A late Stalybridge Celtic goal halted Brackley Town’s charge towards the top of the Conference North as the two sides played out a scrappy 1-1 draw on Saturday.
The Bower Fold pitch made life extremely difficult with the slow pace and dead bounce across large areas, while the remaining grassed parts cut up badly.
Saints started brightly, producing an early lead before tailing off in a second half that saw Celtic grab a deserved draw through a late equaliser.
Brackley’s opening goal on 14 minutes came courtesy of Steve Diggin’s quick-thinking as he crossed for Brett Solkhon to stab home from six yards. Diggin had earlier seen a shot saved by Danny East in the home goal and both Glenn Walker and Izak Reid were full of running in the early exchanges.
Saints maintained their lead into the break thanks to Tom Sharpe’s saving tackle to deny Paul Ennis and Billy Turley’s fine tip onto the bar again from Ennis on the right.
In animated mood throughout, the Brackley bench felt certain Stefan Moore had been shoved off the ball in an aerial duel in the penalty area, before fine play by Walker and Reid on the break set up Diggin whose deflected effort was just wide in a rare glimpse of Saints’ potential.
Meanwhile, Stalybridge were gaining in confidence, backed by a home crowd sensing an equaliser might be on the cards.
Pressed back, Saints were under some pressure and struggled to earn respite. Even at corners Celtic kept three players up front and pegged the visitors back. Just as it appeared Saints could hang on, a free-kick was floated in and it was a Brackley head that had the final touch to see the ball find its way into the bottom corner of the net.
In spite of the disappointment for Saints conceding so late, the scoreline reflected the balance of the game and the young Celtic side deserved their point.
Brackley: Turley, Clerima, Langdon (Mills 89), Odhiambo (Bridges 88), Sharpe, Austin, Reid, Solkhon, Moore (Mulligan 71), Diggin, Walker.
Stalybridge: East, Bleau, Thierry (McWilliams 68), Bembo-Leta, Regan, Green, Ennis, Buckley (Pepper 85), Anuruo, Ryan, Croasdale.
Referee: R Jones