POLICE 1-1 DOUGLAS AND DISTRICT By Paul Hatton
BOTH teams left the pitch feeling they could have secured maximum points from this Groves Road derby.
Douglas and District thought they had pulled off the perfect smash-and-grab raid after taking the lead through James McIlhagga's opportunist strike in the 68th minute.
However, the Police equalised through new signing Chris Coxon and believed they should have won after dominating most of the match.
There were two different styles of football on show. The Police's game was technically superior to their opponents' — patient, inventive and building from the back with passes to feet. However, they lacked a sense of urgency when it mattered.
Douglas and District's game was built on the excellent goalkeeping of James Smith and a resolute back four of Daniel Foster, Peter Kirkham, Ian Oldrieve and Nigel Hart.
From this solid foundation they sought to hit their opponents on the counter-attack during a display that will give manager Andrew Paul and his players a lot of confidence.
The Police dominated the majority of the first half, with Tom Williams testing Smith and Steve Gardner showing predatory instincts — losing his marker only to head narrowly wide.
Gardner was the focal point of the Police attack and was denied by a goalline clearance from Andrew Thorpe following a corner.
Thorpe was called into action again moments later, making another decisive intervention to preserve the stalemate.
On this occasion he headed the ball away after Tristan Ringham's inswinging corner had deceived Smith.
Douglas and District created their first real opportunity after 22 minutes when captain Richard Brant released Christian Vaccorone who steered his shot wide.
Police continued to press. Neil Cain, a recent acquisition from DHSOB, tried an ambitious overhead kick from the edge of the box, while Gardner saw a powerful effort hit the crossbar.
Despite being under the cosh for long spells, D and D could have taken the lead before half-time.
The pacy McIlhagga raced clear and showed good balance to round Police's fifth-choice goalkeeper Mark Lilleyman. However, his goalbound effort was denied by Ringham's clearance.
Police continued in the same fashion after the interval and Lee Christian went close on two occasions with efforts that forced saves from Smith.
Substitute Neil Moore almost scored with his first touch, cutting in from the right before guiding a diagonal shot across goal and just beyond the post.
While the Police continued to enjoy the upper hand, it was Douglas and District who took the lead after 68 minutes.
The constabulary side's defence dwelt too long on a short goal-kick and Brant seized on the hesitancy to tee up McIlhagga.
With Lilleyman already committed, the D and D marksman rolled the ball into an empty net.
Frustration started to creep into the Police's game, with a nervous back-line nearly caught out through too many stray passes.
But they pressed forward in search of an equaliser and Smith had to produce another sharp save to thwart Coxon after good approach play from Moore.
D and D had an opportunity to kill the game off when Richard Hart's header set up McIlhagga who curled his effort just wide.
Police's stand-in manager Phil Drowley opted for a 3-5-2 formation in the closing stages in a bid to salvage something from this match.
And the team's efforts were rewarded with an equaliser in the 89th minute.
Damien O'Toole — who had caused all sorts of problems with his huge throw-ins — launched the ball into the mixer and Gardner provided a flick-on for the lurking Coxon.
His effort lacked conviction, but while Smith got his hand to the ball he could not prevent it from crossing the line.