Michael Appleton admits half-time rocket inspired Lincoln to play-off final spot
Lincoln boss Michael Appleton delivered a half-time rocket to his players to inspire their Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final fightback at Sunderland
The Imps saw their 2-0 first-leg lead evaporate at the Stadium of Light on Saturday before scraping their way back into the game to secure a 3-2 aggregate victory which booked them a trip to Wembley to face Blackpool next Sunday.
Appleton told Sky Sports: “I was really disappointed with the first half, I did not recognise us as a team. I just got after them with a little bit of old school.
“I just wanted to see personalities, be brave and get on the ball, pass the ball and we got that in the second half.
“I just said that to them at the end that we have passed a massive test in the second half because we were up against it in the first half, we had a lot of young players who had not experienced that before.
“And for them to come and turn it around in the second half like they did, I’m just delighted for them.”
Lincoln, who emerged from the National League as Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-17 season, have not played in the second tier since 1961 and their wait looked likely to be extended after a dreadful start on Wearside.
They were in deep trouble when goals from Ross Stewart and Charlie Wyke wiped out their lead with just 33 minutes played in front of a crowd of 9,971.
However, they rebooted at the break and got themselves back into the game through Tom Hopper’s 56th-minute header and, although Jorge Grant saw a penalty saved by keeper Lee Burge, a 2-1 defeat on the day was enough to see them through.
Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson admitted his devastation at the result and bemoaned referee Michael Salisbury’s decision not to award a 41st-minute penalty for goalkeeper Alex Palmer’s challenge on Stewart at 2-0.
He said: “It’s devastating, there’s no doubt, there’s no other word for it. The boys are devastated in there, the staff are devastated. You could see they put everything into it.
“The fans were magnificent. It was my first taste of the Sunderland fans with everybody behind us and if there’s a positive, it’s that is a sign of things to come, the tempo we can create for the 23 home games next season.
“We should have had a penalty when Ross Stewart was taken down and I think at that point, if we get to go 3-0 up, it allows us to rest in possession a little bit.”