The dawning of the new year saw Stockport County’s run of victories, which had extended back to late November, come to an end in bizarre fashion against Harrogate Town at Edgeley Park.
Having taken the lead in the festive reverse fixture through Michael Clarke just after the hour, the Hatters looked good value for a sixth successive win in all competitions, a second ‘double’ of the season and their fourth league clean sheet in a row.
But, with two minutes of normal time remaining, goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe did not get a proper foot on top of a pass back from distance by Gary Stopforth, and could only watch in horror as the ball rolled into the back of his net to hand the visitors a point.
County took to the field with just one change from the starting line-up from the 1-0 win at Harrogate on Boxing Day.
The goalscorer on that occasion, Courtney Meppen-Walters, took his place as a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation – with Mark Ross the player to make way.
A scrappy first half saw chances at a premium for both sides. Danny Lloyd went close after 11 minutes, after cutting in from the left and forcing Town goalkeeper Peter Crook to dive and parry a shot from six yards out.
And, shortly before the break with County beginning to look the livelier side, Jimmy Ball fired one effort narrowly over the visitors’ bar, as well as seeing another blocked by early substitute Simon Ainge.
The second half began with the Hatters continuing to press, as they launched attacks towards the Cheadle End. And after 62 minutes, they took a deserved lead.
Awarded a corner after Crook had finger-tipped a Lloyd shot around the left post, County took full advantage as Ball’s delivery was met at the far post and headed home by Clarke.
Four minutes later, the sequence was almost repeated, courtesy of another corner that Crook was forced to concede after saving from Lloyd. Clarke again headed the corner goalwards – only to see his effort cleared off the line.
As the match entered its closing stages, the Hatters believed they had a claim for a penalty when Lloyd went to ground in the visitors’ box under a challenge by Louie Swain – but the tackle was well executed, and play correctly waved on by the referee.
The visitors had posed minimal threat in front of the Hatters’ goal, with just shots off target by Jon-Paul Pittman and substitute Chib Chilaka to show for their efforts following the interval.
But two minutes from time, there appeared to be little danger as Stopforth drilled a ball from just inside the County half back to Hinchliffe.
But what followed for County’s number one was a moment best forgotten, as his attempt to trap, with Chilaka giving chase, saw the ball squirm off his studs and over the line.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Clarke, 62), Harrogate 1 (Hinchliffe og, 88).
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Meppen-Walters (Ross (Second-half Capt.), 46), Clarke (First-half Capt.), Smalley, Stopforth, Montrose, Odejayi (Amis, 69), Ball, Lloyd. Unused Subs: Ormson, Marsden, Felix.
Man of the Match: Lloyd.
Attendance: 3,725 (81 away).