Exeter’s play-off heroics were marred as fans invaded the pitch and targeted several members of Lincoln’s staff after the final whistle.
Lincoln kitman Dick Tacey, aged 78, was left with a bump to his head, and assistant manager Nicky Cowley was also punched as home supporters ran on the pitch at St James Park and tried to get to striker Matt Rhead.
Lincoln manager Danny Cowley said: ‘There was three or four who just charged at Rheady. I was just trying to get the players off. I could see where it was going to go.
Exeter City player Hiram Boateng is lifted by the crowd as they invade the pitch in celebration
Ryan Harley of Exeter City celebrates with fans after sealing a win over Lincoln City
Lincoln manager Danny Cowley guides Matt Rhead (right) away from gloating Exeter fans
Exeter City chairman Julian Tagg celebrates with Exeter City fans at the final whistle
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Exeter City (4-4-2): Pym 6; Sweeney 6.5, Storey 6.5, Moore-Taylor 7, Moxey 7; Taylor 7, Boateng 8.5 (Archibald-Henville 76), Tillson 6.5, Harley 7.5; Simpson 7.5 (James 85), Stockley 7.5
Subs not used: Jones, Woodman, McAlinden, Jay, Edwards
Goals: Stockley 27, Boateng, 47, Harley 69
Booked: Stockley, Moxey
Manager: Paul Tisdale 7
Lincoln City (4-3-3): Allsop 6; Wilson 6, Waterfall 6, Bostwick 6, Eardley 6; Woodyard 6.5, Frecklington 6 (Pett 73, 6), Whitehouse 6.5; Green 6.5, Anderson 6 (Palmer 55, 6.5), Rhead 6.5
Subs not used: Farman, Long, Wharton, Chapman, Williams
Goal: Green 78
Booked: Eardley, Bostwick
Manager: Danny Cowley 6
Referee: Darren England 5
Attendance: 5,645 (363 away)
‘[Dick’s] got a big lump on the back of his head… he’s 78. We’re a very together group and he’s a big part of our group and he’s been left in tears and we’re pretty upset about it to be honest with you.’
The scenes detracted from a clinical Exeter display. Jayden Stockley, Hiram Boateng and Ryan Harley the heroes as Paul Tisdale’s side made it to their second consecutive League Two play-off final after losing to Blackpool last year.
They will play the winners of Friday night’s second leg between Notts County and Coventry on May 28.
The pitch invasion took the gloss off a superb Exeter display and added to the disappointment of Lincoln’s evening.
They will also look back at a questionable refereeing display by Darren England. A display which left Lincoln manager Cowley and the rest of his colleagues in the away dugout incensed.
‘I don’t like criticising referees but he got it wrong tonight,’ Cowley added.
Tisdale made one change from the first leg, which finished 0-0 at Sincil Bank. Robbie Simpson came into the side and started up front with top scorer Stockley. It was a partnership that would eventually prove crucial.
The two combined early in the game but Simpson lacked composure and shot wide from six yards.
Lincoln weren’t reaching the high levels of intensity they have become renowned for. They got lucky when Boateng’s cross evaded everyone but weren’t so fortunate shortly afterwards. Simpson’s shot from Boateng’s pass was blocked but Stockley was alert to volley past Lincoln goalkeeper Ryan Allsop.
Exeter City’s Ryan Harley, centre, celebrates scoring his side’s third goal with team-mates
Exeter’s Jayden Stockley celebrates scoring the first goal during the League Two play-off
Boateng celebrates after scoring the second goal for the home side in their 3-1 victory
Lincoln needed some inspiration. Step forward Elliott Whitehouse – the man who scored the goal to win the Checkatrade Trophy last month against Shrewsbury at Wembley. Whitehouse thrashed the ball beyond goalkeeper Christy Pym. But disappointment followed for the Lincoln fans who celebrated prematurely.
Referee England initially gave the goal but assistant referee Gareth Mellor had spotted Matt Rhead handling the ball. England sided with his colleague and the goal was ruled out.
Lincoln manager Cowley protested at half-time that Rhead was pushed before making contact with the ball. He was right and a penalty should have been given.
From there the situation got worse for Lincoln and the 363 fans who had made the 480-mile trip from Lincolnshire. Boateng’s spectacular curling effort from 25 yards was enough to beat Allsop on the way to going in off the post.
Then Harley rifled into Allsop’s top corner from range. It was the goal of the game.
Stockley found the bottom corner of the Lincoln City net to give them the lead in the first half
Boateng struck a curling effort from distance to double Exeter’s lead early in the second half
Lincoln fought back with a goal from striker Matt Green. Then Lincoln had appeals for a penalty turned down when Exeter captain Jordan Moore-Taylor appeared to go into the back of Rhead.
Rhead required stitches to the back of his head following contact. Those in the Lincoln dugout leapt up and vented once more at referee England. Another decision that didn’t go their way or that of Rhead, who Cowley believes doesn’t get enough protection from referees.
Protection was obviously lacking once Exeter fans invaded the pitch. It is, however, unlikely that the Imps will go to the FA over the scenes at full-time.
All we know now, though, is that Exeter are through to Wembley and the quality they possess suggests Notts County or Coventry will have to do something special to stop them from putting last year’s defeat by Blackpool right.
Exeter manager Tisdale said: ‘This feels very different to this time last year. We have to enjoy the moment but realise promotion is not a given.’
Matt Green of Lincoln watches as his effort rolls into the net and gives his side faint hope