THERE was an element of disappointment Town didn’t take all three points from this breathless and hard-fought trans-Pennine derby.
But the one accrued was still accompanied by plenty of encouragement for the tests which lie ahead for Stan Ternent’s side.
They produced their best League I performance so far to do what no other side has managed – prevent leaders Oldham Athletic from winning at Boundary Park.
It was achieved with a bright and aggressive all-round display, and a 4-3-3 formation which tested the hosts to the full.
Town were on top in the first half, taking a 29th-minute lead through Ian Craney, and even after Oldham drew level through Andy Liddell in the 49th minute, stuck to their guns.
Ternent often talks about shapes and balances, and for the most part, Town kept theirs and could easily have claimed victory.
They had two penalty appeals turned down, one when Liam Dickinson tumbled under a Reuben Hazell challenge and the other when the loan striker had his shirt pulled by Dutch defender Stefan Stam.
And Gary Roberts had a great chance when freed by Craney as Town counter-attacked in the 56th minute, only to shoot too high.
Veteran goalkeeper Mark Crossley also saved from Craney and Michael Flynn as Town showed a willingness to shoot whenever possible.
In fact Ternent’s team, with Roberts and Phil Jevons taking the wide berths and Jon Worthington the anchor midfield role, came close just 17 seconds into the contest.
Worthington and frontman Dickinson linked neatly to set up Craney, who was shaping to shoot when Latics skipper Mark Allott slid in with a crucial block tackle.
Craney’s runs from central midfield, where he was partnered by Flynn, were a feature of Town’s first-half play.
The ex-Accrington man shot too high after Roberts flicked on a Jim Goodwin throw in the sixth minute, and couldn’t quite connect with Roberts’ teasing ball across the face of goal in the 10th.
But he made no mistake after a Dickinson shot was blocked by Stam, beating Crossley with a sharply-dispatched right-foot shot.
The lead might well have been doubled in the 35th minute, when Craney latched onto another Dickinson flick, but this time Crossley got a palm to the ball, pushing it wide for a corner.
With centre-backs Nathan Clarke and Andy Butler looking very solid, Oldham’s best first-half effort fell to left-back Kelvin Lomax, who drove into the side-netting in the ninth minute.
Allott, fellow central midfielder Danny Whitaker and striker Lee Hughes all fired off target while winger Chris Taylor, the home side’s six-goal top scorer, failed to get any power to a 28th-minute shot on the turn which Matt Glennon saved.
Little was seen of ex-Barnsley and Blackpool wideman Liddell in the opening period, but he had home fans on their feet with the equaliser.
Goodwin fouled Taylor to give away a free-kick 25 yards out, and as the wall fragmented following a touch between Liddell and Allott, the ball was sent into Glennon’s right-hand corner.
Oldham stepped on the gas in search of a victory to mark John Sheridan’s 100th league game at the helm, but Town, to their credit, matched them.
It was pretty frantic at times, with left-back Joe Skarz blocking a fierce Liddell shot, Butler and Worthington combining to thwart Hughes, Glennon saving from the former West Brom frontman and substitute Chris O’Grady curling a shot right across the front of Glennon’s goal.
There was also a tense moment when Worthington caught Allott late, with Town’s skipper for the day relieved when the card produced by referee Kevin Friend was yellow not red.
It would have been a big shame had a sending off taken some of the gloss off Town’s battling display.