STOCKPORT County missed the chance to play for potential promotion to the National League as they failed to beat Gloucester City at Edgeley Park drawing 1-1 in front of a record National League North crowd.
Jim Gannon’s side looked on course to extend their season when Danny Lloyd powered home a penalty early in the second half but the away side had other ideas.
With Chorley losing at home to Halifax a win would have been enough to secure the Hatters a playoff place, but a fine equaliser from Zack Kotwica means County will spend a sixth consecutive season in the sixth tier of English football.
The home side came into the game hoping to secure a place in the end of season playoffs but it wasn’t in their hands. The only way Stockport were guaranteed a spot was if they secured a win whilst at least one of Chorley or Salford lost their games against Darlington and Halifax respectively.
County boss Jim Gannon made one change as fit again Chris Smalley replaced John Marsden, which meant a change in tactics as the home side lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
Stockport started brightly and they created the first chance of the game when Chris Smalley got his head to a Jimmy Ball corner but Jas Singh was at his near post to keep it out.
Despite news of a goal from playoff rivals Salford, County continued to press as the ball fell invitingly for Kayode Odejayi on the edge of the area but his powerfully struck volley went a few yards wide of the far post.
It was now a constant wave of pressure from Gannon’s side as the game approached the mid-way point of the first-half and County spurned a glorious chance when Odejayi, only a few yards out, somehow diverted a fizzing Jimmy Ball cross away from goal rather than into the gaping net.
As a Darlington equaliser at Salford was being talked about all around Edgeley Park, it was Gloucester’s turn to come forward as Joe Hanks stung the palms of Ben Hinchcliffe in the County goal.
Hinchcliffe was called into action again soon after as he made an excellent save to tip an Edward Williams effort onto the bar and away.
However, the Hatters were Unperturbed and went very close to taking lead themselves when a Smalley header from a Lloyd free-kick was expertly stopped by Singh at point-blank range.
Attention then turned elsewhere as Halifax took the lead against Chorley, meaning a Stockport goal would put them above Matt Jansen’s side and into a play-off place.
But it was the away side who nearly opened the scoring when they hit the woodwork for a second time – a Joe Hanks shot deflected off Lewis Montrose onto the post – the same player then skied the rebound despite having all the goal to aim at.
The side from SK3 started the second period just as brightly as the first with Ball mere inches away from heading home Lloyd’s dangerous cross from the left.
In the 56th minute the home side finally got that crucial goal, Odejayi in on goal was brought down by City defender Spencer Hamilton, and with the weight of the world on his shoulders Lloyd converted from the spot to give his side the lead and a place in the playoffs as things stood in the live league table.
With Salford now in a seemingly unassailable lead at home Darlington, County were relying on Halifax to maintain their winning advantage over Chorley.
The away side were causing the Hatters problems though and in the 72nd minute they silenced the home support with an equaliser, Kotwica thumping home from inside the area after great work from Williams.
It nearly went from bad to worse for Gannon’s side as Hinchcliffe had to spread himself to make a fantastic save and deny Luke Hopper.
County rarely troubled Singh in their search for a crucial winner and it was a case of what might have been as Stockport get ready to spend another year in the football doldrums.
By Joe Canavan