The Hatters had to settle for a point on a wet afternoon at Moor Lane as a penalty for the ‘Ammies’ of Salford 11 minutes from time cancelled out Danny Lloyd’s 24th goal of the season.
The play-off rivals locked horns in front of an all-ticket crowd – albeit one that was limited due to ongoing ground redevelopment in M7 – with County having taken to the field in a 4-3-3 formation and showing three changes from the victorious starting line-up against Curzon Ashton at Edgeley Park seven days previously.
Ben Hinchliffe returned to replace Ian Ormson in goal – while Scott Duxbury and Josh Amis were recalled, and Mark Ross and Connor Hampson dropped to the bench.
Kicking off on in drizzle following heavy overnight rain, both teams were destined to slip and slide with some regularity throughout the game. But it was a sweet move in defiance of the conditions that saw County take the lead after 13 minutes.
The build-up, as it had done for County’s second Curzon goal a week earlier, followed a throw-in (on this occasion from Sam Minihan), and subsequently involved the same three players on the field.
The throw was flicked on by Sefton Gonzales to Lloyd, who in turn found Jimmy Ball before running on to Ball’s return through-pass. And Lloyd, to the left of goal, made no mistake in finishing the move – keeping his feet to slot past home goalkeeper Jay Lynch into the bottom-right corner.
As might have been expected of a team that had won its last seven league matches at home, the Ammies began to exert sustained spells of pressure after the break.
And, just 12 minutes into the second half, the previously-untested Hinchliffe had to be at his best when arching back to tip over a goal-bound header by Mike Phenix.
From the resulting corner, home captain Simon Grand headed on to the roof of County’s net – much to the initial joy, but eventual bemusement, of the Moor Lane faithful who had mistakenly celebrated the attempt as an equaliser.
County’s chances following the interval were restricted to the occasional break – although Kaine Felix went close when firing over, after Lynch had forced the substitute striker wide.
Then, after 79 minutes, a cross from the right by a recently-introduced home substitute, Richie Allen, led to a scramble in the County box – with Michael Nottingham going to ground under a challenge by Minihan, Referee Richard Wild pointing to the spot, and Allen converting from 12 yards.
The Hatters had hopes of a penalty for themselves in added time, when Felix appeared to be held back by Billy Priestley – but play was waved on, and the Hatters, for now, remain out of the play-off positions by a single point.
FULL-TIME: Salford 1 (Allen penalty 79), County 1 (Lloyd 13)
County: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Montrose, Clarke (Capt.), Smalley, Amis (Ross, 64), Winter, Gonzales, Ball (Meppen-Walters, 81), Lloyd (Felix, 68). Unused subs: Ormson, Hampson.
Attendance: 1,735 (550 away fans).