Stockport County will go into the final day of the season with a chance of finishing in the play-off positions following two late goals at the Horsfall Stadium that saw them overcome Bradford Park Avenue for their first victory in three games.
The win leaves County needing three points against Gloucester City at Edgeley Park, while relying on either Chorley or Salford City to drop them in their respective final matches – in each case, however, involving top-four-placed opponents.
The Hatters took to the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and showing three changes from the line-up against Worcester City on Easter Monday.
Ben Hinchliffe reclaimed the goalkeeping gloves from Ian Ormson, while Harry Brazel was handed his first start in a County shirt consequent upon the knee injury picked up at Bromsgrove by Harry Winter, and John Marsden – fresh from a successful loan-spell at Telford United – was preferred to Josh Amis, who dropped to the bench.
In the West Yorkshire sunshine – and in front of a crowd that, remarkably, contained more than three times as many away fans as there were home supporters – a lively first-half performance saw County enjoy the greater share of possession and opportunities.
But the hosts went closest to scoring with their only chance before the break and the recalled Hinchliffe had to be at his best in parrying behind a Gavin Rothery shot from close range after just six minutes.
Almost immediately after the resumption, Jimmy Ball tested home goalkeeper, Ed Hall, who tipped over Ball’s header from a Kay Odejayi flick.
But County’s cause was not helped shortly afterwards when Michael Clarke sustained a facial injury, following a clash of heads with Matt Hill, and was unable to take any further part in proceedings.
The Hatters were then once more to owe a debt of gratitude to Hinchcliffe after 70 minutes, as he blocked a point-blank effort from Adam Nowakowski following another rare Avenue attack.
Amis and Sefton Gonzales were brought on to form a revised front-line with just under 20 minutes remaining, as the County formation became 4-3-1-2.
But a third successive draw – and, with it, an end to their interest in the play-offs – was looking on the cards for the Hatters, until nine minutes from time when Lewis Montrose’s low drive was cleared off the line by Hill and Amis reacted quickest to fire home.
And, into added time, Amis turned provider by way of a flick to Danny Lloyd, who raced on to chip Hall, and double County’s lead, with his 28th goal of the campaign.
FULL-TIME: Avenue 0, County 2 (Amis, 81; Lloyd, 90+1).
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Ross (Capt.), Duxbury, Montrose, Clarke (Meppen-Walters, 53), Cartwright, Ball (Gonzales, 73), Brazel, Odejayi (Amis, 73), Marsden, Lloyd. Unused subs: Ormson, Ellison.
Attendance: 1,280 (972 away fans).