TOWN were carried to Cardiff on a wave of raw emotion at the euphoric McAlpine last night.

Down and seemingly out as Lincoln seized control of the tie with goals from Richard Butcher and Mark Bailey in the space of 66 first-half seconds, never-say-die Town came storming back to claim their rightful place in the final.

Inspired firstly by manager Peter Jackson's unprintable half-time team talk and then by over 16,000 vocally passionate home fans who raised the roof, Jacko's Jewels wrote themselves into McAlpine folklore.

It was just as sensational as the comeback against Scunthorpe last month which epitomised everything about Jackson's competitive mantra, only this time it came with the season on the line.

And how the fans responded!

Stunned by Butcher's opener on 37 minutes and Bailey's strike in the very next attack, dreams of the Millennium Stadium were being crushed under the weight of unrelenting Lincoln pressure.

It had all the makings of another massive McAlpine letdown - Town have still won only four of the 25 matches played to a 16,000-plus crowd at the stadium - but the blue and white army just wouldn't let it happen this time.

There were early signs of hope with Andy Holdsworth reverting to his effective wing-back role for the second half and loud claims for a penalty when Iffy Onuora's header was blocked, but the game turned on another spot-kick decision.

Frontline workhorse Andy Booth earned the kick, forcing defender Jamie McCombe into a trip which seemed obvious enough but which referee Mike Pike wasn't going to award until he saw the linesman's flag across his chest.

Danny Schofield, with all that practice from the previous day, cleverly spotted Alan Marriott diving to his right and confidently slotted his shot the opposite way.

From that moment onwards, Town seemed driven by destiny and rescued their campaign with what proved to be the aggregate winner from Rob Edwards seven minutes from time.

Scorer of some vital goals earlier in his Town career, none was sweeter than this for the club captain, who lashed the ball home from 10 yards after excellent build-up work by Schofield and the grafting Jon Worthington.

It was tough to take for Lincoln, who brought 3,160 to the party and earned enormous respect for the way they dominated the opening period in rip-roaring fashion.

Two yards quicker than Town and far more dangerous, Keith Alexander's side thoroughly deserved to overturn the 2-1 first-leg deficit and would have been coasting had they not missed some easy chances.

McCombe should have headed in from a Kevin Ellison corner, Flecher missed by a foot from Marcus Richardson's pass and, after the double goal blast, Simon Yeo missed a glorious chance to extend the lead still further with a backward header well grasped by Paul Rachubka.

Tame shots by Anthony Lloyd, Booth and Edwards were the best Town could muster as they failed to hold possession up front or build any really meaningful attacks.

Jackson said beforehand that Town would need to compete. For 45 minutes they didn't and were lucky to still be within touching distance.

That all changed in the second half, with Town showing passion aplenty and much more control and movement in possession.

Booth, this time coming off second best to Ben Futcher in the air, used his considerable skills on the deck to get Town motoring and found ready support from the midfield trio and from teenage sub John McAliskey, who got the nod ahead of Pawel Abbott and showed some confident touches.

He was also inches away from scoring with a smart header from Efe Sodje's invitation, and Town had much more pattern to their play with width from the wing-backs.

It still took an immense defensive effort from the impressive David Mirfin - scorer of the vital first-leg winner at Sincil Bank - Sodje and Steve Yates to keep Lincoln at bay, not to mention a thunderous tackle by Holdsworth on Ellison which had the entire Kilner Bank erupt in appreciation.

Holdsworth almost put the tie beyond doubt two minutes later with a searing run and raking shot, while Rachubka underlined his value in goal when blocking with his feet from Yeo with just two minutes left on the clock.

Town know they will have to play better overall to win the final, but at least they are through and have a chance to fulfil their promotion aim in some style.


Paul Rachubka Did well under huge pressure. Mistake for Lincoln's opener but made a brilliant save from Yeo on 88 Rating: 7/10

Andy Holdsworth Storming second-half display and one crunching tackle on Ellison brought the Kilner Bank to its feet Rating: 8/10

Anthony Lloyd Made some valuable clearances as Town came under pressure and, later, put in some decent crosses Rating: 7/10

David Mirfin Superb in the air as Lincoln bombarded Town and brave in the tackle. Clarke will have a job to displace him Rating: 8/10

Efe Sodje Suffered with the rest in the first half but made his aerial ability and long throw tell in the end. True character Rating: 7/10

Steve Yates Had his work cut out to cover the pace of Yeo in the first half, but never shirked a tackle or a header. Solid Rating: 7/10

Danny Schofield Coolly tucked away the 58th-minute penalty which handed Town a priceless lifeline and his skills were prominent. Rating: 8/10

Jon Worthington Worked his socks off throughout and was still powering forward and cracking into tackles at the very end. Excellent Rating: 8/10

Rob Edwards Revived memories of his best goalscoring days with the goal that took Town to Cardiff. Top man. Top display Rating: 9/10

Andy Booth His know-how when others were struggling was invaluable to the cause, because it was tougher than Saturday Rating: 8/10

Iffy Onuora Failed to match impact of the first leg and found himself losing the ball to impressive Lincoln defending. Rating: 6/10

Next page: Man of the Match >>>

Man of the Match: Rob Edwards

Not only did he score a tremendous equaliser seven minutes from time to give Town the aggregate win, but he was inspirational in midfield during the second-half revivial. No wonder he ran to the crowd clutching the blue and white stripes in celebration!

The 58th-minute penalty awarded against Jamie McCombe for a trip on Andy Booth which was spotted by the linesman, not referee Mike Pike. Schofield scored and suddenly Town were `alive' in the tie after being `dead' at half time. It was the break which Town so desperately needed.

Subs used: Town: McAliskey for Onuora 62. Lincoln: Wilford for Bloomer 83, Green for Richardson 83.

Subs not used: Town: Senior, Fowler, Scott, Brown. Lincoln: Sedgemore, Sandwith, Weaver.

Scorers: Town: Schofield (pen) 58, Edwards 83. Lincoln: Butcher 37, Bailey 38.

Referee: Mike Pike (Cumbria).

Bookings: None.

Shots on target: Town 6, Lincoln 7.

Corners: Town 5, Lincoln 5.

Caught offside: Town 4, Lincoln 2.

Free-kicks awarded: Town 13, Lincoln 12.

Attendance: 19,467 (Away: 3,160).