A 97th minute equaliser prevented 10-man Bradford Park Avenue from taking an unlikely victory away from champions-elect AFC Fylde.

Danny Boshell opened the scoring for Avenue at the end of a first half which was controlled by the away team.

And just when a second half onslaught looked set to be kept at bay, the referee sent off Jake Hibbs for two bookable offences within 30 seconds of each other, before somehow amounting nine minutes of added time, deep into which Matt Blinkhorn thundered home a header to level the scores.

However Bradford’s fourth game unbeaten, coupled with draws elsewhere for both Worcester and Gainsborough, means their National League North status is preserved for another year.

And following that news, it was announced that management duo Mark Bower and Danny Boshell had both penned 18-month contracts with the club.

Bower made two changes to his side for the trip to Fylde’s brand new Mill Farm stadium as James Knowles and Boshell returned to take their places in an unexpected 4-4-2 formation, with Hibbs on the right of midfield.

Avenue were on top in the early stages and somehow failed to go ahead 11 minutes in as Oli Johnson’s cut back was kept out by Tom Kennedy on the line before Boshell’s follow up deflected wide with the side top of the table on the ropes.

Knowles was proving his worth on his return though, holding up Dan Bradley on the break before putting in a good block to keep the league’s top scorer Danny Rowe at bay.

Then came the first moment of controversial officiating of the afternoon, as Avenue had the ball in the back of the net.

A corner had come out to Gavin Rothery, whose cross-shot fell to Johnson. His shot was blocked and the lurking Matt Hill thumped the loose ball into the Fylde goal, only for the linesman’s flag to deny him.

Jon Worsnop then had to be at his best as Rowe slipped the ball through to Sam Finley but, one-on-one with the visiting stopper, his low shot was brilliantly kept out.

It was an excellent and entertaining game, both sides creating openings as Chris Sharp fired in a dangerous cross before Bradley should have done better with a half-volley at the back post for Dave Challinor’s side.

Bradford continued to turn the screw up to the half time whistle, and again were wondering how they didn’t score when Johnson ran in behind, Fylde goalkeeper Rhys Taylor clawing the ball away from the striker, before recovering to deny Rothery’s follow up.

However Avenue finally went in front right on the stroke of half time through Boshell.

Johnson, again getting to the byline, fired a low cross to Sharp who looked certain to score but for a brilliant Taylor save, though the ball fell kindly for Bradford’s assistant manager, who finished with aplomb into the top corner.

The home side came out with clear intentions, but Avenue forced the first opening of the half after more good work from Johnson, but his cut back just couldn’t find Wroe.

Having been a menace in the Fylde box, Hill then got to work in his own as he blocked from Rowe and Andy Bond, before Bradley’s long range effort flew just wide of the post.

Avenue then went agonisingly close though as Hibbs played Sharp in behind, and he lifted the ball over the onrushing Taylor from 20 yards, but defender Josh Langley got back just in time to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

After Worsnop had received some treatment earlier in the half, Bradford were becoming the walking wounded as an injured Johnson was forced to be replaced.

However his earlier injury wasn’t holding the Bradford stopper back as he produced two brilliant catches to halt Fylde’s progress from corner kicks.

Knowles was then forced off when Fylde were seemingly running out of ideas heading into the last 10 minutes, as the referee seemed to lose control of proceedings.

He first showed a yellow card to Blinkhorn for coming on as a substitute without his permission, before carding Boshell, Fylde’s Matty Hughes and then Hibbs for a very innoccuous foul, three in the space of three minutes.

But it was less than 60 seconds later that he made a big call, as Hibbs broke and had Wroe and Sharp in suppport with only two defenders to beat, he lost control of the ball and flew in late on Langley, the referee rushing in and brandishing a second yellow card to the on-loan Halifax midfielder.

A fracas then broke out in the centre circle and between the three officials none of them could seem to work out what had gone on, Adam Nowakowski and Bradley booked in what were the referee’s sixth and seventh card in a 10 minute spell.

Referee Darren Strain wasn’t done there however, after bafflingly awarding nine minutes of added time, he then sent Avenue boss Bower to the stands.

Fylde were piling men forward and after Bradford wasted a chance to hold the ball in the corner, they equalised in the seventh minute of injury time as Blinkhorn thundered a header into the bottom corner off a Brendon Daniels cross.

In the end Avenue were disappointed to go away with a point from the National League North leaders, but news of safety coupled with the management duo penning new contracts, supporters travelled home in very high spirits.

AFC Fylde: Taylor, Hughes (Blinkhorn 77), TKennedy, Langley (c), Collins (Daniels 59), Bond, Morgan, Finley, Rowe, Bradley, Dixon (Hughes 46)

Subs not used: Baker, K.Kennedy

Goal: Blinkhorn (90+7)

Bookings: Blinkhorn (78), Hughes (83), Bradley (88)

Bradford Park Avenue: Worsnop, Toulson (c), Hill, Wroe, Killock, Knowles (Chippendale 82), Hibbs, D.Boshell, Sharp, Johnson (Nowakowski 66), Rothery

Subs not used: Payne, Hall, Spencer

Goal: D.Boshell (45)

Bookings: D.Boshell (82), Hibbs (85), Nowakowski (88)

Sent off: Hibbs (86)

Referee: Darren Strain

Attendance: 2,326

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