The Imps were unable to claim a point from the trip to Oxford United despite a strong second-half performance at the Kassam Stadium.
Michael Appleton’s injury-hit side lined up without a recognised centre-forward and trailed 2-0 at the break thanks to two great James Henry strikes - a much-improved second period saw them create a raft of chances but they could not find a way back to rescue a point.
Anthony Scully’s sixth goal of the season gave the visitors hope after Henry had completed a hat-trick from a penalty, but despite plenty of late pressure it was a frustrating defeat.
An open start to the game saw both sides attacking, with Josh Griffiths having to get out quickly to close down Anthony Forde and Alex Rodriguez having to be alert to cut out Hakeeb Adelakun’s pass as he looked to set Anthony Scully free in the area.
The home side went ahead after 12 minutes with a move started when Jordan Thorniley won the ball back in the area and fed Henry who rifled an unstoppable shot into the top-right corner.
Griffiths had to be alert to palm away Cameron Brannagan’s shot from distance, before the Imps hit the woodwork from a set-piece.
Ted Bishop did really well to win the corner, which ended up with Adam Jackson crashing a header off the far post.
Henry made it 2-0 to Oxford with a pinpoint finish into a bottom corner from outside the area to ensure the home side held the advantage at the break.
Griffiths was the first keeper called into action in the second period, as he stood up well to palm away Brannagan’s shot from distance, but the Imps enjoyed much more of the ball as they looked to find a way back into the game.
Bishop progressed with a good run down the left after 49 minutes which was only stopped by a key interception from Henry.
Moments later a good move down the right saw ball pulled back from Lewis Montsma to Regan Poole who lifted his effort over - although the assistant ruled the ball had gone just over the line before it had been pulled back.
The same assistant had his flag up again to bring Adelakun back after Liam Bridcutt’s pass.
Adelakun caused panic in the home defence after Cohen Bramall’s great cross from the left, with home keeper Jack Stevens unable to gather then having to scramble back to push Adelakun’s lobbed effort over the bar.
The Imps continued to create all the chances in the second period as they chased a way back into the game, with Scully curling an effort just wide after collecting the ball from Bramall just inside the area.
But for all the possession enjoyed by the visitors in the second period, hopes of a comeback were effectively dashed when Montsma was judged to have fouled Matty Taylor in the area after 73 minutes.
Henry stepped up to take the spot-kick, converting with a cool finish, and in doing so knocked the belief out of the Imps.
Bridcutt tried to catch Stevens out with a placed effort from Scully’s pullback, but the home keeper was well placed to get his body behind the shot.
The Imps were awarded a penalty of their own when Bishop was fouled after a run into the area, and Scully stepped up to convert.
And he was close to getting a second moments later when the Imps won the ball back quickly from the restart, but sending his effort just wide of the near post from substitute Remy Longdon’s pass.
The match headed into five minutes of time added on, and there was still plenty of endeavour as Bishop twice went close with efforts from outside the area - the first of which was well tipped over by Stevens.
There was also a bit of a scramble from that corner as Poole then Jackson threatened, but in the end there was no way back for the Imps.