Darren Ferguson hailed his Peterborough comeback kings as he celebrated the best promotion of his managerial career.
Ferguson toasted a fourth rise as Posh chief – and fifth in all – when seeing his side complete an unlikely revival to book their place in the Championship.
Ferguson’s men only needed a point to seal the deal but looked set to fluff their lines when falling 3-0 down to a Lincoln side who could have still pipped them to second spot with victory.
But Posh produced a rousing recovery, capped by League One player of the season Jonson Clarke-Harris’ last-gasp penalty.
The late twist was as controversial as it was sensational, with Lincoln manager Michael Appleton left seething at the decision of referee John Busby after Sammie Szmodics went down in the box.
For Ferguson it was all about a remarkable comeback to clinch a Championship return after eight seasons in the third tier.
He said: “It’s absolutely incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“This club means so much to me and there is no doubt this is the best promotion I’ve ever had.
“I don’t mind admitting I got quite emotional after such a tough couple of seasons. We worked too hard for it to blow it.
“I had all sorts going through my mind at 3-0 down, but what a bunch of players I have. To do what they did in a game of such magnitude is fantastic.
“I always felt we could come back if we just got one goal. We did that and then after the second goal I thought we would go on to win it, never mind draw.
“That didn’t happen and we ended up hoping for one more chance. When it came I knew Jonson was going to score.
“The boy has been an unbelievable signing. To smash the penalty in the way he did under that much pressure was brilliant.
“We’re in the Championship again and we’ll be trying our best to stay there.”
A promotion party seemed unlikely after Anthony Scully headed Lincoln into a 31st-minute advantage before Jorge Grant doubled the lead from the spot at the end of the opening period.
It looked to be curtains for Posh when Scully curled in a sublime third for a City side with the best away record in League One in the 53rd minute, but Ferguson’s men had other ideas.
Siriki Dembele began the fightback in the 65th minute before a deflected Clarke-Harris free-kick 11 minutes later left Posh dreaming.
They might have feared their chance had gone when Clarke-Harris headed against the bar but he remained ice-cool in a cauldron of pressure to strike from the spot with his 33rd – and most important – goal of a stunning season.
But it was the award of that season-defining spot-kick that was the main talking point for Imps boss Appleton.
“If I called it anything less than an absolute disgrace, I probably wouldn’t be doing it justice,” he blasted.
“We knew when we got 3-0 up that Peterborough would have absolutely nothing to lose and that made them dangerous in terms of their attitude. Losing 5-0 would have made no difference to them at that point.
“We missed a sitter at 3-1 and I started to wonder if it was going to be one of those days.
“Conceding the free-kick for Peterborough’s second goal was disappointing as there was a bit of a turtleneck going on and that shouldn’t have happened.
“But it has all come down to a decision that is completely undefendable.
“There is genuinely no-one in the ground who would say any different and it is really frustrating. The referee must have a Peterborough postcode.
“We firmly believed we could go on to win our final two games and put all the pressure on Peterborough.
“We have a young group who are only going to get better and use this experience to make sure we’re doing the celebrating in the future.”