it was Palmer who played a vital role in the deadlock being broken ten minutes into the half. Green set him up for a shot, but his leg was clipped as he took it and referee Darren Handley pointed to the spot. After a debate involving Palmer, Rhead and Whitehouse, it was the midfielder who stepped up and sent Walker the wrong way to send Sincil Bank into noise.

But the lead didn’t last. Just four minutes later, Rhead was caught in possession in his own half allowing Colchester to break, and a neat one-two with Michael Mandron allowed him the space to slot home the equaliser from eight yards.

With City needing a goal again, Lee Frecklington struck wide after Rhead’s knock down but Colchester came closest next when Ryan Allsop had to beat away Stephenson’s shot on the angle.

Indeed, the visitors looked like scoring next and Sammie Szmodics called Allsop into a save, with Sam Habergham’s vital touch denying Mandron a tap in from the rebound.

The crowd knew the importance of winning the game, and urged their side on as the game entered the final 15 minutes. Substitutes Tom Pett and Waterfall both saw efforts go over the bar as the goal looked elusive.

With the clock ticking down, Palmer had a stunning curling effort from 25 yards strike the bar as the Imps came closer.

But when sides push men forward, so often they are vulnerable on the break and when Colchester broke forward with six minutes left, Mandron raced to get on the end of a through ball but was adjudged to have held back by Bostwick. The City defender saw red, and Lincoln were left playing the last six minutes with ten men.

Colchester thought they’d won it two minutes into stoppage time when Mandron prodded home from close range, but he saw his effort ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag.

But you always felt like there was one final chance for Lincoln – and four minutes into stoppage time despair turned to jubilation.

Palmer’s low cross was cleared back out to Alex Woodyard, who hung a high cross which Walker flapped at and there was captain Waterfall to send Sincil Bank into a cauldron of noise with a close range header.

With no time for any more attacks, Lincoln snatched all three points with a big win that maintains their three point cushion in the play-off places.