Late Leveller By Leaders Leaves HatterS AL(as settling) FOR Draw
The Hatters came seconds within inflicting defeat upon table-topping Salford City, in front of a bumper crowd at Edgeley Park, before an equaliser by the ‘Ammies’ deep into added time gave the teams a share of the points from an entertaining game.
On the balance of play, a draw was probably a fair result, although for County, who, to the delight of most of the 5,129 present, had twice led through leading scorer Jason Oswell and substitute Bohan Dixon, it will inevitably feel more like a loss of two points – precisely, as it happens, the gap still remaining between the ninth-placed Hatters and the play-off positions.
County took to the field with an unchanged 4-2-3-1 line-up from that which had started at Alfreton five days previously. Rhys Turner, who, earlier in the week, had returned on loan from Morecambe for a second spell at EP, was named among the substitutes in place of Ben McKenna.
The early stages contained few chances of note while both sides settled into the contest – with shots wide of the respective left posts by Lois Maynard and Darren Stephenson providing the sum total of attempts in the first half of the opening 45 minutes.
But just ahead of the half-hour mark, the game truly sprang into life – with Dan Cowan twice saving County from going behind, as he tackled Richie Allen, when the striker was through on goal, seconds before clearing Maynard’s follow-up shot off the line.
And three minutes later, County went ahead. A quickly-taken free-kick by Gary Stopforth, on the left flank and just inside the Salford half, found Scott Duxbury, whose cross was headed home by the unmarked Oswell for his first league goal in just under a month and his 22nd in all competitions.
The Hatters went close on two further occasions before the break – and in each instance by the lively Stephenson, who was twice denied by the visiting goalkeeper. New Zealand shot-stopper Max Crocombe first parried Stephenson’s low drive from the left beyond the far post, before tipping over a goal-bound header from Jimmy Ball’s perfectly-weighted chip.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Oswell, 31), Salford 0.
Within a minute of the re-start, the Hatters could again have doubled their advantage but for Crocombe. Stephenson’s cross from the left was flicked on by Oswell to Stopforth, whose side-footed shot from close range was somehow deflected by the ‘keeper past Salford’s near upright.
And just as County had scored in the aftermath of a let-off, so too did the Ammies. Just two minutes later, Ibou Touray’s looping cross from the left looked to be heading behind the far side of County’s goal – only for Jack Redshaw to bring the ball down and fire it past Ben Hinchliffe.
The visitors, clearly buoyed up by their equaliser, continued to exert pressure in the County half – with Mark Shelton and Redshaw (twice) shooting wide of the right post.
With an hour played, Turner was brought on to inject fresh energy – and the returning Hatter tested Crocombe with a chip that the Kiwi had to stretch to catch on his line.
But it was another replacement who put the Hatters back in the lead – and, for good measure, with his very first touch, only 13 seconds after being introduced. Ball’s through-pass on the left found the newly-arrived Dixon, who unleashed a low drive to score against his former club.
Three points were tantalisingly County’s for the keeping over the next 10 minutes – and until the near-final moments of added time when a late corner, awarded to Salford on the left, was headed inside the far post by Michael Nottingham.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Oswell, 31; Dixon, 82), Salford 2 (Redshaw, 48; Nottingham, 90 + 2).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), Thomas (Dixon, 82), Stopforth, Oswell (Turner, 60), Warburton (Winter, 60), Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Clarke, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Smalley.
Attendance: 5,129 (418 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.