ANDY BOOTH earned a valuable away point on a day riddled with question marks.
Why did it take Town until the final half hour to hit something like hot form?
Why did referee Graham Laws not award what seemed a cast-iron penalty when Booth was tripped by goalkeeper Mark Goodlad?
And will Town live to regret the fact they didn't perform better for longer and take three points away from Vale Park?
The final answer will come only on the last day of the season while the first two have conjured much debate over the last couple of days - especially the denied penalty claim.
Town were piling on the pressure at the time and Goodlad got in a flap as he dropped a high punt from David Mirfin thanks to a challenge by Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
The ball fell invitingly for Booth, who knocked it past the grounded keeper before being tripped in clear view of the referee and 1,646 exasperated fans behind that goal.
Unbelievably, play was waved on in what seemed an incredible blunder by the Whitley Bay official.
Even Vale manager Martin Foyle raised his eyebrows at the decision when questioned by the press, although he claimed Fletcher should have been penalised beforehand for his challenge on the keeper.
Thankfully, Booth, his teammates and the fans had to wait less than four minutes for some reward, following a raid down the left by Danny Adams.
Vale were stretched and, when the full-back's cross was deflected to the back post, Booth nipped in to head his 14th goal of the campaign and his fourth in two matches.
Booth twice went close to increasing his tally as Town powered forward in the closing minutes, while Mirfin clipped the bar with a last-gasp header from another teasing Danny Schofield corner.
At that point, Vale - who led through Michael Cummins' 59th-minute header - were simply hanging on for the final whistle and, if Town had found anything like similar form in the first hour of the game, they would surely have been celebrating three points.
Things might have been different had Mark Hudson made the most of a great first-minute chance, when put clear by Taylor-Flether, but he dragged the shot tamely wide and it set the tone for a dour first half.
Despite working hard and mounting some promising attacks, Town's passing let them down on the sticky, wet surface and Vale, too, also struggled as the pitch cut up.
Phil Senior made an excellent block from Leon Constantine's 14th-minute header, but he was otherwise untroubled as Chris Brandon, Taylor-Fletcher and Hudson did their best to get Town going.
Indeed, Taylor-Fletcher missed the chance of the match after 40 minutes, firing inches wide after Brandon had raided menacingly into the box on the right.
Nathan Clarke, who impressed again at the centre of defence - where Mirfin proved an excellent replacement for hamstring-injury victim Martin McIntosh - made a brilliant covering tackle on Jeff Smith to inspire hopes of better things to come in the second half, but it was Vale who seized the initiative.
Clarke and Mirfin had to intervene to prevent Mark Birchall scoring on 51 minutes, with Senior tipping the resulting corner over his bar.
Unfortunately, when he tried to do the same thing eight minutes later, he misjudged the flight and Cummins ran in unmarked at the back post to head Vale into the lead.
The goal had been coming, because Constantine had just failed to get a touch on Birchall's cross minutes earlier, while Senior had reacted smartly to block another near-post effort from the lanky Constantine after Sam Togwell broke into the box to square a perfect low cross.
After the goal, however, it was Town who took control with Schofield more involved and Worthington driving forward (he also had penalty claims when fouled on the edge of the box) and they certainly deserved the equaliser.
Next page: Man of the Match >>>
Man of the Match: Nathan Clarke
While his distribution still causes much debate among fans, his class invariably shines through and such was the case at Vale Park. Clarke's defending was of the highest quality.
The major turning point was Town going behind to Michael Cummins' header on 59 minutes because, after that, Peter Jackson's side started to play more like a team at the top of the table.
Town completely dominated the last half hour and deserved their equaliser through Andy Booth 10 minutes from time.
How they rated:
Phil Senior Made two excellent close range saves to deny Constantine but misjudged the corner from which Vale scored Rating: 7/10
Andy Holdsworth Looked to be struggling with an injury and not at his fluent best but made one superb covering tackle on Birchall Rating: 7/10
Danny Adams Busy throughout, he covered a lot of ground, defended solidly and provided the cross from Boothy equalised Rating: 7/10
Martin McIntosh Hobbled off with a hamstring injury after only 17 minutes but his deputy, David Mirfin, played really well Rating: 6/10
Nathan Clarke Defended superbly once again with a number of terrific challenges, including a great one on Smith Rating: 8/10
Danny Schofield Struggled to get into the game in the first half but much more effective when he switched wings in the second Rating: 7/10
Jon Worthington His strong running from midfield caused Vale problems and he almost had a penalty when fouled by Cummins Rating: 7/10
Mark Hudson Missed a great chance in the first minute and later tested the keeper with a crunching 35-yard free kick. Grafted and did well Rating: 7/10
Chris Brandon Kept Craig James on his toes with some clever running and skills and was `taken out' by Pilkington on one break Rating: 7/10
Andy Booth Went top of the scoring chart on 14 with his late equaliser and should have had a penalty when felled by Goodlad Rating: 8/10
Gary T-Fletcher Back for illness victim David Graham, he missed a clear first-half chance but otherwise linked the attack well Rating: 7/10
Spotlight on the ref:
Graham Laws had a very poor game, getting quite a number of decisions wrong to frustrate both teams. How he failed to give a penalty for keeper Mark Goodlad's trip on Andy Booth still remains a mystery - it was as clear as they come. Several corner and goalkick decisions were wrong, as were numerous free kicks
Port Vale: Goodlad; McGregor, Pilkington, Fortune, James; Cummins, Togwell (Lowndes 85), Dinning; Birchall, Smith, Constantine. Subs not used: Brain, Innes, Husbands, Walsh.