A late equaliser denied Grimsby Town what would have been a deserved three points against Salford City at the Peninsula Stadium.
The Mariners took the lead when Harry Clifton struck after just two minutes and in what was a good away performance, they had chances to add to their lead but were unable to take any and were ultimately punished for that.
Salford rarely threatened James McKeown’s goal but gradually came into the contest and got their reward with two minutes to go when Ibou Touray made it 1-1 and broke Town’s hearts.
One change was made to the Grimsby starting XI after last week’s home draw with Walsall, as Julien Lamy replaced Luke Spokes.
McKeown continued in goal behind an unchanged back four of Luke Hendrie, Elliott Hewitt, Rollin Menayese and Clifton, while Stefan Payne moved to the right side of a four-man midfield which also included Giles Coke, Jay Matete and Lamy as Lenell John-Lewis and James Hanson formed the attack.
Spokes was named on the bench and was joined there by Ollie Battersby, Sam Habergham, Luke Waterfall, George Williams, Kyle Bennett and Matt Green.
Salford were looking for a win to kick-start their play-off push under new manager Gary Bowyer, with striker Ian Henderson out to add to the hat-trick he scored in a 4-0 victory when the teams met at Blundell Park in September.
The Mariners made a dream start to the game as they took the lead with just two minutes on the clock. Lamy did well to keep the ball in on the left and after hooking it back to the edge of the box, CLIFTON hit a drive which flew past keeper Vaclav Hladky at his near post.
Lamy appeared to have won a corner on seven minutes as his cross was blocked and Hladky seemed to have taken it over the line but the referee instead signalled for play to continue.
Another Lamy cross went through the keeper’s hands and came back off the post and out for a Town throw, before Matete produced a good save from Hladky, who tipped his 20-yard effort over the bar for a corner.
Town’s great start to the contest continued with another chance on 11 minutes, although this time, Hladky got down to deny John-Lewis after the striker hit a low shot from 12 yards.
Salford were yet to threaten but a foul by Matete near the halfway line gave them a chance to create danger on 14 minutes. They were unable to take advantage though as Touray’s ball was headed clear by Lamy.
A cross from Ash Hunter on the home right was comfortably held by McKeown, then Clifton became the first of the game to be shown a yellow card after a foul on Hunter, whose free kick was headed away by Coke. Salford kept possession and worked the ball back but Brandon Thomas-Asante fired a volley wide from 20 yards.
A foul on Hanson on the edge of the box went unpunished, before a Salford corner came at the other end on 24 minutes when Hunter’s cross was blocked by Clifton. The ball from the flag was headed harmlessly wide by defender Tom Clarke.
Jason Lowe was booked after a poor challenge on Coke inside the Salford half but Lamy’s free kick caused no problems as the ball went out for a goal kick.
A low ball across the six-yard box from Payne was cut out before it could reach Hanson as the Mariners continued to ask most of the questions in attack.
Town won a corner on the right on 34 minutes but the ball was cleared after Lamy crossed following an initial low, short delivery.
A foul on Thomas-Asante gave the hosts a free kick inside the Grimsby half but Touray’s ball was headed wide, then another home attack ended as Hendrie cleared the ball from danger.
Payne won a free kick when he was fouled inside the Salford half on 41 minutes but the Mariners were unable to create any problems from it.
A foul at the other end by Matete gave the home side a free kick in a dangerous, central position but Hunter’s shot from it hit the Town wall and the ball was then cleared.
Coke went down with a head injury but was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment. But another stoppage came soon afterwards when he went down again and needed more treatment for a large cut.
A Salford corner in added time was dealt with as McKeown made a good punch and the Mariners saw out the remainder of what turned out to be four extra minutes to go in at half-time with their one-goal advantage still intact.
Town had been the better side and after taking the lead, continued to create good chances as Salford struggled to make an impression in front of goal despite coming into the contest as the half went on.
No changes were made before the restart and Town had the ball in the net three minutes in after a free kick from Lamy was headed back across goal and hooked into the net by Payne, although the referee’s whistle had already gone for a foul and a Salford free kick.
Payne was shown the yellow card following a tangle with Oscar Threlkeld after the ball had gone out of play and was warned again by the referee after sarcastically applauding the decision but escaped a second booking.
A Salford penalty appeal was waved away after Thomas-Asante went down inside the box, before John-Lewis was unable to get enough power on a shot to beat Hladky after running onto a ball forward from Menayese.
Lamy was penalised for a handball on 56 minutes but McKeown got to the ball first from the free kick and gathered it at the second attempt.
Henderson fired over the bar two minutes later from what was perhaps Salford’s best chance so far, then Hewitt did well to get back and block a cross from Thomas-Asante as the hosts continued to look for a way through the Town defence.
Robbie Gotts replaced Hunter and Richie Towell came on for Mani Dieseruvwe as the home side made the first two substitutions of the game on 65 minutes.
A Salford free kick went through to McKeown soon afterwards, before what seemed to be a foul on Lamy went unpunished and the hosts broke, with Towell sending a low shot wide of the target.
Habergham replaced Payne in Town’s first change, which saw Clifton move to the right side of midfield as the substitute slotted in at left-back.
Matete and Touray were booked after a coming-together near the dug-outs but by stopping play, the referee denied the Mariners what appeared to be a goalscoring opportunity as Clifton had gone clear and was advancing towards the penalty area.
Paul Coutts was the next to be sent on for Salford as he replaced Clarke with 15 minutes to go.
A home free kick came moments later but Touray’s ball was headed away from goal by Jordan Turnbull.
Green replaced Hanson for the final six minutes of the game and soon afterwards, McKeown had to be at his best to keep out an effort from Henderson after he had already got a hand to a cross from the home right.
But the keeper could do nothing as Salford finally found their equaliser two minutes from time. A cross-field ball found its way to the unmarked TOURAY on the left and he smashed a shot into the top corner of the net from the edge of the box.
Town went forward in a bid to reclaim the advantage after four minutes of added time was signalled and they had a chance when Green pulled the ball back for John-Lewis but he could not get enough power on it to take it past Hladky.
Salford won a corner in the dying seconds but they were unable to make it count and so the game ended level.
It means Town’s unbeaten run now stands at seven games but despite a good performance which deserved all three points and would have been a real boost to their survival hopes, they were left with just one.
The Mariners are next in action on Easter Monday, when Cheltenham Town are the visitors to Blundell Park.
Town: McKeown, Hendrie, Hewitt, Menayese, Clifton, Payne, Coke, Matete, Lamy, John-Lewis, Hanson; Subs: Battersby, Habergham, Waterfall, Williams, Spokes, Bennett, Green
Salford: Hladky, Touray, Lowe, Eastham, Clarke, Hunter, Turnbull, Threlkeld, Dieseruvwe, Thomas-Asante, Henderson; Subs: Evans, Bernard, Boyd, Burgess, Towell, Gotts, Coutts