Lincoln City return to Football League with victory against Macclesfield

Guardian sport
Lincoln City’s players celebrate their promotion to the Football League. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

Lincoln City beat Macclesfield 2-1 at Sincil Bank to seal the National League title and confirm their return to the Football League after six years away.

An expectant sell-out crowd of 10,031 were made to wait when the visitors took the lead midway through the first half via Mitch Hancox’s strike, but the Lincoln winger Terry Hawkridge responded a few minutes later, pouncing on a rebound to equalise.

After some sustained second-half pressure, Hawkridge drilled home a low finish from a tight angle in the 76th minute to spark chants of “the Imps are going up” around the ground, before fans poured on to the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate with the players.

The club’s promotion caps a remarkable debut season in charge for the manager Danny Cowley and his assistant, his brother Nicky, who led their side to the FA quarter-finals, the first non-league side to do so for more than a century. It is Danny Cowley’s first full-time managerial role, having combined his previous post at Braintree with his job as a PE teacher.

“It felt like a good time to join,” Danny told BT Sport after the game, reflecting on his move to Sincil Bank last May. “We’ve tried to bring a work ethic and an enthusiasm. It’s never about two people, it’s about a group of people. We’re cogs in the wheel, and we’ve managed to keep our wheel turning.

The party begins for Lincoln City, with their victory over Macclesfield securing promotion and the title. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

“It’s been tough, the players have been running on empty, but if you want to be successful you have to win in all sorts of ways. We always say the skill’s important, but it’s not as important as the will.”

The Lincoln City captain, Luke Waterfall, praised his manager at full-time. “I think that’s the 60th game we’ve played this season, but Danny has prepared us for it,” Waterfall said. “All the hard work’s paid off. We wanted to get over the line. Fair play to Tranmere, they’ve given us a run, but we got there.”

The hero of the day, Hawkridge, added: “It’s amazing. For the city and the club, it’s been waiting for a long time now. The last few games we haven’t performed but got the results. The gaffer always says to me ‘shoot’ [more often]. I had a dream last night and I said to my girlfriend today I’m going to score a hat-trick. I was one away.

“We’ve been tough this year, tough to beat. The gaffer always drills into us that it’s our year this year, and we wanted to do it out here at the Bank.”

Lincoln’s manager, Danny Cowley, is lifted by the jubilant supporters. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

Lincoln entered administration in 2002 but still managed to reach the League Two play-offs in a record five consecutive seasons from 2002-03 to 2006-07. However, they failed to gain promotion each time and were demoted from the Football League in 2011, the club’s first time in the fifth tier since 1988.

Several mid-table finishes in the National League preceded the arrival of the Cowley brothers, who secured the club’s return to the Football League at the first attempt. Now on 97 points, eight clear at the top of the table, Danny Cowley was asked if Lincoln can take the final two games lightly. “No. We want 100 points.”

Tranmere’s 4-1 win over Southport reduced Lincoln’s lead to five points.

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