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Despite ending the regular season with one win in nine matches, Sunderland supporters would have still fancied their chances against an inconsistent Lincoln side on Wednesday evening.
However, the North-East outfit have been left facing a fourth successive year in the third tier after succumbing to defeat at Sincil Bank.
Lee Johnson has reason to feel hard done by with Sunderland having improved after the break, but they lacked the clinical touch of their opponents in the final third.
On some level, Johnson and his players can head into the fixture at the weekend with nothing to lose, although that will not be the opinion of a fanbase who are growing more frustrated by the year.
From Lincoln’s perspective, it was the perfect occasion as they welcomed back fans to their home ground, ending a three-match run without success in the process.
Hopper and Brennan have been key men for the Imps throughout this season, the pair having now contributed 20 goals and nine assists between them.
As much credit must go to goalkeeper Joe Bursik, who completed a whirlwind 24 hours after his emergency transfer from Stoke City with a starring role between the sticks.
While Michael Appleton‘s side have now kept two clean sheets in a row, Sunderland will take encouragement from six goals being conceded during their most recent two away fixtures.