ASHTON UNITED 1, STAFFORD RANGERS 1
Stand-in captain Harry Coates rescued a point for Ashton United with an injury time equaliser after it looked like visiting Stafford Rangers were set to take all three points through a first-half strike.
And nobody was happier than Matty Regan who had missed what looked like being a costly first-half penalty for the Robins.
Coates was deputising for the injured Michael Brewster and the hosts also gave a full debut to Darius Osei who has joined on loan from South Shields.
Though the Robins are 11th in the table, they are only three points behind second-placed Matlock Town. And in an incredibly tight division, only three points also separates third and 15th places.
Callum Saunders set out with a couple of early sighters, firing Ben Hardcastle’s pass over the bar and then hitting a wilder effort from Ben Hough’s set up.
Osei, the former Oldham Athletic striker, then failed to pick out a team-mate when well-placed and at the other end Ntumba Massanka’s cross from the by line was headed clear by George Milner with Kaiman Anderson’s shot on the turn blocked on its way through to Greg Hartley.
Rangers then won a corner which was delivered by Jack Baxter on to the head of Ethan Stewart with Hartley making the block but unable to prevent Kaiman Anderson turning home the rebound to break the deadlock.
Shortly afterwards, Andrew Kiwomya just failed to take Thomas Tonks’ pass in his stride. Kiwomya threatened again with Regan needing to make a vital block after Tonks had miskicked Massanka’s cross.
Joe Robbins then won a corner which resulted in Saunders heading Osei’s return ball wide but three minutes before the interval Saunders picked up Regan’s ball and was fouled just inside the area by Stewart with Regan putting the resulting penalty at a convenient height for goalkeeper Cameron Belford to make the block and Osei only able to hit the side netting from the rebound.
After the break, Sam Baird’s last-ditch tackle denied Anderson and after substitute Jack Kenny was booked for a clash with Joe Dunne, the resulting free kick saw Regan’s miscued header volleyed wide of the post by Tonks.
Ben Hough then forced the first of a couple of corners which ended with Osei firing straight at the keeper and Kiwomya made a fantastic run to the by-line before his cross beat everyone.
Entering added time, Ben Hardcastle’s crossed for Kenny whose header was kept out by a combination of Belford and the crossbar, but the resulting corner saw Regan’s header converted close in by Coates to level the scores and earn a point.
Ashton United: Hartley, Battersby (Phenix 57), Regan, Baird, Coates, Milner, Hardcastle, Hough, Osei, Saunders (Kenny 57), Robbins (Scanlon 72). Subs (not used): Taylor, Lonsdale.
Report: David Robinson.