Cambridge United were edged out 2-1 by Lincoln City as the Imps fought back in the second half to take the spoils in a thriller at the Abbey.
United pushed the League Leaders all the way in a barnstorming final encounter of 2018, but saw goals from Neal Eardley and John Akinde cancel Jabo Ibehre’s opener.
The U’s were without captain Gary Deegan through suspension and George Maris owing to injury, as Paul Lewis and David Amoo stepped into Colin Calderwood’s starting eleven.
David Forde produced a big early save for United denying Harry Toffolo one-on-one when the full back broke into the U’s area on four minutes.
The U’s steadied themselves into the game well though and looked a threat with possession in the final third. Paul Lewis forced a fine stop by the legs of Grant Smith having slid a shot under the Imps wall from a central free kick, midway through the half.
Colin Calderwood’s men deservedly broke the deadlock on 28 minutes as Ibehre scored his second goal in consecutive games. The striker began the move, dispossessing the Imps inside the United half of the pitch before charging forward 35 yards laying a pass off for Jevani Brown, who in turn delivered a precise cross from the right for Ibehre to wrong foot Smith four yards out and nestle a header beyond the keeper.
It was the U’s who looked the more likely to register again before the break, with Paul Lewis a width of the woodwork away from doing so when his attempt from 20 yards rattled the centre of the cross bar.
Harry Darling and Greg Taylor combined excellently in defence to keep the enormous Lincoln strike partnership of Matt Rhead and John Akinde quiet, ensuring that United’s lead was intact as the side’s headed down the tunnel at half time.
A thrilling encounter continued into the second half and United still caused the visitors problems when they moved forward with the ball.
John Akinde carved out an opportunity to level for the Imps when clever footwork beat Halliday on the right of the area, but the striker smashed his shot high and wide.
Neal Eardley however produced a moment of pure quality to level the score line, when the right back powered a free kick beyond David Forde from 25 yards out with 20 minutes to play.
That sparked a flip in the encounter and when a long ball forward from the Imps made its way into the path of John Akinde, United couldn’t deal with the striker’s power as he worked enough room to squirm a shot into the back of the net from six yards.
The U’s did what they could to muster a fightback of their own and Ibehre had Smith scrambling across his goalline when the striker headed Osadebe’s cross goalwards, but it dropped to the right of the target with ten minutes remaining.
Calderwood’s men pushed on all the way into eight minutes of stoppage time, but were thwarted first by a magnificent save from Smith to deny Reggie Lambe before Jake Carroll scraped the outside of the post from a 30 yard free kick with United’s final chance.
Cambridge United: Forde, Halliday, Taylor, Darling, Carroll, Amoo (Dunk, 73 mins), O’Neil (57 mins), Lewis, Lambe, Brown (Azeez 88 mins), Ibehre
Bookings: O’Neil, Lambe, Halliday
Lincoln City: Smith, Shackell, Pett (O’Connor, 62 mins), Frecklington, Rhead, Andrade (Gordon, 66 mins), Toffolo (Wharton, 86 mins), Bostwick, Eardley, Anderson, Akinde
Bookings: Anderson, Rhead
Attendance: 6,858 (2,273)
Man of the Match: Jabo Ibehre