Goals from Joseph Chipolina and Antonio Calderon ensured Lincoln overturned a 2-1 first leg defeat and beat FC Flora 3-2 on aggregate at the Victoria Stadium.
Calderon’s goal with 10 minutes to go secured a dream tie for the Red Imps against Scottish champions Celtic, with the first leg expected to be held at the Victoria next week.
Going into the game, Lincoln knew they needed at least one goal to give themselves a chance, and they wasted little time in doing so. Veteran striker Lee Casciaro broke past the Flora defence before being clattered by keeper Mait Toom. The keeper only received a booking due to the new ruling regarding the “triple punishment” rule, but Joseph stepped and fired the ball past the keeper, who had dived the right way.
The goal meant that Lincoln were currently going through on the away goal rule, and they did show occasional nerves on the ball, although Flora rarely threatened in what was an even first half. The visitors did have one great chance to score though, but the fingertips of Raul Navas expertly ensured the ball rolled past the post and out of play.
As the second half wore on, Lincoln reverted a rarely-tried defensive formation; they are not used to having to defend so deep. While their hand was forced by the injury to Yeray, they ended up with five at the back, as Kenneth Chipolina, brother of goalscorer Joseph, made his European debut.
Ironically, mere seconds after playing with five at the back, Lincoln broke away and eventually the ball fell to Calderon who fired past Toom and gave Lincoln that bit of insurance. With one Flora goal meaning extra time would be on the cards though, the final minutes of the game were a nervy affair both on and off the pitch.
In truth, Lincoln could and should have won by more goals. With Liam Walker hitting the crossbar from 25 yards, Casciaro missing a chance that he’d normally take 99% of the time, and other opportunities not taken, they walked off the pitch deservedly victorious, knowing that for the second consecutive season they’d gone past the first hurdle of European football.
It is now likely that next season, if they win the league again, they will earn the right to be a seeded team in the First Qualifying Round, which should aide them even further. For now though, Lincoln, and Gibraltar as a whole, can look forward to what is arguably the biggest competitive fixture ever held on the Rock in just seven days time.