NORTHWICH Victoria earned a reward their improvement in the second-half deserved when Brian Matthews scored a late equaliser.

It sparked a frantic finish, and the visitors might have celebrated a victory had substitute Olly Walker not been denied by Bears goalkeeper Daniel Eccles when they came face-to-face.

Oscar Durnin also failed to hit the target after Liam Bickett had split the home team’s defence.

“We should have won it,” reflected manager Steve Wilkes afterwards.

“On three occasions we had just the goalkeeper to beat, which makes a draw feel disappointing.”

His side, sent out in unfamiliar formation with a three-man defence, were second-best in the opening period.

Ollie Ford went close for Congleton when his attempt grazed an upright, while Durnin’s shot lacked the force to trouble Eccles at the other end.

Ryan Hibbert’s effort for the hosts was off-target, while Emini Adegbenro’s shot was deflected to safety after Vics custodian Mike Donlon had made an initial save.

He was almost left red-faced after fumbling Ford’s cross, but Steve Foster fired wide the loose ball.

Congleton took the lead on 55 minutes when Ford’s shot squirmed past Donlon after he had blocked an Adegbenro attempt.

The former Padiham number one was then swift from his line to deny the goal-scorer a second at the end of a counter-attack.

Wilkes responded by sending on Jay Hart and Sam Fitton, and the former had an immediate impact when he prompted Eccles to save.

Johnny Gorman also fired wide when well-placed.

Vics drew level with two minutes left when Matthews met full-back Danny Johnson’s measured cross with a perfect connection to claim a 24th goal of the campaign.

Both teams traded chances in the time remaining, and Donlon produced his best to tip over substitute John Main’s rising shot.

However Walker and Durnin had clearer glimpses of goal.

Wilkes added: “We conceded a sloppy goal, but the players deserve great credit for how they fought back after that."

Congleton | Eccles (GK), Stephens, Peters, Groom, Morris, Hibbert, Ford (Main 84), Griffith, Moran, Foster (Fletcher 66), Adegbenro (Hasler-Cregg 72) Subs not used Edwards, Disney Goal Ford 55

Vics | Donlon (GK), Clarke, Shinks (Fitton 67), Barski, Weston, Johnson, Bennett (Hart 67), Bickett, Gorman (Walker 79), Durnin, Matthews Subs not used Grant, Wilis Goal Matthews 88

Attendance 150