Hopper and Johnson on target as Lincoln City draw first blood in play-off semi-final with Sunderland
Lincoln City 2 Sunderland 0
Advantage Lincoln City! Goals from Tom Hopper and Brennan Johnson ensured the Imps head to Sunderland for their play-off semi-final second leg with a 2-0 lead.
In an enthralling contest at the LNER Stadium the hosts were deserved winners.
But they certainly didn't have things their own way with 20-year-old keeper Josef Bursik - drafted in only yesterday - more than earning his clean sheet on the occasions the stoic City defence was breached.
The contest kicked off with a roar as fans finally returned to the LNER Stadium, and those present came within a whisker of celebrating their first goal with just five minutes gone.
However, Black Cats stopper Lee Burge's fingertips forced Anthony Scully's driven effort over.
The Red Imps handed a debut to 20-year-old Stoke City keeper Josef Bursik, signed on an emergency loan after regular keeper Alex Palmer suffered a head injury in training.
But just one injury obviously wasn't enough for the footballing gods as, within 15 minutes, both sides were forced to make changes; Sunderland's Denver Hume replaced by Callum McFadzean and Lewis Montsma on for Lincoln defender Adam Jackson.
Burge was called into action once more to hold on to Montsma's volley which was drilled low through a packed box.
Sunderland enjoyed spells of possession but no cutting edge, but the same couldn't be said for Lincoln.
Johnson was the next to go close, driving towards goal before seeing his 20-yard strike beat Burge but rebound off the upright.
Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady tried their luck at the other end but neither could find the target in a goalless first half.
Less than two minutes into the second half and Bursik showed just why he was brought in by Lincoln, tipping Jordan Jones' drive onto the crossbar at full stretch.
But seconds later he could only watch as Bailey Wright's header smashed against the Imps' crossbar.
Suddenly the Black Cats' claws were out, but the hosts were ready to match them.
Lincolnshire lad Hopper put the Imps ahead in the 52nd minute, prodding home the club's 100th goal of the season from close range after gambling on Jorge Grant's teasing pass to the back post.
The build up had seen Burge use his body to block Grant's effort, but Sunderland failed to fully clear their lines and City capitalised, Hopper ending his 12-game wait for a goal.
As the contest opened up, McGeady threaded his way into a shooting position before forcing Bursik into another important save.
Moments later a left-footed curler from the Sunderland playmaker fizzed over the hosts' bar.
Perseverance paid off for Johnson as he doubled the advantage with 76 minutes gone.
The Wales international charged down a back pass, Burge's attempted clearance smashing into his body and gifting him with a simple tap in.
As the clock ticked down supporters who didn't have tickets set off flares outside the ground.
Bring on Saturday.
IMPS: Bursik, Poole, Jackson (Montsma 15), Eyoma, Edun, Bridcutt, Grant, Johnson (Anderson 90), Rogers, Scully (McGrandles 85), Hopper; Subs (not used): Long, Sanders, Bramall, Morton.
SUNDERLAND: Burge, Flanagan, Wright, Power (Leadbitter 69), Wyke, Gooch, O'Nien, Scowen, Jones (Stewart 69), McGeady, Hume (McFadzean 11); Subs (not used): Matthews, Maguire, Diamond, Winchester.
REF: Craig Hicks.