Exeter City held Lincoln City to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Sky Bet League Two play-offs at Sincil Bank.
Despite both sides enjoying a number of chances in Lincoln, neither were able to find an advantage to take into the second leg.
Matt Rhead arguably came closest to finding the game's only goal when he struck the crossbar in the second half and City created some good chances with the likes of Jayden Stockley and Jake Taylor seeing attempts saved more than once.
City made four changes to the side that saw out the Sky Bet League Two regular season in a 1-0 win over Colchester United last weekend as Stockley, Taylor, Lloyd James and Jordan Storey all came into the side against Danny Cowley’s Imps.
Despite City dominating the opening five minutes in terms of possession, it was the hosts who would have the first real attempt on goal when a long free-kick was nodded into the path of Matt Green, but his shot was collected low by Christy Pym.
City had to wait until the 19th minute to create their first opportunity at goal when Ryan Harley did brilliantly well to ride a challenge in midfield and drive at the Lincoln defence. The midfielder turned well to get a shot away but for Ryan Allsop who saved smartly down to his left.
Just after the half hour mark Lincoln went close through Neal Eardley’s low free-kick which was saved well by Pym. The City keeper then got a Grecians attack going as he set Taylor away down the right, and after some good interplay James’ cross to the far post was met by Stockley, but the City top scorer was unable to connect cleanly under Lincoln pressure.
As half-time drew closer a Pierce Sweeney throw-in then caused havoc in the Lincoln box with Dean Moxey and Sweeney himself both having efforts ricochet around the area. That preceded two excellent chances for Stockley when he got on the end of an inviting Hiram Boateng cross, but miscued as his effort edged wide.
The City striker then latched onto a ball over the top, and after controlling well under pressure from the onrushing Lincoln defence, he shot over from a tight angle as the sides went in level at the break.
It took just one minute after the restart for the hosts to force a fantastic save from Pym when Green was found in space to the right of the City box. After taking a touch he fired an effort across goal, and despite the ball looking destined for the top corner, the City shot stopper did what he has done numerous times this season as he clawed the ball away for a corner.
Soon after they would have another good chance when Green was found in a similar position, and again he struck well forcing Pym to save with his feet this time, before Elliott Whitehouse put the rebound over from close range.
After riding out a difficult spell the Grecians then had their first chance of the second half when they kept the ball alive from a corner before James crossed to Stockley, but again under considerable aerial pressure, his header went just wide of Allsop’s goal.
Matt Rhead then went inches from putting the home side ahead when he did well at the far post to get on the end of a cross from the right and thump a header against the crossbar as the City defenders swept away the rebound.
An end to end affair then saw City go close when Stockley did well to tee up Harley who struck from range forcing a smart stop from Allsop. Taylor then collected the rebound before turning and shooting but again the Lincoln keeper did well to turn the ball away.
City had the ball in the net on 82 minutes when Jordan Tillson did well to keep the ball alive. It eventually fell to Stockley who rifled the ball in left footed but for the referee’s whistle after it was adjudged that there was a foul in the build-up.
Despite both sides looking to take an advantage into the second leg at St James Park next week, neither was able to find a way as it is all set up for an exciting clash back in Devon.
Lincoln City: Allsop, Whitehouse (Pett, 84), Waterfall, Wharton (Long, 90+3), Rhead, Green, Wilson, Bostwick, Eardley, Anderson (Palmer, 84), Woodyard
Subs not used: Farman, Long, Chapman, Williams, O’Hare
Exeter City: Pym, Sweeney, James, Tillson, Harley (Archibald-Henville, 90), Stockley, Moore-Taylor, Moxey, Taylor, Storey, Boateng (Simpson, 73)
Subs not used: Jones, Woodman, Jay, Wilson, Edwards
Attendance: 9,509 (640, away)