JAMES POOLE’S late strike earned Salford a hard fought 1-1 draw against Halifax in their National League North play-off first leg at Moor Lane on Wednesday night.
The Shaymen took the lead in the first half through Richard Peniket, before Salford’s second half pressure eventually became fruitful as Poole equalised in the 86th minute, capitalising on a defensive mishap.
The result means the sides will go into the second leg at Halifax’s Shea Stadium, on Sunday, on a level playing field.
The game started slowly as neither side were able to settle – both obviously feeling the pressure of the play-offs.
Despite a scrappy first half-hour Jordan Hulme and Mike Phenix both had decent chances to open the scoring for the home side, though neither were able to capitalise.
Salford grew into the game as time went on, but it was the visitors who took the lead against the run of play as Peniket’s low drive from the edge of the box found the bottom corner in the 36th minute.
The away side held their 1-0 lead into the break, as they weathered a late Ammies storm, which saw Josh Hine see a good effort saved by Sam Johnson.
Michael Nottingham then missed a golden chance to equalise shortly after the restart, as he saw his strike rebound off the post after picking up the ball unmarked in the area.
The Ammies dominated much of the second period as they pressed for the equaliser, but Lee Sinnott should have doubled Halifax’s lead in the 75th minute, as after being put through by Tom Denton he was only able to drag wide with just the ‘keeper to beat.
Salford launched countless balls into the away side’s penalty area though they were resolute in their defence. However Nottingham again went close after 80 minutes as he headed over from Richie Allen’s cross.
But the Ammies pressure eventually told as Poole bundled home in the five yard box after Halifax failed to clear – sending the home fans into raptures with only four minutes left.
The 1-1 score line leaves Halifax slight favourites going into the second leg at Shea Stadium on Sunday, though only a fool would rule out the Ammies who are chasing their third successive promotion.
Speaking after the match, joint-manager Bernard Morley was keen to emphasise that a draw was a good result for his side, though he was confident of a win on Sunday.
“We always knew it was going to be a tough game – Billy [Heath] set up his side not to lose today,” Morley said.
“I thought we had good chances, Jordan [Hulme] and [Mike] Phenix had good chances early doors. But we didn’t give up – we knocked on the door for 86 minutes and we were eventually awarded with a goal.
“The lads have done really well to get us where we are, and that result today shows what we’re all about, we’ve come back from one nil down against a strong side.
“I think we did enough to win the game today. But we go there knowing that if we win we’ll go through.”
Salford City (4-4-2): Lynch, Nottingham, Grand (capt), Horsfall, O’Halloran, Johnston (Poole 64′), Walker, Norris, Hine, Hulme, Phenix (Allen 77′).
Substitutes not used: Priestly, Barnes, Haughton.
Goals: Poole 86′
Booked: Norris 73′
Halfifax Town (4-3-3): Johnston, Roberts (capt), Wilde, Peniket, Hotte, Brown, Kosylo, Lynch, Denton, Sinnott, Garner.
Substitutes: Drench, Charles, Hone, Moyo, Morgan.
Goals: Peniket 36′
Booked: Kosylo 31′, Wilde 45′
Referee: Peter Gibbons
By Matt Bullin