McAuley's header gives Lincoln the advantage

Lincoln City 1 - Macclesfield Town 0
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The Independent Football

The play-offs have not been kind to Lincoln, for whom the post-season scramble ended in a 5-2 defeat by Bournemouth in Cardiff two years ago and elimination at the semi-final stage in 2004. They have a chance to make amends this time after taking a single-goal advantage from last night's first leg, although Macclesfield will fancy they can turn the tie on its head at Moss Rose next Saturday.

The play-offs have not been kind to Lincoln, for whom the post-season scramble ended in a 5-2 defeat by Bournemouth in Cardiff two years ago and elimination at the semi-final stage in 2004. They have a chance to make amends this time after taking a single-goal advantage from last night's first leg, although Macclesfield will fancy they can turn the tie on its head at Moss Rose next Saturday.

Brian Horton's side, who finished one place and three points ahead of Lincoln in League Two, have won eight home matches from 10 since the turn of the year, losing only to Southend in that period.

The Lincoln manager, Keith Alexander, would have preferred to have a bigger lead, having seen his side outplayed at times but create more chances. In the event, only Gareth McAuley could convert his.

In the first half, and in the later stages of the second, the best football came from Macclesfield, Danny Whitaker standing out in an industrious midfield, where Matthew Carragher and Paul Harsley provided some good creative touches. But what would prove to be the only goal went to the home side, whom Alexander had set up to play a counterattacking game, with the speedy Derek Asamoah deployed as a third attacker alongside Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Simon Yeo, who had battled to recover from a debilitating virus in time to take his place.

Always ready to send the ball forward by the most direct route, Lincoln looked dangerous when Macclesfield lost possession but it was their other major strength, at set-pieces, that gained them the upper hand after 11 minutes. Kevin Sandwith's free-kick from the right picked out McAuley's run into the penalty area, and the tall midfielder's low header beat Alan Fettis.

Ben Futcher caused his own goalkeeper, Alan Marriott, a scare by slicing a Carragher cross almost into his own net as Macclesfield launched their first attack, but for all the visitors' possession it was not until three minutes from half-time that they could seriously trouble the Lincoln goalkeeper for a second time. On this occasion, the striker Matthew Tipton was unlucky, unleashing a dipping shot from wide on the right after spotting Marriott off his line only to see the ball clip the underside of the bar and bounce almost on the goalline before it was cleared.

In the meantime, a superb tackle by the defender Danny Swailes on Taylor-Fletcher denied Lincoln a second goal after Asamoah's turn and pass had sprung a typical breakaway raid.

Under orders to scrap harder in midfield, Lincoln put Macclesfield under more sustained pressure in the second half, Asamoah twice going close to extending the home side's lead, in the second instance denied by a wonderful reflex save from Fettis. McAuley ought to have done better than clear the bar, however, when Taylor-Fletcher's corner offered a free header.

Macclesfield weathered that storm and finished well enough to have put themselves on level terms. They did not manage that, but may well feel they did not do too badly.

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