AFC FYLDE 2 NUNEATON 2: Full report and reaction
Late penalty drama cost AFC Fylde all three points in an entertaining draw between promotion hopefuls.
The visitors took the lead after just two minutes through James Clifton’s thunderbolt, but the match was turned on its head late on when Richie Baker and Josh Langley both converted from close range.
However, there was to be late heartbreak for the Coasters, when Rob Duffy scored a last-gasp penalty after Elliott Whitehouse had been felled.
Manager Dave Challinor made just one change to the side that had defeated FC United of Manchester the previous Saturday, with Caspar Hughes replacing Stephen Crainey at full-back.
The match had barely kicked off when the visitors took the lead in spectacular fashion.
Former Premier League striker Marlon Harewood laid the ball off for full-back Clifton to rifle home from fully 25 yards.
Fylde looked for an immediate response and almost found it when Langley’s header was tipped over the bar.
Matty Hughes was presented with a glorious chance when he was played clean through by Sam Finley, but he inexplicably cut back on himself under pressure from Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and the clear shooting opportunity was gone.
Clifton looked to bag an unlikely brace when he closed in on the Fylde goal shortly before the 20-minute mark but his effort was tame and wide.
The hosts could have been awarded a penalty moments later, when Baker seemed to be held back by Rowe-Turner but referee Billy Khatib was unmoved.
Coasters striker Danny Rowe spurned a golden opportunity, firing well over from inside 10 yards after Bohan Dixon had found him with a precise through-ball.
Goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe was almost left red-faced when his weak clearance was only punched as far as Tom Elliott on the edge of the Fylde area, but his instinctive strike trickled wide.
Rowe was agonisingly close to putting Fylde back on level terms shortly before the break but his vicious left-footed shot on the turn was just over the bar.
Nuneaton’s Joe Ironside raced through on goal at the other end only to be thwarted by the legs of Hinchliffe.
Opportunities in the early stages of the second period were few and far between as Finley fizzed over a cross that was claimed by goalkeeper Jordan Smith. The visitors went close on the hour mark, when Shane Byrne touched a free-kick on the edge of the box on to Whitehouse but his powerful effort was a good foot over the bar.
Nuneaton continued to be the team in the ascendancy, and with 20 minutes to go Cieron Keane cut in from the right and curled a fine effort narrowly wide of the far post.
Rowe took it upon himself to launch a free-kick from 40 yards as the Coasters scrambled for a way back but his low drive was deflected wide.
The second-half burst to life when substitute Danny Lloyd raced down the left only to be hauled down by Clifton when through on goal.
The referee was in a lenient mood and presented only a yellow card before Baker fired the resultant free-kick over the bar.
A quick Fylde breakaway moments later saw Finley take a snapshot from 18 yards. However, he was inches wide of the left-hand post.
The long-awaited equaliser finally arrived eight minutes from time, much to the relief of the restless home support.
Matty Hughes crossed from the left; Rowe headed onto the back post and the lurking Baker stabbed home at the second attempt.
And a magical comeback was complete just five minutes later.
Baker delivered a deep corner into the Nuneaton box and Langley was there at the back post to bundle the ball over the line.
However, there was to be a final twist in the plot, when goalkeeper Hinchliffe was adjudged to have brought down Whitehouse inside the six- yard box in added time.
Substitute Rob Duffy grabbed the ball and coolly converted the spot-kick to earn Boro a point from the clutches of defeat.
The teams’ second draw this month kept Nuneaton in the National North play-off zone but saw Fylde slip a place to third after three successive wins.
Solihull Moors bounced back from their midweek defeat to win 2-0 at Gloucester City and open up an 11-point lead at the top going into the Easter double-header.
Fylde manager Dave Challinor bemoaned the late penalty award which denied his side victory over Nuneaton and perhaps ended their hopes of automatic promotion.
The Coasters boss said: “It was like déjà vu for me because we are talking about the referee making a decision that has cost us the game. The same referee cost us the match against Solihull in December by not calling the game off.
“This time he has awarded a penalty in the 94th minute that, in my opinion, is never a penalty. I’ve watched the video and my view hasn’t changed.
“A similar decision against Boston cost us the league last season, and the way other results have gone this penalty decision may have done the same for our chances this time.”
“We conceded early and gave them something to hold on to, and the longer that went on the more difficult it became to break them down.
“We were certainly on the front foot and our pressure, along with perhaps a little bit of luck, brought about two quickfire goals. We should have won at that point and Nuneaton will admit they were lucky to take a point.”
As for that penalty, he added: “Maybe Ben should have stayed on his line and not given the officials a decision to make, but their lad has dived and the officials couldn’t wait to give a penalty.
“It’s frustrating because it will be swept under the carpet from the league’s perspective, but it has a big impact on us.”
Fylde: Hinchliffe, C. Hughes (Lloyd 74), Hannigan, Langley, Sumner, Baker, Barnes, Dixon (Charles 61), Finley, M. Hughes (Blinkhorn 87), Rowe.
Nuneaton: Smith, Clifton, C. Keane, J. Keane, Maguire, Rowe-Turner, Elliott, Byrne, Harewood (Duffy 53), Whitehouse, Ironside.