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Jayden Stockley and Exeter celebrate
Jayden Stockley and Exeter celebrate

Exeter will be playing in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final for the second season running after beating Lincoln 3-1 at St James Park.

Following a 0-0 draw at Sincil Bank, Exeter made their strong form at home count with a professional showing that included goals from Jayden Stockley (27) plus brilliant strikes from Hiram Boateng (47) and Ryan Harley (68).

Lincoln grabbed a late consolation from Matt Green (78) and were aggrieved with a couple of refereeing decisions that went against them, including a disallowed goal from Elliot Whitehouse at 1-0 and a big penalty shout late on for a foul on Matt Rhead.

Exeter boss Paul Tisdale - the current longest serving manager in English football after Arsene Wenger's departure from Arsenal - will be aiming to win a third promotion at the club and rest the demons of last season's final defeat against Blackpool.

They'll find out their opponents on Friday evening when Notts County and Coventry compete in their second leg, live on Sky Sports Football.

Sky Bet can't split the two sides hoping to take on Exeter at Wembley. They can both be backed at 10/11 to progress.

The dry conditions in the south-west had caused the pitch to become unsuitable to Exeter's usual passing style. They struggled to make an impact in the early stages with misplaced passes hindering their progress in a nervy affair.

Like the first-leg, chances were at a premium but the deadlock was broken on 27 minutes.

Exeter's top goalscorer Stockley was the man to fire his team in front, latching onto a loose ball in the box and lashing it into the bottom corner for his 25th goal of the campaign.

The goal sparked the game into life - and Lincoln thought they'd levelled on 40 minutes.

Whitehouse was the man celebrating after smashing the ball home from close range but it was ruled as by the officials after the linesman adjudged Rhead to have handled, although he claimed to have been fouled himself.

The visitors' mood deepened further after the break as they fell two goals behind in the tie courtesy of a moment of magic from Boateng.

The former Crystal Palace midfielder set sail from inside his own half and drove 60 yards with the ball before cutting inside and curled an inch-perfect effort into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

Hiram Boateng of Exeter celebrates
Hiram Boateng of Exeter celebrates

Lincoln pinned the hosts back but rarely troubled a defence organised brilliantly by Jordan Moore-Taylor - and their bubble was completely burst by Harley on 68 minutes.

The midfielder let fly from 30 yards and despite a tricky bouncing ball to control, he connected sweetly which saw it travel like a rocket into the top corner.

Green reduced the deficit for Lincoln with 12 minutes left with a tidy finish after a Rhead flick but they never got within touching distance of the hosts, although that could have been different if the referee had spotted a foul on Rhead from Moore-Taylor that had the Lincoln bench and the striker incensed.

Post-match reaction

Exeter manager Paul Tisdale felt his side were worthy winners.

"I think we thoroughly deserved it. I think it was a purposeful performance full of intent and as positive as we could have given," said Tisdale.

"We wanted to be really tough today and obviously we saw a lot on Saturday with the problems that Lincoln can cause any team and we acknowledged it.

"You can't stop everything, but we reduced it today and they gave us a torrid 15 minutes of pummelling balls into our box, which is what you expect. They are desperate to get the goals back.

"But I have to say I am very proud of the way that we played.

"Jayden came in and said: 'I can't believe my goal was the worst of the three!'. He's a typical centre forward. Hiram probably owes us a goal and we all know that Ryan Harley has that in him.

"He had two in the first half that he didn't catch at all, but that one was the toughest of the lot. He just kept his head beautifully still and what a strike. I have to say, I did jump around a little after that one.

"I think we thoroughly deserved it, obviously it was a nervy last 10 minutes, but what do you expect?"

Lincoln boss Danny Cowley was left cursing the disallowed goal in the first half for Whitehouse.

Cowley said: "Some key decisions went against us. But they scored some good goals from distance and technically they certainly beat us in that area of the game.

"It was unbelievable how our goal was ruled out. The linesman was 70 yards out and gives it and the referee is five yards away. All night the fourth official gave decisions for the referee. We have to suck it in.

"We fought until the end, credit to them first half because they dealt with our direct play and then they hurt us on the counter-attack.

"I am really proud of the players and their hard work and efforts. We have made outstanding progress and we are obviously disappointed.

"We know what is required and know the areas we have come up short in. We will try to resolve them in the summer and come back stronger from the experience."

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Our best bets for the Carabao Cup action

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