Jack Self grabbed a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser as Banbury United preserved their six-match unbeaten run.
The Puritans drew 1-1 with Merthyr Town in Tuesday’s Evo-Stik Southern League clash thanks to Self’s first goal for the club.
The Martyrs looked to have collected all three premier division points at the Banbury Plant Hire Community Stadium where the Welsh outfit produced one of the best performances by any visiting side for some time. Jarrad Wright’s first half header was all that separated the two sides until Self popped up to earn United a point.
United had an early let-off when Keyon Reffell put Jack Harding under pressure as he was trying to play out of his six-yard box. Reffell won possession and poked the ball over the line but the assistant’s flag went up for Reffell pulling Harding back although there was no appeal from the keeper or his colleagues.
Merthyr maintained their bright start and Ian Traylor fired a low drive past the post from 25 yards, the lively Kayne McLaggon cut inside before testing Harding and Wright shot wide from the edge of the box.
United struggled in the final third and that was simply because they were being starved of possession in midfield with the supply cut off from the back due to Merthyr’s intense, high pressing game.
And it was no surprise when Merthyr broke the deadlock in the 28th minute, Ashley Evans crossed into the box and Wright outjumped those around him to head home from ten yards.
United spent the rest of the half chasing shadows in the floodlights as Merthyr knocked the ball around with ease. United created one opening just before the break when James Fawke crossed and Mark Janes headed over.
Andy Gunn came to United’s rescue on the stroke of halftime, getting in a vital block to deny Reffell after he cleverly exchanged passes with McLaggon. How important that would prove in the final outcome.
That United only trailed by a single goal at the break gave them some encouragement for the second half after being outplayed in the first period.
Manager Mike Ford turned to substitute Zac McEachran to kick-start his side’s performance as he replaced Mark Bell for the second half. But it was Merthyr who were quickest back into their stride and McGlaggon nipped in before Ricky Johnson to get on the end of Traylor’s low cross only to be denied by Harding.
McEachran was soon making his presence felt as United’s best moves were of his making. Ford used his final substitute, throwing on George Jeacock for Conor McDonagh who got little change from a well organised Martyr’s defence.
United worked their way into the contest but they still struggled to create openings and the talented Reffell turned well before seeing his shot blocked by Gunn.
United forced a few corners and Johnson saw a far post header deflected wide as United looked to a set-piece to get them back in the contest. It could have been more comfortable for Merthyr had Harding not saved well from Reffell after he weaved his way through the United defence.
McEachran conjured up a late chance when he jinked his way through and released Jeacock who fired wide. But in the first minute of stoppage-time, Jeacock’s low cross flew across the six-yard box and Self smashed the ball home at the far post.
It was some let-off but a timely one with Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie on the horizon.