GRIMSBY Town let a two-goal lead slip as Chester came back to claim a share of the spoils at the Deva Stadium.
The Mariners looked to be on their way to a fifth consecutive league win when goals from Ollie Palmer and Jon-Paul Pittman either side of half-time put them in control.
But after the visitors changed formation in an attempt to hold onto their lead, Chester instead found a way back into the game when defender Ben Heneghan pulled one goal back and then substitute John Rooney equalised from the penalty spot.
Town kept the same side that won at Woking last week, with Lenell John-Lewis ruled out with a foot injury after he had been expected to come back into the team.
That meant it was James McKeown in goal, with Carl Magnay, Toto Nsiala, Shaun Pearson and Gregor Robertson across the defence.
Jack Mackreth started on the right side of midfield, with Craig Disley and Craig Clay again forming the central partnership and Nathan Arnold continuing on the left.
With John-Lewis out, the strike duo of Palmer and Pittman remained in place, while the substitutes were Paul Bignot, Scott Brown, Ross Hannah, Christian Jolley and Daniel Parslow.
An early free kick for the Mariners led to the first corner of the game on three minutes, which saw Pearson have a header blocked before the ball was worked back for Mackreth to have a shot that deflected through to keeper Jon Worsnop.
At the other end, McKeown appeared to have lost the ball after a cross from Matty Hughes but recovered to gather it at the second attempt as the hosts launched their first real attack.
Disley hit Worsnop with a half-volley from a narrow angle as the fast start to the game continued.
An opportunity for Chester came when Nsiala gave the ball away on 10 minutes and the hosts broke, with George Thomson crossing for Bradford loanee Oliver McBurnie, who went down under a challenge from Robertson but the referee waved play on.
A Town corner soon afterwards caused no problems for the home defence and a Mackreth cross from the visitors’ next attack eluded the head of Palmer.
A cross from left-back Ibou Touray at the other end was caught by McKeown, before Grimsby’s best chance so far saw Palmer play a ball with the outside of his foot for Arnold, who volleyed wide of the target.
Another volley, this time from Pearson, was blocked as the Mariners continued to look for the opening goal.
The Mansfield loanee did the rest, lifting the ball over Worsnop and into the net. And that breakthrough came on 22 minutes, when Arnold broke into the box and after the ball came back to him from a blocked shot, he played it to Pittman, who in turn found PALMER.
The hosts responded with a cross that flicked off the head of Nsiala but the ball went through to McKeown, who gathered it.
A chipped ball into the box by Kingsley James looked to have created an opening for the hosts but Hughes could not capitalise and the Grimsby lead remained intact at the half-hour.
A break looked to be on when Clay lost possession in midfield soon afterwards but the former Chesterfield man got back well to win the ball back.
Thomson was forced off with an ankle injury on 35 minutes, meaning home boss Steve Burr had to make his first substitution and he opted to send Craig Mahon on.
James was caught offside when he looked to get onto a ball from Brad Abbott as Chester attacked in search of a leveller before half-time.
Pittman had a chance to double the Town lead when his pace saw him beat defender Michael Kay but the striker could not beat Worsnop, who got a hand to his shot and sent the ball out for a corner.
Town were pushing for a second goal and an opportunity to get it looked to be on its way when Disley made a forward run but Palmer delayed in passing the ball and when he did look to play it to the skipper, it was blocked.
Arnold had a shot blocked as the game moved into two minutes of added time at the end of the first half.
And that proved to be the last opportunity before the break, meaning the Mariners held their one-goal advantage as the teams went into the dressing rooms.
It eventually led to Pittman turning and shooting into the side-netting after good work by Palmer. The second half started with Town getting an early free kick for a foul on Palmer by Ben Heneghan.
At the other end, a Chester free kick was headed clear by Disley and the home side then had a spell of pressure as the open nature of the game continued.
Abbott beat the Town offside trap to race through and shoot wide for the hosts, who were starting to create more danger going forward, with Mahon to the fore.
Arnold had a shot blocked for Town on 59 minutes, before a cross from Kane Richards for Chester was cleared by Magnay, who got to the ball ahead of McBurnie to head it away.
Pearson again got to the ball first and this time, the referee’s whistle blew for a free kick in favour of the defender. Robertson conceded a corner on the hour and that eventually led to another one when Pearson headed behind.
Robertson and Arnold combined down the left to earn a Grimsby corner three minutes later and Pittman almost got a boot to the ball after Nsiala had headed it but instead, it came off the post and was cleared.
That proved to be the start of a more positive spell for the Mariners, who were now keeping possession and doing more attacking after their hosts had made most of the running after half-time.
Arnold’s initial shot was blocked and a second attempt from the winger was pushed onto the post by Worsnop but PITTMAN was there to put the rebound into the net and give Town a two-goal cushion. And that spell led to what looked like it would be a crucial second goal for the visitors on 67 minutes.
Richards was replaced by John Rooney after the goal and McKeown was called into action soon afterwards to tip away a deflected shot from Mahon as Chester looked to hit back and keep themselves in the game.
Town boss Paul Hurst made his first substitution on 72 minutes, swapping Palmer for Parslow and changing the formation slightly as the sub took up a position in front of the back four in a bid to hold their lead.
The ball was crossed from the right and HENEGHAN applied the finish, shooting past McKeown. Kay was spoken to by the referee after a foul on Mackreth and shortly afterwards, the hosts were back in the game as they pulled a goal back.
The game had now taken on a different complexion with 15 minutes to go, as Chester began to push forward in search of what had seemed an unlikely point.
Chester retained possession though and kept up the pressure on the Town defence. A free kick from Rooney was headed away by Robertson and Touray’s return ball was also cleared, this time by Disley.
ROONEY stepped up to send McKeown the wrong way and make it 2-2. And the home side were given their ticket back to level terms when Hughes went down under a challenge from Robertson inside the Town box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
It could have got worse for Grimsby when Touray flashed an effort just wide of McKeown’s goal on 85 minutes.
Jolley’s first touch let him down though, allowing keeper Worsnop to come out and make the block. Jolley replaced Arnold with five minutes to go and the former Newport man had a chance to rescue all three points when he was found by a ball from Arnold.
Clay had a shot blocked, then an effort from Robertson had the same result and McKeown had to race off his line at the other end to keep McBurnie out.
Three added minutes were signalled by the fourth official and another Chester substitution saw Craig Hobson replace Abbott.
The hosts were still pushing for a winner and they nearly had it when Nsiala lost possession on the edge of his own box but Rooney’s shot was blocked.
Seconds later, Town could have won it when an attempted clearance from Kay hit Jolley but bounced just wide of Worsnop’s goal.
That proved to be the last chance for either side to snatch all three points as the game ended level.
Town are next in action when they face fellow play-off contenders Eastleigh in a big game at Blundell Park on Saturday.