Stockport County inched closer to the play-offs, but came agonisingly close to occupying one of them after Darlington secured a late draw at Edgeley Park.
The two clubs share a lot of history including being formed in 1883 and, in their latest meeting at Edgeley Park, they shared the points in an action-packed six-goal contest that saw the Hatters go ahead three times – only to be pegged back on each occasion by their visitors.
County took to the field in a 4-3-1-2 formation, and showing three changes from the starting line-up for the midweek FA Trophy replay at Brackley.
Debutant Fleetwood loanee-midfielder Elliot Osborne, together with Kay Odejayi and John Marsden, were called up in place of Courtney Meppen-Walters, Josh Amis and Kaine Felix.
Following a bright start by both sides, Danny Lloyd scored County’s first, and his 18th in all competitions, with his first headed goal of the campaign after 23 minutes – latching on to a cross from the right by the impressive Osborne.
And County’s leading scorer almost doubled the lead two minutes later, but his free-kick from 30 yards struck the right post.
Darlington had rather more luck with a free kick of their own, when, after 33 minutes, a Josh Gillies 35-yard delivery evaded all in attendance before curling into the back of County’s net.
Another dead-ball kick put the Hatters back in front four minutes later, as Lloyd’s goal-bound, in-swinging corner from the right was helped in by visiting ‘keeper Peter Jameson.
But Jameson made amends one minute ahead of the break, and after blocking Lloyd’s run through on goal.
His quick clearance was lofted out of defence, before being flicked on by Mark Beck to Stephen Thompson, who rifled a shot into the left-hand corner of County’s net to send the teams in level at half-time.
The Hatters enjoyed long spells of possession after the interval – and, with a quarter-of-an-hour left on the clock, got the goal their efforts deserved.
As Darlington failed to clear a corner from the right, newly-arrived substitute Felix, on the opposite flank, crossed back into the visitors’ box, Michael Clarke’s header was saved by Jameson, and Felix’s fellow recent replacement Jimmy Ball fired in from six yards.
Both goalkeepers then came to his side’s rescue, as Jameson blocked another effort from Ball and Ben Hinchliffe finger-tipped over a shot by the dangerous Beck.
But Beck made no mistake from six yards after 86 minutes – heading in Terry Galbraith’s cross from the right to bring Darlington level once more.
And there was further late agony for County just ahead of added time, when Ball’s strike rattled the underside of the bar.
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Minihan, Duxbury, Montrose, Clarke (Capt.), Smalley, Stopforth, Osborne, Odejayi (Ball, 73), Marsden (Felix, 73), Lloyd. Unused Subs: Ross, Ormson, Brazel.
Booked: Minihan, Lloyd, Ball.
Man of the Match: Lloyd.
Attendance: 3,649 (465 away).