Stockport County bounced back from their disappointing midweek FA Cup exit to FC United by gaining a well-earned point at Darlington.
But they so nearly had to settle for travelling back from their first visit to Darlo’s new Blackwell Meadows ground empty-handed – requiring a stoppage-time equaliser by birthday boy Jason Oswell to cancel out a deflected Scott Duxbury own goal from early in the second half.
County almost made a disastrous start in the Durham sunshine, after Chris Smalley under-hit a back-pass that was intercepted by Nathan Cartman – but Stephen O’Halloran dispossessed the striker when he was through on goal.
From hesitant beginnings, however, came greater collective self-assurance. And the Hatters went close after 13 minutes when Adam Thomas drilled a low cross from the right that Oswell back-heeled narrowly wide of the far upright.
Two free-kicks by Sam Walker then caused the hosts to ‘quake’, as Smalley headed the first beyond the right post and home goalkeeper Adam Bartlett tipped the second over the home bar.
O’Halloran took the captain’s armband upon the resumption, following the half-time substitution of Harry Winter.
But his first act in the deputising capacity was to foul Thompson to the right of County’s box. And Terry Galbraith’s in-swinging free-kick was deflected in after Duxbury’s attempted clearance spun off his left boot and past Ben Hinchliffe.
The Hatters responded well, and within two minutes Connor Hampson cut in before unleashing a shot that hit the right post and bounced off the back of an unsuspecting Bartlett’s head to go behind for a corner.
Hampson was denied again when Liam Marrs beat him to a Thomas cross from the right and cleared off the goal-line.
And after Oswell and Thomas had, respectively, half-volleyed and volleyed efforts over, Oswell saw a goal-bound header blocked by Dom Collins.
For all these efforts – County ahead 16-6 on shots – the visitors looked to be heading for defeat as four minutes of added time were announced. But in the event they needed just the first one in which to salvage a deserved draw.
Following a Hinchliffe clearance, Dixon’s pass out to the right found Dan Cowan, whose cross was collected by Oswell – and, after a deft touch down, half-volleyed home for his 13th goal in all competitions.