TORQUAY United endured an agonising end to an ugly game of football that saw two points chucked away in painful fashion.
A bustling goal from Jordan Chapell on 72 minutes looked like securing a battling victory against struggling Alfreton but the visitors salvaged a draw with a terrific strike in the final seconds from substitute Andi Thanoj.
United boss Chris Hargreaves made just one enforced change from the side that drew at Bristol Rovers on New Year’s Day. Krystian Pearce came in for the suspended Angus MacDonald, opening a space on the bench for young defender Jake Hutchings.
Alfreton have enjoyed an extended rest due to postponements, and their manager Nicky Law indulged in two changes from the side narrowly beaten at Lincoln on Boxing Day. Jordan Keane and Cliff Byrne were replaced by Duane Courtney and Lee Stevenson.
The Reds also started with two former Gulls in Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and striker Karl Hawley, who scored twice for his new club in a win over United at North Street back in October.
A confident start from the visitors had the Gulls pegged back for the opening few minutes and Chapell was the man to relieve the mild pressure with a couple of dangerous crosses from the right flank.
In general, however, the opening exchanges were tepid, at best, as both sides struggled to find any real rhythm in their attacking work. From a tactical viewpoint, it was working perfectly for Alfreton, who had packed the midfield to limit United’s room in that crucial area.
The best Yellow outlet continued to be down the right wing and when Durrell Berry overlapped Chapell, his low cross was horribly sliced in the air by Luke Graham but beyond the waiting Ryan Bowman.
Chapell then picked up a loose ball from a half-cleared corner and attempted to steer a shot past Alfreton ‘keeper George Willis, but a wicked deflection took the effort marginally wide.
The game soon slipped back into a dour midfield scrap and the lack of any real ambition from the Reds was the major factor in a dismal opening half-hour, with the sprightly work from Chapell the only real positive in an attacking sense.
Alfreton finally conjured their first meaningful shot of the match and it was down to a clever run inside from right-winger John Johnston, who was a little unlucky to see his floated attempt sail just over. Hawley then tested Jordan Seabright with a low shot on the turn that the Yellow custodian comfortably held.
United responded with a welcome raise of their tempo and Toby Ajala was almost the man to profit, as he found space 25 yards from goal for a fizzing shot that only missed the top right corner by a whisker.
A trademark cross-field pass from Luke Young on 38 minutes again found Chapell in space and he forced his way past Rowe-Turner for a drilled cross that Graham did well to clear under heavy pressure from Duane Ofori-Acheampong at the near-post.
The second-half started with some welcome urgency and a lofted ball in the box was headed into the air by Duane Courtney, but the loose ball fell to Chapell for a wild shot sliced high into the Family Stand roof.
A determined run from Young conjured up the best chance of the game on 53 minutes, as Ofori-Acheampong helped the ball onto Ajala, who stepped inside before smashing a low shot toward goal and it was huge credit to Willis for standing tall to make a fine save.
United then made their first change, with Ofori-Acheampong trudging off to give Louis Briscoe an opportunity alongside Bowman in a change of attacking impetus from the Gulls. Alfreton’s first change was the removal of Dan Bradley for Thanoj.
The worrying reality around the hour-mark was increased confidence flowing through Alfreton ranks, as the side struggling near the bottom of the Conference table began to believe they had the credentials to cause an upset.
The Gulls released the tension with a hoof forward from Berry and Chapell suddenly had the freedom of TQ1, but Willis was quickly off his line and racing out of the penalty area to block the eventual attempted lob.
Courtney Richards replaced Ben Harding in the next Yellow change and he was soon celebrating with Chapell after the opening goal on 72 minutes. It was proper industrial stuff and perhaps harsh on Alfreton, but they will be distraught at the defending that led to the decisive moment.
Seabright launched a goal-kick into the grey sky and the visitors just stood and watched as Chapell nipped in behind Rowe-Turner to beat the onrushing Willis to the ball. The finish was a bit fortunate in the sense it came off his shins but well done to Chapell for showing the courage and anticipation to get there first.
United almost doubled their lead seconds later, as Ajala burst down the left wing before whipping over a low cross for Bowman, who was denied a certain goal by some tremendous recovery work from Graham.
Alfreton made their final two changes in the desperate bid for points but it was Hawley who breached the Yellow defence, and United needed an excellent clearance from the retreating Downes to rescue the situation.
Ashley Yeoman replaced Chapell for the closing minutes but Ajala was the man presented with a wonderful chance to seal the win, but his decision to ignore the unmarked Bowman waiting for a simple tap-in backfired when Willis saved the stabbed effort.
It would have flattered the Gulls to win by two goals but the ultimate punishment arrived with seconds on the clock, as Thanoj found space 20 yards from goal to curl home a brilliant equaliser.
United (4-4-2): 23 Jordan Seabright; 29 Durrell Berry, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Thomas Cruise; 12 Jordan Chapell, 8 Luke Young (capt), 6 Ben Harding (16 Courtney Richards 70), 10 Toby Ajala; 9 Ryan Bowman (14 Ashley Yeoman 86), 24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong (7 Louis Briscoe 57). Substitutes (not used): 1 Martin Rice (GK), 20 Jake Hutchings.
Booked: Young 90
Alfreton (4-5-1): 1 George Willis; 2 Bradley Wood, 5 Luke Graham (capt), 4 Duane Courtney, 3 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner; 27 John Johnston, 12 Thomas Shaw, 11 Anthony Howell (7 Nathan Hicks 83), 10 Dan Bradley (21 Andi Thanoj 62), 8 Lee Stevenson (17 Massiah McDonald 83); 23 Karl Hawley. Substitutes (not used): 14 Jake Sheridan, 15 Jordan Keane.
Booked: Courtney 42, Wood 44, Howell 79
Referee: Paul Rees
Attendance: 2,028 (57 away).