Lincoln City produced a stunning second-half comeback to seal their place in the League One play-off final on a dramatic afternoon at Sunderland
The Imps lost the second leg 2-1, but won the tie 3-2 on aggregate after their first leg victory.
Tom Hopper’s goal proved crucial after first-half Sunderland strikes by Ross Stewart and Charlie Wyke had levelled the tie.
The Black Cats had absolutely bossed the first half. An electric Stadium of Light with 10,000 home fans sounding like there were 40,000 rammed in had played their part, and for 45 minutes Lincoln looked like rabbits caught in the headlights.
Barely able to get out of their own half in the pace of aggressive, high pressing and outstanding workrate from the home team, Lincoln conceded the early goal that manager Michael Appleton must have feared when Stewart got on the end of Aiden McGeadys cross after just 13 minutes.
McGeady, who had resolved a contract issue this week to be able to play, was the architect again on 33 minutes, with another dangerous cross that was prodded home by Wyke.
It was a form of redemption for Wyke, who should have scored earlier when he was clean through, waltzed around goalkeeper Alex Palmer but then somehow hit the defender on the line when he could have squared it to two Sunderland players.
Palmer was fortunate before the break too, not to conceded a penalty when he tripped Stewart on the corner of the box, referee Michael Salisbury waving away the claims.
It had been an utterly dominant first half by the home side, with Lincoln looking shell-shocked as they trudged from the field. Appleton made two changes at the break in a bid to get his side back in the game, Joe Walsh and Conor McGrandles coming on for Lewis Monstma and Anthony Scully.
And there was an immediate impact with the visitors probing down Sunderland’s left to good effect.
They almost got back ahead on aggregate on 50 minutes when defender Regan Poole got up for header at a corner, but his effort bounced into the ground before hitting the crossbar.
Sunderland failed to heed that warning, however, and just six minutes later another corner saw Hopper left with a free header six yards out, and he made no mistake.
It was no more than the Imps deserved for their second-half display, which was bright and creative. They targeted Callum McFadzean, in particular, getting plenty joy down their right-side, with another move ending in a golden opportunity to kill off the tie when Josh Scowen brought down McGrandles.
Up stepped Jorge Grant for the penalty, only for Lee Burge to fling himself to his right and save the spot kick.
Then, with 11 minutes left, McGrandles blazed over when clean through as another chance to win the tie went begging.
They weren’t made to pay for those misses, however, as they survived late pressure from the home side, including a McGeady effort that rebounded back off the post, to seal their trip to Wembley on Sunday 30 May where they will take on Blackpool for a place in the Championship.
For Sunderland, a fourth straight season in the third tier beckons, an incredible statistic for a club of their size. Much work to be done.