Penalty king Jack Ainsley keeps his cool to keep Lowestoft Town on track
- Credit: Archant
Survival is still far from secured for Lowestoft Town – but should that almighty accomplishment be achieved, much will be owed to the right foot of Jack Ainsley.
Lowestoft's lethal right-back saved the day deep into injury-time against Stockport, keeping his cool from the penalty spot to salvage a draw.
The Ipswich Town academy product had already confidently placed a penalty into the bottom-right corner of the Hatters' net in the 19th minute.
That opportunity arrived thanks to a moment of defensive madness from County centre-back Steve O'Halloran, who barged Jake Reed to the ground in the penalty area after a lovely through-ball from Rossi Jarvis.
Ainsley stepped up to score his 12th goal of the season with the aplomb you would expect from a player who originally emerged as a striker for the Tractor Boys.
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The 24-year-old's spot-kick speciality would be called on again before the final whistle – but it really should not have been needed.
The Trawlerboys were in control against Stockport, who faced Norwich City in League One just five years ago. Towering centre-back Omar Sowunmi forced a good save with a back-post header from a corner in the ninth minute and Jarvis nearly doubled the lead just before the break, heading an Adam Smith free-kick towards goal to force a good save.
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Had those efforts resulted in goals, the Hatters could have had little complaint. The visitors are still in with a shout of making the play-offs however and rallied after the break, although they were given a huge helping hand in the 66th minute, with the softest of penalty awards.
A curling low shot from Charlie Russell was about to be hooked clear by Andrew Fisk but Scott Spencer stooped to try and head the ball and took a boot to the face, to earn a spot-kick. Spencer then made no mistake from 12 yards, firing into the bottom-right corner for 1-1.
Lowestoft tried to apply the pressure and find a winner but it was the visitors who looked to have snatched the points, with Spencer the main man again.
The striker curled a shot from 20 yards out into the top-right corner of the net, off the underside of the bar, to send Stockport into a 2-1 lead in the 89th minute.
Step forward the penalty king – courtesy of more good work from Reed, who was bundled over in the box in the 93rd minute to earn another penalty.
Hatters striker Danny Glover was booked for trying to delay Ainsley taking the penalty but the full-back kept his focus and again thumped the ball into the bottom-right corner, coolly scoring his 11th penalty of the campaign and salvaging a point in dramatic fashion.
The Hatters took exception to the Blues' celebrations and a scrap broke out among both sets of players, to result in Reed being booked and Glover being shown his second yellow in the dying moments of the match.
It was a dramatic finale to a scrappy match, extending Lowestoft's unbeaten home league run to seven matches.
But it was full-back Ainsley who made sure of that fully-deserved point, scoring his 10th league goal of the season, in a tally of 13 in all competitions.
The importance of Ainsley's penalties this season is not lost on joint manager Micky Chapman either, saying after the match: 'That will alert a few clubs unfortunately, so we need to be careful because he's a top player, a hell of a player, and certainly one that we want to be keeping.'
Despite the point, Colwyn Bay's shock 2-0 win against high-flying Tamworth means Lowestoft's cushion from the bottom three was reduced to eight points.
If the club's players can continue to show the same resolve and determination in their final seven matches however, they will surely have enough quality to keep any relegation worries at arm's length.