BROMSGROVE Sporting are still well within reach of booking their place in the final of the FA Vase after they were held to a 1-1 draw by higher-ranked Cleethorpes Town.
The return leg back in Grimsby next Saturday is nicely poised as both sides go in search of a dream appearance at Wembley.
In front of a new club record crowd of 3,349 fans at the Victoria Ground, Jason Cowley had given the hosts the lead after 30 minutes when he headed home Reece Hewitt’s cross from inside the area.
But the Northern Counties East League Premier Division visitors drew level after 54 minutes when Sporting defender Luke Edwards turned Tim Lowe’s cross into his own net.
The Owls will find themselves unlucky not to take a 2-1 lead for the return leg as a last-ditch tackle from Daniel Morris prevented Marc Cooper from slotting home into an empty net.
Both sides started the game with attacking intent but it was the Rouslers who carved out the first clear-cut chance when Aaron Roberts was fouled a couple of yards inside Cleethorpes’ half after three minutes.
Sam Wills delivered an excellent in-swinging cross which evaded everyone before meeting Cowley who rise highest to only head over from the middle of goal.
Cowley was involved once more 11 minutes later as he showed some great skill on the far side to cut inside before curling an audacious effort straight at Liam Highton.
As much as Cleethorpes had the ability to counter, they offered very little and after 22 minutes another defence splitting corner by Wills was met by Ahmed Ali who was guilty of heading over from close range.
Just three minutes later Sporting had the ball in the back of the net as Cowley chased down Highton’s clearance before tapping home, however, referee Karl Evans ruled it out for an adjudged handball.
But the Rouslers’ persistence paid off as they took the lead on the half hour mark.
Hewitt showed great skill to beat two Cleethorpes men to break into the box before delivering a delicate chip into the centre of goal where Cowley was primed and ready to head into the far corner.
And moments later it was almost 2-0 as Robbie Bunn ran the length of the visitors’ half before arrowing a shot which needed saving at the near post by Highton.
Despite the NCEL Premier Division leaders failing to trouble Ryan Price in the Sporting goal, their best and only chance of the half fell to Marc Cooper in the 33rd minute but his shot from inside the area was excellently blocked.
After the break Cleethorpes started the better as Liam Davis and Jonathan Oglesby looked to threaten the wings and it took nine minutes for the visitors to draw level.
Lowe managed to force his way into the Sporting box and his dangerous ball across the face of goal was turned into the net by an unfortunate Edwards to make it 1-1.
And it was almost 2-1 seven minutes later as a lovely cushioned header back by Cooper was met by substitute Jack Richardson whose instant volley needed tipping round the post by Ryan Price.
Chances came few and far between during the second period although Hewitt looked to change that for Sporting as two incisive runs in the 70th minute reaped no rewards as his crosses from inside the area were well dealt with by a resilient Cleethorpes defence.
However, it should have been the visitors went ahead ten minutes from time as a long ball upfield by Peter Winn was collected by Cooper who rounded Price.
And with the goal at his mercy, he failed to put the Owls the lead as Morris made a superb last-ditch tackle from behind to force a corner which was eventually cleared.
A spirited Sporting continued to push but they could not find that illusive winner as Bunn saw a list-minute strike blocked.