THE opening game of the new North West Counties League season had a familiar feel for Northwich Victoria.

A big problem for Steve Wilkes' side last season was dropping points from winning positions, and so it came to pass.

They could perhaps consider themselves unfortunate having matched promotion favourites Warrington Rylands for long periods.

Having taken the lead twice through two pieces of quality from Matty Birchall, however, to come away with nothing thanks to a late winner from visiting defender Callum Lees will be a huge disappointment for Vics.

"If you score two goals at home, you shouldn’t be getting beat," Wilkes said.

"It’s a recurring theme at the minute – we can’t keep clean sheets and we can’t keep hold of leads.

"I’ve got experienced lads in there who should be marshalling the troops, but we’re struggling with our game management."

In what was both sides' first league game since March, things understandably took time to settle but Vics did so quickest.

The front three of Birchall, Chad Whyte and Darrhyl Mason led a high press, denying their visitors the chance to build from the back as they like to do.

Their reward came via a slight stroke of luck, but Birchall kept a cool head.

Mason's ball in from the left looped up off a defender and Birchall sniffed an opportunity, nipping in to volley home the opener.

It was an advantage they deserved but with their first real opening of the game, Rylands hit back through a cheeky Andy Scarisbrick flick as the midfielder somehow found space in a crowded box.

If the Warrington side thought that would be their catalyst to press on, Birchall had other ideas shortly after the interval.

A superb run got him in behind the defence and when confronted by the goalkeeper, the youngster calmly chipped the ball into the net.

Again, Vics were good for the lead but the introduction of Freddie Potter from the bench changed the game.

Rylands then had more of a focal point up front after the striker had equalised with his first touch, slotting home a penalty after Kieron Kenny was adjudged to have fouled Stephen Milne.

From looking good for three points, the focus then seemed to switch to making sure they came away with one.

It looked like they had done enough until a minute from time when Lees nodded in Gary Kenny's header back across the box to give them that all-too-familiar sinking feeling.

"We said to the players that we would have to work for 90 minutes and I think we did that," Wilkes said.

"Without wishing to take anything away from Rylands, I think a draw would have been a fair result.

"It was a good game between two good sides for a first game in the league since March.

"I’m not one to have a pop at officials because there’s no point, but I feel let down.

"We’ve looked back on the video and the penalty Rylands were given isn’t a penalty, and the free kick for the third goal is very cheap. It’s not even a foul.

"We should have had a penalty in the first half as well.

"The fans are going to go away talking about the referee rather than an excellent match."