Bexhill United manager Ryan Light hailed his side’s enthralling 2-2 home draw with ten-man AFC Varndeanians on Saturday as ‘a great advert’ for Division 1.
In the battle between second and third, Joe Keehan gave the visitors a half-time lead from the penalty spot.
Craig Ottley’s spot-kick restored parity in the second half before the defender added his second to put the Pirates in front.
But Bexhill couldn’t hold on to the three points as a dramatic 93rd minute Matt Waterman header saw the spoils shared.
Light said: “It was a great advert for our league, two good teams going at it, and with good quality all round.
“We are obviously very disappointed to concede so late but I’m sure Varndeanians will think over the 90 minutes they deserved a point.
“I was really proud of our performance especially in the second half but in games like today’s when there is literally nothing between the sides you need the officials to get the big decisions correct.
“I felt a little bit sorry for the ref today. He had a lot of decisions to make and at this level he’s never going to get them all right.”
The home side could have been in front within two minutes when Jamie Crone latched onto a poor back pass, and managed to poke the ball past the oncoming keeper only for a defender somehow to clear off the line.
The referee had his first big call to make on 23 minutes, and awarded Varndeanians a penalty having judged defender Chris Rea to have handled the ball.
Up stepped Keehan who dispatched the penalty high into the right hand corner to send the away side in at the break 0-1 up.
Bexhill kicked off the second half on the front foot. The ball was delivered into the Varndeanians penalty area and, after a slight deflection landed on the hand of a defender, the referee once again pointed to the spot. Up stepped Ottley who fired home to level.
After the goal Jamie Crone, who was now the main threat, went bursting through the defence and pushed the ball past the out sliding goalkeeper who wiped him off his feet.
The referee blew his whistle but then, to the dismay of pretty much everyone in the ground, he booked the forward for simulation rather than awarding a penalty.
Bexhill finally made the breakthrough when a good in swinging corner delivery from Ottley caused the Varndeanians keeper an issue and he seemed to punch it goalwards rather than away and the officials judged the ball to have crossed the line.
But as the game ticked into stoppage time Varndeanians were awarded a free kick near the centre circle which was played into the box and not dealt with by the Bexhill defence which allowed Matt Waterman to get a final glance on the ball and to guide it into the far corner for a 93rd minute equaliser.
Wild celebrations ensued from the visitors and Dan Turner received a red card for hitting out at a Bexhill player as he ran to celebrate with his team mates.
With seconds remaining there was still time for one last piece of controversy as Connor Robertson delivered an exquisite cross into the box and with Joel Kalambayi shaping up to head for goal the Bexhill substitute appeared to be shoved but the referee, instead of blowing for a penalty, blew the final whistle.
Bexhill United: Rose, Robertson, Ottley, Rea, Hickman, Holden, Crone, J Bunn, Grenall, S Bunn, McLean. Subs: Kalambayi, Saville, Akerejola, Gouet, Cook.