SAVIOUR Sam Carey’s bloodied nose was a fitting image as Worcester Raiders bounced back off the ropes to hit arch rivals Darlaston Town with the ultimate sucker punch.

The defender nodded home with his back to goal in the third minute of added time to salvage a 3-3 draw from a West Midlands (Regional) League (WMRL) Division One title tussle that the hosts should have had wrapped up long before.

AS IT HAPPENED | Darlaston 3 Raiders 3

Darlo led three times and hit the woodwork twice when 2-1 up only for threadbare Raiders, short on numbers due to the match falling on Alex Marsh’s wedding day, to hang tough.

Carey left the dressing room with his nose bunged up with tissue as a result of the collision he endured while scoring – not that it bothered him one bit.

“I don’t know who it was but I got an elbow from the front and a punch in the back of the head from the keeper,” said Carey.

“Still, my head hit the ball and it went in. That was all that mattered, I didn’t really feel any pain."

The match was played at a frenetic pace throughout with little control exerted by either team but the hosts generally on top.

Dean Waldron had just blocked a goal-bound Alex Solomon effort on the line but Darlo led from the 19th-minute corner that followed with centre-half Scott Glasby powering in from point-blank range.

Raiders were behind for just five minutes with Matt Tyler laying off for Paul Smith to unleash a 25-yard Exocet that nicked off Glasby en route to the top corner.

A third goal in eighth minutes arrived when Raiders keeper Dan Norcott bundled over Darlo’s leading marksman Leon Taylor with Isaac Cooper tucking in the penalty.

Darlo seized control from there with a simple long drive forward flicked on by Taylor for Cooper to guide a looping shot against the face of the bar 11 minutes before the break.

Tyrone Clarke-O’Connell’s bobbling effort then drifted narrowly wide of the far post on the stroke of half-time and Ashley Evans chipped against bar 10 minutes into the second half with Taylor’s rebound easily cleared with the net gaping.

Clarke-O’Connell and Cooper went on to miss the target time and time again and Darlo were made to pay when a deep free-kick found Raiders substitute Roland Krol to bundle in the equaliser with his first touch.

For all the chances they spurned, Town got a bit of luck six minutes from time as Cooper’s cross-shot appeared to take a deflection past Norcott but there would still be a sting in the tail.

With time ebbing away, Paul Smith floated in a free-kick from just inside Darlo’s half with the ball looping up off the back of Carey’s head and into the net to send the away dugout into raptures.

It saw Raiders finish the game, one they asked supporters not to travel to due to investigations into alleged incidents at the reverse fixture, with a precious-yet-unlikely point.

“It is hard to put into words how it feels because the size of it for our season could be enormous,” said Carey.

“If we go on to win next week it will be mammoth, especially after being under the cosh for pretty much the whole 90 minutes.

“They had a lot of chances, hit the bar a couple of times and the lad that has scored 30-odd goals this season (Taylor) missed a few.

“You have to be in it to win it and we stuck at it, Pauly floated it in and luckily I got on the end of it.

“We have a great squad that just keeps going. There were a few away for this one but with a few to come back, I know the boys will be really up for it and will get the job done next week.

“I knew we had extra gears and a little bit left, we have had one loss all season and that just shows we have that fighting spirit.”

The draw means Raiders still lead the way by one point.

If Darlo win their remaining two matches – at Newport Town on Tuesday and Telford Juniors on Saturday, April 27 – and Raiders beat Tipton Town in their last league outing on Saturday (3pm) then the destiny of the title rests on whether Raiders receive the three points from their abandoned match at Bustleholme.

Raiders led that one 3-1 in the second minute of added time when it was brought to a premature halt following a brawl between players and staff of both clubs and members of the crowd.

Disciplinary proceedings have yet to take place with the Worcestershire and Birmingham FAs and their rulings must be made before the WMRL can decide what to do about the result and points.

“People have mentioned that but we haven’t let it play on our minds at all,” added Carey.

“We know we have to go out and win no matter what. Without wins those points will mean nothing so we cannot take our minds off what is front of us.”

Darlaston: Whittaker 6, Causton 6, Jones 6 (Hough, 90), Holder 6.5, Glasby 7, Charlton 6, A Evans 6.5, Solomon 6.5 (Bolzon, 90+5), Taylor 6, Cooper 7, Clarke-O'Connell 6.5. Unused subs: Diallo, Follows, Mayne, Kingdon.

Raiders: Norcott 6, Belmonte 6, Carey 7, Corbett 6, WALDRON 7.5*, P Smith 7, A Smith 5 (Krol, 72, 6), Tyler 7, Molloy 5.5, Rowe 5 (Attwood, 72, 5.5), Fowler 5.5. Unused subs: C Farnsworth, Sitch, Cornes.