Stockport County fell agonisingly short of further involvement in the end-of-season promotion race after a home draw with Gloucester City left the Hatters just a single point shy of reaching the play-offs.
To make matters all the more difficult to bear, victory would have definitely secured a play-off place following a defeat for closest rivals Chorley – who, in spite of losing, now take the final available slot.
The Hatters took to the field in front of a vibrant Edgeley Park following that, for the second time in SK3 this season, set a new attendance record for the National League at this level with 5,783 in the ground.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation featured one change with Chris Smalley returning to defence from injury, in place of the recently-recalled striker John Marsden.
Roared on by the record-breaking home crowd in the course of each attack, County went close to scoring on two occasions during an end-to-end first half.
Jasbir Singh caught a close-range shot by Kay Odejayi, after the big front man had connected with Jimmy Ball’s flick across the six-yard box from the right, and the visiting goalkeeper later tipped over Smalley’s header from a Danny Lloyd free-kick.
But Gloucester were to go closer still – hitting the County woodwork on two occasions before the break.
Ed Williams struck the bar with a curling, right-footed shot from 18 yards out, before Joe Hanks, just ahead of half-time, saw an effort deflected by Lewis Montrose on to the right post.
Just over 10 minutes after the re-start, County went ahead when Odejayi was brought down in the Gloucester box by Spencer Hamilton, and Lloyd cooly sent Singh the wrong way with the resulting penalty for his 29th goal in all competitions.
For over a quarter of an hour, the Hatters were destined for the play-offs – with Chorley having gone behind during the first half at home to Halifax.
But County’s visitors responded well to conceding, and proceeded to exert a spell of concerted pressure that saw Williams chip narrowly over the Cheadle End bar, Ben Hinchliffe deny Luke Hopper by diving at the leading scorer’s feet, and, after 70 minutes, Max Cartwright block a goal-bound shot from Zack Kotwica.
And Kotwica was to make no mistake with his next attempt, just two minutes later, when firing home from just inside the box after he had been teed up following an impressive run by Williams.
The Hatters brought on Marsden and Josh Amis with a view to seeking the goal they needed – but sadly to no avail, as their campaign concluded with an eighth-place finish.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Lloyd pen 56), Gloucester 1 (Kotwica 72).
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Ross (Capt.), Cartwright, Montrose, Clarke, Smalley (Meppen-Walters, 75), Duxbury, Brazel (Marsden, 77), Odejayi (Amis, 61), Ball, Lloyd. Unused Subs: Minihan, Ormson.
Man of the Match: Lloyd.
Attendance: 5,783 (82 away).