The fate of this season’s Red Insure Cup remains firmly in the balance after promotion rivals Corby Town and Poole Town drew 1-1 in the first leg at Steel Park.
Greg Mills’ long-range effort cancelled out Richard Gillespie’s early opener for the visitors.
And, from there, it proved to be a case of both sides matching each other punch-for-punch.
At the end, there could be few arguments at the final scoreline. Despite plenty of endeavour, defences were firmly on top to ensure it will start all square when the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division’s top two do it all again on the south coast on Tuesday, March 31.
Tommy Wright made two changes to his starting line-up following the 2-1 victory over Banbury United at the weekend.
Brad-Lee Gascoigne was ruled out with a broken nose he suffered on Saturday and was replaced by Herve-Pepe N’Goma while Wilson Carvalho was also restored to the side at the expense of Elliott Chamberlain who dropped to the bench.
Ben Milnes and Edi Appleton, who have both been struggling with injuries in recent weeks, were also among the substitutes.
Poole, meanwhile, made changes to the team that started their league game at Dunstable on Saturday with the most notable absentee being influential midfielder Steve Devlin.
The Steelmen started nervously and were punished inside the first five minutes when Poole took the lead.
Michael Walker, the tallest player on the pitch, was allowed a free header from a Mason Walsh corner and it fell to Gillespie who finished things off from close-range.
Corby took a while to settle after that and Paul Walker got down well to save Luke Burbidge’s shot at his near post.
But the Steelmen finally grew into the game and, after Claudiu Hoban had tested Ryan Thorpe from long-range, a moment of quality brought them level.
Mills took things into his own hands as he let fly from 20 yards and a slight deflection ensured Thorpe had no chance.
Things were pretty even after that, although the Steelmen tried to force the issue.
Hoban tried his luck with another effort from distance, which Thorpe held.
But the Poole goalkeeper had to be at his best on the stroke of half-time when Stephan Morley’s free-kick caught the visiting defence out and N’Goma’s shot was well saved.
Spencer Weir-Daley also lobbed on to the roof of the net before the break but chances proved to be hard to come by in the second half.
There was plenty of endeavour, especially from the Steelmen, but Poole’s defence, which has been the foundation to their title challenge, dealt with everything that was thrown at them for the most part.
There was a nervous moment for the hosts when Paul Walker spilled Charlie Davis’s shot after a neat build-up but the Corby stopper recovered well to smother the ball.
At the other end, it was a tale of frustration. The Steelmen enjoyed plenty of possession but struggled to find a way through while Poole also took as much time as they could over every set-piece, something that didn’t sit well with the home faithful.
Yet it was the visitors who created the better opportunities late on as substitute Tom Whelan fluffed his lines from a good position before Davis curled a free-kick just wide of the target.
Home substitute Chamberlain dragged an effort wide in stoppage-time but that was as close as the Steelmen came during the second period.
And so, it’s evenly poised. It’s hard to pick a winner for when they meet again in just under two weeks.
Steelmen: P Walker; Thomas, N’Goma, Anton, Morley; Byrne, Taylor; Mills, Hoban (sub Chamberlain, 78 mins), Carvalho (sub Milnes, 70 mins); Weir-Daley. Subs not used: Kennedy, Donkin, Appleton.
Poole: Thorpe; Lindsay, M Walker, Whisken, Spetch (sub Dickson, 45 mins); Burbidge, Lowes, Davis, Walsh (sub Whelan, 76 mins); Gillespie (sub Quigley, 65 mins), Roberts. Subs not used: Yates.
Referee: Jake Hillier.
Goals: Gillespie (5 mins, 0-1), Mills (16 mins, 1-1).
Bookings: Hoban (foul).