The Saxons despite putting up a brave fight with a squad decimated by injuries and illness, along with those added to the fact that Matty Ward and Lee Madin were cup-tied, while Aliou Traore was unavailable, it left Peter Withe with very few to select from on the day of the game. Mike Tomlinson played through the pain barrier, against the wishes of his medical advisor, while Ricky Anane likewise declared himself available for the substitutes bench even though he had little hope of being able to compete at his usual level.
In spite of the unusual line-up The Saxons competed well in the opening stages of the game. Aaron Best coming closest to scoring on 20 minutes with a curling shot from 25 yards.
Neither side had created any chance of note until Neil Prince burst clear of The Saxons defence in the 26th minute and unleashed a fierce left-footed drive across Russell Saunders into the top corner of the goal from 18 yards out. It was the first moment of quality in the game, the Bootle player manager showing his class with what was a fabulous goal. The Saxons defence were to rue their slack marking as in spite of the quality of Prince's strike, it had been too easy for him to get his shot away in a dangerous area.
Bootle had a chance to extend their lead just three minutes later. Russell Saunders producing a tremendous block at the far post to keep out Thompson's effort when the striker seemed certain to score. Saunders then reacted quickest to kick the rebound away before a home player could pounce. Saunders has strangely been ignored by the North West Counties League in their nominations for the monthly goalkeeper awards, saves like that show why The Saxons rank him as the best in the league, and saves like that mean it will surely not be long before that is recognised more widely.
The save inspired The Saxons and they equalised almost immediately, at the end of a flowing, passing move Liam Irwin crossed low and Gomez Dali cleverly turned the ball home from 10 yards out for his first goal since August. It was no more than Stockport deserved for their spirited showing, but they were only level for 6 minutes before Bootle took the lead for a second time, and in controversial circumstances. From a throw-in on the right hand side the attacker turned inside Sean Symons before falling to the ground, the referee was ideally placed to see the incident and waved play on, but the linesman, from an apparently more difficult angle, flagged for a foul and a penalty awarded. Neil Prince clinically dispatched the penalty for his and his sides second of the game.
The visitors started the second half well and had a chance to equalise when Knight headed over from an Irwin cross, and it was Knight who grabbed The Saxons equaliser when he turned in from six yards out following a Best corner. Just a minute earlier Bootle had missed a great chance to go 3-1 when Black somehow missed the target following a cross from the right, that was not to be the last easy chance they missed during the game.
Daniel O'Connor had caused The Saxons defence countless problems during the league meeting between the sides, yet he was strangely subdued throughout this game, the more physical presence of Tomlinson at the heart of the Stockport Sports defence negating O'Connor's threat. With 20 minutes to go O'Connor was presented with a fine opportunity just six yards out and in a central area, with only Saunders to beat he somehow scooped the ball over the bar.
Shortly afterwards there was more controversy when Liam Irwin burst into the Bootle penalty area, only to be felled by a defenders forearm in exactly the same spot that the foul was committed for the home sides penalty award. This time neither the referee or linesman thought a foul had occurred and the play continued in spite of Irwin lying prostate on the ground with a head injury.
With 4 minutes to go O'Connor appeared certain to grab the winner for Bootle following a cross from the right, however he headed over from right under the cross bar, it was an unbelievable miss by the big striker, however he was to make his mark on the game just minutes later.
Deep into injury time Saunders cleared his lines into midfield and the ball was headed back towards The Saxons goal, the visiting back line stopped, believing O'Connor to be well offside and the striker ran through to slot past Saunders for what was the winning goal. The visitors were convinced that O'Connor was offside, but despite their protests the winning goal was allowed and there was barely time to restart the game before the final whistle was blown.
While there was no doubt Bootle had the better chances, it had been an even contest throughout and The Saxons, and their supporters, will undoubtedly feel that they had done enough to earn a replay.
1. Russell Saunders, 2. Josh Symons, 3. Aaron Best, 4. Jamie Street, 5. Mike Tomlinson (c), 6. Melford Knight, 7. Kyle Hamid, 8. Liam Irwin, 9. John Marsden, 10. Gomez Dali, 11. Sean Symons (Callam Gardner)