For the third successive Saturday, County scored late on to salvage a draw with substitute Darren Stephenson’s equaliser four minutes from time to earn an FA Trophy replay at Southport on Wednesday night.
Before Stephenson struck, the Sandgrounders looked to have ensured they would go in the hat for Monday’s first round draw having scored either side of half-time at Edgeley Park to cancel out Bohan Dixon’s opener.
The Hatters had initially taken to the field on a wintry afternoon showing just one change from the side that had started against Chorley a week earlier.
Sam Walker was selected ahead of Kallum Mantack within a 4-3-2-1 formation – although, with less than half an hour played, the former was to be replaced by the latter, as County reverted to the 3-4-1-2 line-up from the previous Saturday.
After 11 minutes, Walker won an aerial challenge to find Jason Oswell, whose flick fell to Warburton in the Southport box.
Warburton’s progress was checked by a challenge, only for the ball to return to Oswell who squared to his right for Dixon to slot home.
Three minutes later, Southport drew level, Brad Jackson beating Scott Duxbury on the right before cutting back to deliver a ball that Stephen O’Halloran could only head as far as Andy White, who converted with a low drive from 12 yards.
With 26 minutes played, County looked to have a huge claim for a penalty when Warburton was held back in the visitors’ box, and right in front of Referee Herczeg – but play was waved on.
The Hatters emerged with intent after the break, and their superiority in possession during the early stages of the second half was almost rewarded with a goal after 64 minutes, when the ever-industrious Gary Stopforth’s chip from the right was met by Oswell, whose downward header grazed the near post.
But four minutes later, the visitors took the lead as Jackson notched up a second assist for the afternoon, crossing from the right for their recent signing from FC United, and County nemesis, Jason Gilchrist, to fire past Ben Hinchliffe for a goal on his Southport debut and his third against the Hatters in eight weeks.
Stephenson was brought on with less than 20 minutes remaining, and came close to making an early impact when, with his back to goal, he swivelled to connect with Dixon’s cross from the left and shot narrowly over the Cheadle End bar.
But he made no mistake after 86 minutes – turning in a low delivery by Stopforth from the right to get County back on level terms.
And, in added time, he almost avoided the need for a midweek trip to the seaside for good measure – when he drilled a shot across goal from the right that ricocheted off an unsuspecting Jackson, but was scrambled away from the line by Worsnop.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Dixon 11; Stephenson 86), Southport 2 (White 14; Gilchrist 68)
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Clarke (Capt.), O’Halloran (Stephenson, 71), Stopforth, Walker (Mantack, 28), Oswell, Warburton (Winter, 79), Dixon. Unused Subs: Smalley, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Stopforth
Attendance: 1,215 (84 away)