FC Halifax Town’s play-off hopes are looking slim after they were held to a 1-1 draw at Lincoln City.
Fifth-placed Forest Green emphatic win at Chester means the gap is now six points, meaning Halifax will probably have to win all their remaining games to stand a chance of overtaking them.
Neil Aspin’s side will look back on the game with a mix of pride and frustration as they outplayed their hosts and created a glut of chances, but somehow Lois Maynard’s last-gasp equaliser was the only time they got past an inspired Paul Farman in the Lincoln goal.
Ultimately, it looks like draws will have cost Town in their pursuit of the play-offs, but the visitors couldn’t have done much more here.
Halifax came into the game as the league’s fourth-lowest scorers away from home but created enough chances to change that record.
A point was the least they deserved, but points may not mean prizes at the business end of the season.
Despite the feeling at full-time of a chance missed against 10-man Macclesfield, Town actually gained ground an hour or so later thanks to Aldershot’s superb and unexpected win at Forest Green.
It’s that time of the season where one eye and one ear are keeping tabs on events elsewhere, and with Forest Green and Eastleigh establishing leads at Chester and Welling, Town fell behind.
Disappointingly from Town’s perspective, it came straight from a Tom Miller long-throw which Bencherif, who was sent-off in the reverse fixture at The Shay, headed past Matt Glennon for only their second goal in open-play in six home games.
The Shaymen had started well before that, with Jack Muldoon’s shot rounding off a flowing move that saw he and Scott Boden link-up well before Scott McManus’ low cross.
The hard-working Muldoon then cleared more hurdles than Colin Jackson during a superb 80-yard run from box-to-box but the on-rushing Paul Farman saved his low shot.
Just as Forest Green added a second at Chester, Lincoln threatened to do the same when Miller and Jordan burrow both went close with headers, one blocked by Glennon and the other by Marc Roberts.
And that was about as good as it got in the opening half for the hosts, whose recent form had displayed all the inconsistencies you’d expect of a team submerged in mid-table, with away wins over Braintree and Dover contrasted with home defeats to Forest Green and Welling.
Muldoon then squandered a clear chance to bring Town level after a good spell of pressure when Farman spilled a shot by Will Hatfield, making his first start for two months, but the Town striker skied the rebound from four yards.
Hatfield, one of two changes along with Lois Maynard, looked lively in midfield and provided a link to the front-two of Muldoon and Boden, who were causing Lincoln problems when given the chance.
James Bolton was next to go close after more good work by Muldoon to set-up Boden, whose shot fell to Bolton before his low effort squirmed just wide.
There had been a few niggly challenges in a similar vein to the Macclesfield game, with Lois Maynard and Jordan Keane clashing in a crunching tackle as well as Muldoon and Miller.
But Miller launched into a full-blooded tackle on Maynard right in-front of the Town fans just before half-time which left the away fans baying for a red, but Dean Treleaven only showed a yellow.
By half-time, the gap to fifth-place was seven points with Forest Green and Woking both winning, meaning a second-half comeback looked imperative.
But there had been enough first-half evidence to suggest it was possible.
Town continued to offer the greater threat after the restart, with Boden’s shot blocked after a Roberts long-throw fell to him inside the area.
Lincoln had Alan Power, Kieran Wallace and Jordan Cranston all booked within 15 minutes of the break with the hosts second-best.
With Forest Green 4-1 up at Chester, Neil Aspin and Lee Nogan waved their players on, with the gap showing no signs of staying at four points unless Halifax did something about it.
Lincoln were offering nothing going forward, but Town’s chances seemed to have dried up too until Roberts leapt magnificently to meet Hatfield’s corner but his header was cleared off the line before substitute Jamie Jackson fired the rebound across goal and wide.
The hosts then should have sealed it but Power blazed over from a spookily similar position Muldoon had done in the first-half after Jon Nolan’s deflected shot left the Lincoln skipper with half the goal to aim at.
Bencherif then went close to his second with an acrobatic effort that flashed past the post.
Great footwork by Maynard then created a chance for Muldoon but he blazed his shot high over the bar.
Time was fast running out.
Sub Danny Hattersley then prodded towards goal but Farman again produced a good save.
But Maynard capped a tremendous individual performance with a long-range shot that crashed into the top-corner with the aid of a deflection.
That opened the floodgates to a dramatic four minutes of added time that saw Glennon produce a superb tip over the bar while Matt Pearson volleyed into the side-netting.
Jordan Cranston became the third Lincoln player to see red in four games against Town for a second-booking when he pulled back Muldoon but time did run out before Halifax could take advantage.
Lincoln: Farman, Caprice, Miller, Bencherif, Cranston, Keane, Everington (Nolan 65), Wallace, Power, Tomlinson (Sam-Yorke 90), Burrow. Subs not used: Diagne, Simmons, Grant.
Scorer: Bencherif (12)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 3
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton (Jackson 60), M Roberts, Hutchison, Williams, McManus, Maynard, Pearson, Hatfield, Muldoon, Boden (Hattersley 71). Subs not used: Senior, K Roberts, Schofield.
Scorer: Maynard (90)
Shots on target: 8
Shots off target: 11
Town man of the match: Lois Maynard