Stockport County 2 Torquay United 2
- Credit: Steve Bond/Pinnacle
It was called the biggest match of the National League season, and it lived up to its billing as Torquay United produced another top performance to draw with promotion rivals Stockport County - and so nearly win it.
Two goals by on-loan striker Scott Boden - a penalty and a tap-in for his sixth goal of the season - saw United equalise in the first half and then take the lead in the second.
But in a belter of a match in front of the BT Sport cameras at Edgeley Park, the in-form Hatters scored through Macauley Southam-Hales and Ashley Palmer with a set-piece header.
Gary Johnson's Gulls gave it everything they had - fit-again defender Kyle Cameron even went on as a centre-forward in the closing stages! - and they had the chances to win it.
But they had to settle for a more-than-deserved point, and it's now on to the last two games - Barnet (H) and Altrincham (A) - with Sutton United holding a three-point lead over Torquay ahead of their key home game against fourth-placed Hartlepool United.
Johnson went back to his tried and trusted 4-4-1-1, with Armani Little coming into midfield for striker Billy Waters, and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans supporting Boden up front.
The big news was the return to fitness, on the bench, of defender Cameron and winger Ben Whitfield.
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Stockport striker Paddy Madden, injured in the Hatters' 1-1 midweek draw with Dagenham, did not make it, so manager Simon Rusk brought in Harry Cardwell to partner leading scorer Alex Reid.
Cagey, it wasn't.
Both teams went at it from the first whistle, in an open, end-to-end contest.
Jake Andrews had a 25-yard drive tipped away by Ben Hinchcliffe and Little volleyed an Adam Randell cross just over the bar as United made their intentions clear, before Stockport twice went close to a breakthrough.
Lucas Covolan was at the centre of both incidents, arching up to tip away Ryan Croasdale's cross from the left but then doing even better with a brilliant reaction save to deny Reid from a cross by Macauley Southam-Hales.
County, playing with Southam-Hales on the right and Tom Walker on the left, appeared to target Dean Moxey on the left of United's defence, but the Gulls held firm in all areas and nearly took the lead after 20 minutes.
A sparkling passing move ended with Hinchcliffe diving to hold Randell's shot, after a ball by Ben Wynter.
Then, in the 24th minute, Lemonheigh-Evans, in his sharpest-form, robbed Liam Hogan on the left, chipped the ball over the advancing Hinchcliffe from the tightest of angles, only for the ball to hit the far post and bounce to safety.
It was even-stevens until the 34th minute.
Then, Southam-Hales cut in from the right, exchanged passes with Croasdale, switched the ball onto his left foot and curled a delicious shot into the far top-corner from 15 yards…1-0.
In the build-up, United believed they should have had a throw-in, and assistant manager Aaron Downes was sent to the stand for his protests to the Fourth Official.
United had kept County's midfield danger man Rooney fairly quiet until he played Reid through on the left, but Covolan forced him wide and Reid could only hit the side-netting with his shot.
It would have been a shame if United had gone in behind, and they didn't.
In the 39th minute their pressure forced a mistake from Croasdale - Lemonheigh-Evans seized on his poor touch in his own area, Croasdale's tackle took him out and referee Andrew Kitchen's penalty decision was not a difficult one.
Up stepped Boden to 'roof' the spot-kick as Hinchliffe dived to his left…1-1.
United nearly grabbed a second goal just before half-time, but the unmarked Andrews did not expect Little's cross from the left to reach him, and the ball bobbled off his shins at the far post to safety.
Walker had a shot deflected wide before United, having no thoughts of just a point, took the lead in the 57th minute.
A sweet move between Wynter and Lemonheigh-Evans saw the latter slip Andrews in on the left, his cross was perfect for Boden, whose first shot hit the bar before rebounding for him to bundle the ball over the line…2-1 to the Gulls.
It was unlikely to be enough, and it wasn't.
Only seven minutes later Covolan, who had been faultless to that point, came for a Rooney from County's left, never got a hand on it and Palmer buried a downward header at the far-post…2-2.
Johnson's reaction was typical.
He immediately sent on Whitfield for Andrews and Benji Kimpioka for Boden, and then in the 73rd minute Cameron for Little.
Centre-back Cameron went up front! But then that was where he started his career.
It so nearly worked - two minutes later Cameron forced a mistake on Randell's cross, the ball went back to Lewis, but he blazed over from ten yards.
It was all United now and seconds later Kimpioka had a wonderful chance to win it.
He turned defender Palmer, was clean through with Hinchcliffe to beat. But his confidence failed him at the crucial moment, he rolled the ball across goal instead of shooting and the pass fell just behind Lemonheigh-Evans.
Rooney and Newby both fired over for Stockport in the closing stages, but it was United who came closest to the winner.
Lewis and Hall both had goalbound shots blocked, and the Gulls were still going for it when referee Kitchen blew the final whistle.
Stockport County (4-4-2): Hinchcliffe; Southam-Hales, Palmer, Hogan, Jennings; Newby, Rooney, Croasdale, Walker (Minihan 83); Cardwell (Bennett 89), Reid (Keane 85); subs not used - Fitzsimmons (gk), Maynard.
Booked: Walker 79.
Torquay (4-4-1-1): Covolan; Wynter, Sherring, Lewis, Moxey; Randell, Little (Cameron 73), Hall, Andrews (Whitfield 64); Lemonheigh-Evans; Boden (Kimpioka 64); subs not used - MacDonald (gk), Waters.
Referee: Andrew Kitchen (Durham).