SUNDERLAND RCA blew a three-goal lead in the final 20 minutes in a dramatic Ebac Northern League First Division clash with Marske United.
But the point from a 3-3 draw aty a windswept Meadow Park helps inch the Wearsiders men closer to safety.
The sides needed points for different reasons. RCA are fighting to stave off relegation while Marske challenge for the championship.
And when Martin Swales’ side led by three goals on 70 minutes and at this stage were awarded a penalty, three points looked in the bag.
But Keiran Megran’s spot-kick was saved by Marske goalkeeper Robert Dean and five minutes later Marske reduced the deficit with a hugely-controversial goal.
The assistant referee flagged that the ball had gone over the line. RCA protested vehemently, but the goal, which came from a deflection in a goalmouth melee, was allowed to stand.
No doubt inspired by a double let-off, Marske produced a storming finish. They were awarded a 78th-minute penalty for a handling offence and Craig Gott fired home and a minute from time RCA’s hopes of victory were finally thwarted as top marksman Jamie Owens hit the equaliser.
The wind played a big factor. Swales’ side used it to their advantage in the first half with Michael Charlton scoring from a rebound with only 12 minutes on the watch.
Joe Hughes doubled the lead with a clinical finish into the top corner of the net and after Marske keeper Dean had made two magnificent saves, he was powerless as Charlton slotted home RCA’s third goal.
At this point, it looked rosy for the Wearsiders, but they can surely take encouragement from the performance against one of the top sides.
After all, a win for Marske would have taken them into second place, just three points behind Guisborough Town with a game in hand.
With Crook Town relegated and Celtic Nation almost certain to join them, RCA are now a point ahead of Billingham Synthonia, with a better goal difference. Significantly, they are just a point adrift of fifth-bottom West Allotment Celtic with three games in hand on the Tynesiders.
Seaham Red Star’s Second Division game at Chester-le-Street was postponed, as was lowly Tow Law’s home clash with Willington.
Ashington will meet either Dunston UTS or Shildon in the final of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup after defeating Newton Aycliffe 3-1 at Woodhorn Lane. Glen Taylor (2) and James Harmison were their marksmen, with Liam Henderson (penalty) on target for Aycliffe, who played the entire second half with 10 men following an injury to a player and they were unable to field a substitute.
Darlington 1883 moved three points behind leaders Salford City in the EvoStik League Division One North when Graeme Armstrong’s goal proved enough to beat Northwich Victoria 1-0 away from home.
Martin Gray’s men have a match in hand on Salford and a superior goal difference. Spennymoor Town are third, nine points off the top with two games in hand.