ROCESTER were just seconds away from securing a vital three points in their match against fellow relegation battlers Gornal Athletic at Hillsfield on Saturday.
The Romans were leading 3-2 with 90 minutes gone before a defensive lapse allowed Richard Smith to grab a last gasp leveller for the visitors.
Gornal enjoyed the lion’s share of chances in the early stages as Rocester made a sluggish start, and keeper Richard Froggatt had to make a stop from Ben Evans inside the first five minutes.
Making his first appearance since returning from a break in Australia, Froggatt also had to be alert to make a save in a crowded box after Gornal centre-half Jamie Saunston met a corner, while debutant loan signing Marc Strzyzewski blocked Ravi Sangha.
Thwarted by the linesman at almost every move, it was 20 minutes before the Romans were able to threaten Gornal, when Liam Shaw headed Jason Beardsley’s corner wide.
The hosts went close a minute later when visiting keeper Luke Stevens spilled the ball under pressure from Dan Brown, only for Strzyzewski to head the loose ball straight into his grasp.
It was Brown who fired the Romans in front on 28 minutes when his quick feet in a crowded Gornal box created the narrowest of openings through which he slotted home a powerful strike which gave Stevens no chance.
Rocester’s lead lasted just four minutes. Smith chased down Carl Allen as he tried to clear and advanced on goal before smashing the ball past Froggatt.
The Romans were rightly aggrieved when Sangha fired Gornal ahead two minutes later, the striker appearing to be offside by some distance when the ball was played forward, but no flag was raised and the former Gresley man advanced unopposed to beat Froggatt.
Rocked by the injustice, the Romans started the second half slowly and Evans sent a thunderous effort just over while Matt Barnett proved too strong for Alfie Holland, only for Daniel Wain to halt the striker’s advance on goal.
However, as with the opening 45 minutes, the Romans came to life midway through the half and Shaw was unlucky to see his header ricochet off the inside of the post and across the face of goal.
Froggatt pushed away a shot from Barnett on 69 minutes, but from thereon in it was Rocester who dominated.
Brown’s dinked ball over the Gornal defence set Tom Ellerton clear, but Stevens got a touch on the shot to save at the expense of a corner.
Paul Whalley twice had goalbound efforts blocked, while Brown was only denied another goal by a clearance on the line by Gornal sub Jerome Chambers.
The Romans finally found a deserved equaliser on 78 minutes when Brown was fouled on the edge of the box, picking himself up to smash the free kick around the defensive wall and into the bottom corner of Stevens’ goal.
When Shaw was fouled, Rocester sub Aaron Dillon delivered a free kick which Wain headed at the keeper, but the Romans went ahead for the second time on 83 minutes when Ellerton latched onto a ball from Brown before hitting a perfect centre for Whalley to head home.
The powerful Ellerton had given Jordan Fincher a torrid time, and when he beat the full-back again a minute after the goal his teasing cross to the far post just eluded Shaw.
Gornal were given a lifeline two minutes from time when Froggatt was adjudged to have bought down Barnett just inside the right-hand extremity of the penalty area, but made amends by holding onto Evans’ weak spot kick.
However, there was still time for Gornal to snatch a last-gasp equaliser when Smith attacked the space behind ex-Derby County man Beardsley and struck a powerful shot which beat Froggatt at the near post.
GOALS: Brown 28, 78, Whalley 83 (Romans), Smith 32, 90, Sangha 34 (Gornal).
ROMANS: Froggatt, Beardsley, Holland, Whalley, Allen, Wain, Upton (Dillon 64), Strzyzewski, Shaw, Brown, Ellerton. Subs not used: Lawrence, Rutland-Jones, Littler, Cannon.
GORNAL: Stevens, Wilson, Fincher, Morris, Saunston (Hill 88), Tonks (Chambers 71), Crudgington, Evans, Barnett, Sangha, Smith. Subs not used: Campbell, Okome, Daighn.
ROMANS STAR MAN: Tom Ellerton – powerful presence out wide and was always an outlet for Rocester attacks.
Referee: K Swift (Stoke).