In the first league meeting between the sides, Sam Nicholson’s first-half goal looked to have separated the two teams in Greater Manchester. A late goal for 9-man Salford frustrated Rovers into taking just one point from a game they dominated.
Nicholson converted calmly following an excellent and alert assist from Sam Finley, scoring his second goal in as many games. Thomas-Asante scored five minutes into the 11 minutes of stoppage time, converting a low finish beyond Belshaw to ensure the points were shared.
Rovers made three changes ahead of kick-off at the Peninsula Stadium.
Glenn Whelan, Aaron Collins and Nick Anderton returned to the Rovers starting line-up – with Harry Anderson and Alfie Kilgour missing out and Sion Spence dropping to the bench after his first league start on the weekend.
It was the home side that recorded the first opening of the game, which came inside the opening five minutes. A lobbed ball over the top ran into the bath of Thomas-Asante, who managed to sneak in behind the Rovers backline before firing a low finish across goal and wide of the target.
Rovers matched Salford’s bright, early start. Both Sam Finley and Aaron Collins saw efforts blocked, as Barton’s side made an encouraging start to the contest.
Rovers made their lively start count, by grabbing the game’s first goal in the 14th minute. A loose pass inside the Rovers half from the hosts was intercepted by Finley, who was quick to spot Nicholson free down the left. The inch-perfect ball by the midfielder was controlled by Nicholson, who kept his cool after breaking into the area to place a low finish beyond Ripley in the Salford goal.
In the period that followed the opening goal, Rovers managed play and limited the opportunities for the home side, with Belshaw untested in the Gas goal.
Aaron Collins had two opportunities in quick succession to add a second goal for Rovers. The first chance saw him industriously work a route into the Salford area, before hitting a fierce shot from a tight angle that Ripley blocked with his body. The later chance saw him exert his skill out wide, cutting in from the left and hitting a low effort that the Salford ‘keeper tipped wide with a fingertip stop.
Further chances followed as Nick Anderton’s powerful front post header from a corner climbed just over the target. Shortly after, a tricky set-piece from Evans was spilt by Ripley, who recovered to pounce on the loose ball ahead of a number of onrushing Rovers players.
The home side were reduced to 10 men in the latter stages of the first half. Matty Willock’s challenge in the middle of the park of Sam Finley was deemed reckless, with referee Ben Toner not hesitating to produce a straight red card.
Rovers preserved their leading heading into the break and looked good value of their advantage at the interval.
As the second half began, Joey Barton’s side continued in a similar fashion to their impressive first-half display. A mesmerising run by Antony Evans saw the playmaker stride past a number of Salford players before his effort from the edge of the area was plucked away by Ripley. The rebound fell into the path of Finley, who forced the ‘keeper into making a further save down low.
An injury to Belshaw on the hour mark caused concern from the Rovers bench, as the ‘keeper was caught by Tom Elliot after rushing out to clear the danger of a long-ball forward. After a delay for treatment, the bandaged Belshaw was able to continue.
As the game continued, Rovers maintained threats on the Salford goal. Sam Nicholson dragged a low effort narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area, which caused excitement in the packed away end as it bobbled wide of the upright.
Brett Pitman was introduced with fifteen minutes remaining, the first Rovers change of the evening.
The final ten minutes saw Rovers test Ripley once more, as Nick Anderton’s close-range header sparked a scramble in the six-yard area that ‘keeper was able to scoop clear. Substitute Luke Thomas had an opening to add the security of a second goal, after being played in by Finley, but directed his attempt wide when going one-on-one with Ripley.
Salford were reduced to nine men when Hunter made contact with the face of Josh Grant, with the referee once again brandishing a straight red card.
With 11 minutes of stoppage time, the play was halted as a fan in the Rovers end was attended to by the medical staff of both sides.
Salford found a late equaliser in what was a rare venture into the Rovers penalty area. Brandon Thomas-Asante sprinted forward, holding up both Taylor and Harries and with a swift change of direction, wrong-footed Belshaw with a low finish.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, as Pitman found the net with a close-range header and span away in jubilation towards the away end, only for the celebrations to be halted by the linesman’s flag.
Rovers travel to Forest Green Rovers this coming Saturday (3pm KO).
Salford City: Connor Ripley, Donald Lowe, Ibou Touray, Jason Lowe, Ash Eastham ©, Tyreik Wright (45′ Tom Elliot), Josh Morris, (66′ Ash Hunter)Matty Willock, Jordan Turnbull, Liam Shepard, Brandon Thomas-Asante,
Subs: Zach Jeacock, Ash Hunter, Aramide Oteh, Andy Smith, Marcus Dackers, Theo Vassell.
Rovers: James Belshaw, Josh Grant, Sam Finley, Aaron Collins (75′ Brett Pitman), Sam Nicholson (83′ Luke Thomas), Paul Coutts ©, Nick Anderton, Connor Taylor, Antony Evans, Cian Harries, Glenn Whelan.
Subs: Jed Ward, Zain Westbrooke, Ryan Jones, Pablo Martinez, Sion Spence
Referee: Ben Toner
Attendance: 1,740 (692 away)