Simon McGowan’s late penalty earned Ballyclare Comrades a deserved Championship 1 point in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Harland & Wolff Welders.
After taking an early lead, Eddie Hill’s lads had to come from behind to preserve their unbeaten home league record, against a team that has been tipped to be title contenders.
There were no Hallowe’en fireworks, but the fans were entertained to one of the best matches to date at Dixon Park.
Both teams played it hard at a fast pace, so that there was plenty of activity in and around the penalty areas, with defenders generally having to be at their best against eager strikers.
Play was mainly in home territory during the opening quarter, with Paddy Flood saving from Middleton and Deans, but it was the Reds who drew first blood.
With the defence waiting in vain for the assistant referee to flag for offside in the 26th minute, Chris Trussell ran in unopposed and nonchalantly rounded Lee Windrum and walked the ball in to the net.
Former Glentoran striker Matty Burrows looked set to equalise before the interval, until Flood raced outside the box to make a courageous block with his body.
Five minutes after the break, after being played in by Gray, Trussell was forced wide by the keeper when a goal seemed on the cards, and this miss proved to be costly almost immediately when Simpson equalised with a header from one of their well-directed free-kicks.
The Comrades faced a period on the defensive with Flood saving from Cockcroft and Armstrong, before Middleton fired them in to the lead in the 70th minute from just inside the box.
Burrows was denied again by Flood, while at the opposite end, with Comrades pushing players forward, Windrum thwarted Trussell.
In the closing stages Welders had to defend in depth to protect their slender lead, but Comrades got the goal their industry deserved three minutes from time, when McGowan converted a penalty after Gerard McAlea had been tripped.
At the death Daniel Smith almost snatched a home win, but his finishing effort didn’t trouble Windrum, so honours ended even in a match that neither team deserved to lose.
Ballyclare Comrades: Flood; Doherty (Monteith 69’), Forsythe, Getty, Buckley; Agnew (Smith 75’), McAlea, McGowan, Simms; Higgins (Gray 6’), Trussell. Subs not used: McCart, Wilkinson.
Saturday’s match away to Distillery kicks off at 2 pm.