City 1 Stockport 1

It must have felt like the longest day in the life of Donovan Ricketts.

Having begun in the departure lounge of Heathrow, waiting anxiously for an internal flight to Manchester, it ended by picking the ball out of the net in added time as Stockport scrambled a equaliser.

Forget any jet lag from his globe-hopping with Omar Daley to Jamaica and back; the pain of losing another clean sheet and win bonus so late had more of a lasting impact.

City's best-laid plans had already been thrown into turmoil as two of their players sat helplessly in various airports. Having got back in the nick of time thanks to joint-chairman Mark Lawn's Bentley, the lateness of Stockport's leveller seemed a cruel irony.

But in the cold light of day - whatever time that may be in the heads of the scrambled transatlantic travellers - City could not argue with a result which at least kept the unbeaten run ticking along.

Up to half-time, the Jamaican travelling soap opera had been the only talking point. There was certainly nothing on the pitch in the opening 45 minutes to hold the concentration.

Stuart McCall was a buzz of activity on the sidelines, whirling his arms like a frustrated conductor trying to whip up the band into playing a quicker tempo. But the game remained disjointed and lethargic.

Stockport had an excuse for taking a breather given their FA Cup marathon at Staines less than 48 hours earlier, though manager Jim Gannon had made five changes following that humiliation on penalties.

City, on the other hand, should have been fresh and at it after a free week since dumping Dagenham. But maybe the uncertainty regarding their two Reggae Boyz, which had obviously hampered McCall's tactical thinking in training, had also rubbed off on their performance level.

Apart from one shot into the side-netting from Kyle Nix, who should have picked out Peter Thorne in the middle instead of going for glory, there was nothing to stir the blood.

No first-half shots on target; no corners from either team told its own story. The midfield diamond, which dazzled at Dagenham the week before, lacked any shine. Scott Phelan tended to drift inside too often, so the centre was clogged up to choking point - City were so narrow you could have thrown a net over the four middle men.

Without Daley's pace to stretch Stockport, the approach play looked plodding and predictable, with Nicky Law unable to get into position to make his bursts into the box. Nix made the only half-break of the half but lacked the speed to get clear of his marker.

The half-time switch of Daley for Phelan was the obvious solution and the game instantly picked up. But it was Stockport who emerged with more energy at first and Ricketts was immediately into action to divert a low drive from Tommy Rowe - the first save that either keeper had made.

From one extreme to another, Ricketts then dropped a clanger when he spilled a corner under pressure from Matty McNeil. The Stockport defender, though on the ground as the ball sprang loose, still managed to flip it past the big Jamaican but Peter Thorne saved the day on the line.

Thorne may not have known much about it as the ball cannoned off his back but recovered his senses to get everything behind Liam Dickinson's follow-up to complete a crucial double block.

The tension was cranking up and increased ten-fold a minute later when Paul Heckingbot-tom was sent off for a second yellow card.

What it was for is anyone's guess. Referee Ray Lee - as in ray-lee awful - punished the left back for tripping David Poole; his assistant, who was right next to the incident, had flagged for a tug. Either way, another card seemed over the top.

So once again it was City against the world; ten v 11 - or 12 in the eyes of the baying home crowd. And, as with Chester a fortnight earlier, the incident had a galvanising effect for all concerned.

Performances both on and off the pitch instantly improved as City responded to the increasing volume from the supporters. Another case of the red card acting as a red rag to a bull.

Thorne was once more on his own up front, with Daley wide right and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu given a left-wing role as Nix dropped deeper to fill the absence of a left back. But there was now an attacking edge to City that had been invisible up to that point.

Ricketts was called into action again with a fantastic finger-tip save to push Dickinson's curler on to the bar before City came within an ace of scoring themselves. Paul Evans drove a free-kick hard and low into the Stockport box and it pinged to Matt Clarke, whose close-range jab gave keeper Conrad Logan his first action of the game.

City came again and the deadlock was broken thanks to a tremendous strike.

Ndumbu-Nsungu's predatory skills in the penalty box had brought him a five-goal tally in his loan spell. But he produced the best of the lot to bag number six with a rocket from well outside the area.

He was 35 yards out when cutting in from the left to take an Evans pass. With a defender on his heels, the Congolese striker used all his power to hold off the challenge as he drifted across the front of the box and on to his favourite right side before drilling past the left hand of the helpless Logan.

A fourth straight win beckoned, and then Evans, still hunting that first goal of his second coming with City, let fly with a shot which almost snapped the advertising board to the right of the Stockport goal.

Stockport, though, were far from finished and substitute Anthony Pilkington clipped the bar with a free-kick as the game inched nervously into stoppage time.

Referee Lee signalled for four more minutes to his fourth official; then bizarrely changed it to five as he waited for Ricketts to take a goal kick.

But Stockport needed only one to grab the point they had kept fighting for and earned. Rowe tried to thread a ball through; it took a fortunate bounce off Darren Williams and fell kindly for Poole to loop past Ricketts from 12 yards.

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