As the clock counted down at the Merseyrail Community Stadium and full-time approached, Southport must have thought they were closing in on a result to kick-start their season.
Despite playing two-thirds of this game at a numerical disadvantage, the Sandgrounders had given an excellent account of themselves having needed to regroup following the dismissal of Billy Priestley.
If anything, it was the home team who appeared the most likely to carve out a winning goal as the second half went on, applying good pressure and creating clear chances against a Stockport County team regarded as one of the favourites for promotion from the Vanarama National League North.
In the circumstances, even a point would have been a good reward for their considerable efforts, so for Southport to concede with only five minutes to go was a huge source of disappointment.
Things have not gone the Sandgrounders’ way during the opening week of the new campaign but there was more than enough here to suggest that it will not be long before they start to climb the table.
It was Stockport substitute Connor Dimaio who delivered the sucker punch, latching onto a cut-back from Sam Minihan after the visitors broke down the right before sweeping home a low shot from inside the area.
Dimaio was part of a double substitution made by Stockport early in the second half, and that in itself was a reflection of how well the home team had defended, as Stockport tried and struggled to take advantage of their extra player.
The dismissal of Priestley divided opinion, as referee Matt Corlett deemed his foul on Frank Mulhearn worthy of a straight red card.
The busy Mulhean was on his way towards the Southport area when Priestley slid in and, although the decision seemed harsh, manager Liam Watson acknowledged that his defender had given the referee a decision to make by committing himself in such a way.
As the Sandgrounders reshuffled their team, Dean Winnard was introduced as a substitute for his first appearance and he led a sterling defensive effort that looked to have earned at least a share of the spoils.
Quick into their stride, Stockport’s best period of the game was right at the start.
Jordan Richards was grateful to goalkeeper Dan Hanford for preventing an own goal in the fifth minute and the visitors proceeded to cause problems of their own.
Hanford showed his agility again with a magnificent save at full stretch to turn over a powerful long-range from Mulhearn, while Darren Stevenson, having touched over a right-wing cross from Minihan, later shot into the side-netting having jinked his way past David Morgan as he entered the area.
Southport’s best effort of the first half also came early, Morgan drawing a good low save from goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe with a 20-yard drive after encouraging approach work.
After a strong start from the visitors, the Sandgrounders settled down and, at the time of Priestley’s dismissal in the 34th minute, the game was even.
Despite playing with a man less, the home team held their own for the remainder of the half before starting purposefully after the break.
Stockport manager Jim Gannon looked to his bench to make changes, yet territorially, Southport had the better of the second period and as the half want on they could have found a winner of their own.
After exchanging a short free-kick with Elliot Osborne, Richards was inches away with a curling 25-yard shot, while Josh Langley, peeling away at the far post, directed a header wide from a Stefan Mueller corner, only for Stockport to strike late.
Southport (4-4-2): Hanford, Richards, Langley, Priestley, Mueller, Lowe (Winnard 37), Morgan, Osborne, Lynch, Gilchrist (Phenix 66), Sampson.
Subs not used: Charles, Parry, Green.
Stockport County (4-3-3): Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Smalley, Cowan, Turnbull (Dimaio 55), Keane, Walker, Warburton (Bell 55), Mulhearn (Mantack 88), Stephenson.
Subs not used: Downing, Ormson.
Goal: Dimaio 85
Referee: Matt Corlett
Report by Alan Jones