Bradford (Park Avenue) 2 Southport 2

BRADFORD (Park Avenue) banked a hard-earned point from a tough game against Southport in difficult conditions to stay clear at the top of the Vanarama National League North.

Mark Bower’s men had a three-point advantage at the summit going into the visit from the Sandgrounders and it remained that way after nearest challengers Chorley drew 1-1 away at Leamington.

Southport remain fourth from bottom but they had won their last three league games and performed heroics in the FA Cup and the FA Trophy in a nine-game unbeaten run.

Bower knew that his side were up against the form side in the division and he was happy that his side extended their own unbeaten run, in the league, to eight games.

The Avenue boss said: “I was very pleased with our performance.

"When you look at the run they (Southport) have been on they have been winning games and scoring a lot of goals but we didn’t look troubled by them at all.

“They scored an early goal because we didn’t defend well at a set-piece and their second goal is a great strike from distance that stayed low and zipped off turf in really bad conditions towards the end.

“We’ve all played in the wind and rain but I think the conditions today were as bad as I’ve ever seen in all my time in the game.

"To be fair to both teams I thought it was a very good game under the circumstances.

“I know Liam (Southport boss Liam Watson) and he had a big job when he took over in the summer.

"He had to shift a lot of the squad that he inherited and gradually he’s brought his own players in and got the side playing his way.

"There’s no way they will be down there for long now – they will finish in the top half of the table.”

Avenue had a strong penalty appeal early on when a Nicky Wroe shot was blocked in the area, the home side’s players claiming it was by a raised arm but the referee dismissed the appeals.

It was just three minutes later when Port broke the deadlock. They had forced a corner and when the Avenue defence allowed Bradley Bauress’ delivery to bounce in the area it was a simple task for Dean Winnard to nod past Steve Drench.

The visitors’ lead lasted just five minutes as Avenue got a free-kick midway into Southport’s half and Lewis Knight’s delivery was met by a stooping header from Jake Beesley.

Deep into the second half it was Avenue’s turn to take the lead and it was a fine goal from stand-in skipper Oli Johnson. With Shane Killock’s calf injury still troubling him he was left out of the squad.

Johnson wore the armband and he led by example in the 74th minute as he took an excellent through ball and raced into the box before tucking a shot under advancing Port keeper Dan Hanford.

Avenue couldn’t make their lead stick either and the visitors were level two minutes later when Bauress capped his fine display with a goal. He let fly from just outside the corner of the area and the shot kept low before dipping onto the wet surface and skidding into Drench’s net.