TEN MAN Wrexham were just minutes away from recording a battling victory against Newport County.
Forced to play nearly 40 minutes with a numerical disadvantage after left-back Neil Ashton was sent off, Wrexham fought hard and gave everything they had to preserve their lead at The Newport Stadium.
Andy Morrell had put Wrexham ahead in the first half, scoring his third of the season and 100th league goal of his career and although they had dealt with everything Newport threw at them in the second period, the Reds finally conceded an 89th minute equaliser.
It would have been a deserved win for Wrexham in the first league meeting between the sides since 1988.
And a victory would have seen Newport suffer a first home defeat since they were beaten by Bath City in March 2009 - 24 games ago.
Wrexham endured a few anxious moments as Newport made a lively start to the contest, although they were unable to make the most of one excellent opening that fell to leading scorer Craig Reid.
But after coming more into the game, Wrexham took the lead through Morrell after 23 minutes and there was only one side in the first half following that goal.
Well on top, Wrexham were all over Newport who lost their way as the Reds kept pressing for a second goal.
County were given a boost when they were awarded a penalty at the start of the second half but Reid struck the bar.
It left Wrexham playing nearly 40 minutes with ten-men and they needed to dig in to preserve their lead.
Newport struggled to raise the tempo as the half wore on before Wrexham keeper Scott Shearer made a couple of outstanding saves to prevent the home side from equalising.
Resolute defending kept Newport at bay, although Wrexham could have done with a second goal to kill the game off.
However, Newport came up with an 89th minute equaliser which was harsh on Wrexham who had produced a battling performance.
It means Wrexham have been unable to register back to back wins since they beat Altrincham and Mansfield at the end of January/start of February.
Wrexham are now four games unbeaten but they do trail current leaders AFC Wimbledon by seven points ahead of this weekend's clash against York City at The Racecourse.
Saunders had named an unchanged side for just the second time this season, but centre-back Marvin Andrews, passed fit after limping off with a calf strain in the victory against Bath City, pulled up in the warm-up.
His place in the side was taken by experienced defender Frank Sinclair who was returning after missing the previous three matches because of a groin problem.
Right-back Declan Walker took over from Sinclair on the substitutes bench alongside striker Andy Mangan who had recovered from an ankle injury that ruled him out of his first competitive match at Bath since joining Wrexham in January.
Both teams took time to settle in the wet conditions as passes went astray and defences were on top in the early exchanges.
County winger Kerry Morgan got the better of Curtis Obeng far too easily in the ninth minute after he was picked out by Charlie Henry but the Reds defender recovered to put the ball behind for a corner.
With County continuing to press, unmarked Reid screwed his shot wide from eight yards with just keeper Scott Shearer to beat after the ball was ricocheted into his path following a scramble in the area.
Wrexham were given a huge let-off in the 21st minute when Shearer's clearance from Sinclair's backpass was charged down by Morgan but the ball finished wide of the post to the relief of the keeper who had taken far too long to kick.
County had enjoyed more of the possession but it was Wrexham who took a 23rd minute lead with their first scoring opportunity of the game.
Nat Knight-Percival won a header and after County failed to clear the danger, the ball fell for Morrell whose shot from inside area deflected past keeper Glyn Thompson.
Morrell was immediately presented with another chance but he was quickly closed down by keeper Thompson.
County had made a bright start but they hadn't threatened after going behind as Wrexham dominated the midfield battles and kept pouring forward in attempt to build on their lead.
Dean Keates' 39th minute free-kick was well saved by Thompson who had handled outside the area after fumbling a cross, and Christian Smith fired wide after he was fed by Jay Harris.
The second half was only two minutes old when Newport were awarded a penalty.
Knight-Percival lost possession and Morgan, who was allowed to run unchallenged past a static Wrexham back-line, was brought down in the area as he shaped to shoot by Neil Ashton who was shown a straight red card.
It was Newport's fifth penalty of the season but Reid, who had converted the previous four spot-kicks, struck the bar and Sinclair headed the loose ball out for a corner.
With Wrexham reduced to ten-men and needing to grind out a result, Knight-Percival switched to the left-back position but Newport failed to step up a gear and were hardly making the most of their numerical advantage as frustrations grew among the home supporters.
Wrexham defended valiantly in a bid to hold on to their lead and Shearer pulled off an excellent save to get down and turn Eddie Odhiambo's low drive behind for a corner.
Mangan replaced Morrell one minute later but Shearer again came to the rescue to tip substitute Sam Foley's spectacular 20-yard volley over the bar, and the Reds' keeper also saved Gary Warren's header.
Shearer also denied Reid before Wrexham, needing a second goal to make the game safe, countered with Mangan delivering a low 83rd minute cross from the by-line to the back post for Kevin Gall who fired into the sidenetting.
But Newport managed to score an equaliser just one minute from time.
Chris Blackburn failed to cut out a long ball forward which fell for unmarked substitute Darryl Knights who slotted past Shearer.
Neither side could find a winner as the Welsh derby ended in a draw.