WIDNES Vikings produced arguably their best performance of the season as they held Salford City Reds to a thrilling 16-16 draw at the Willows on Friday night.

Having only dropped out of Super League last season, Salford are hot favourites to land the Co-Operative National League One crown this term.

Widnes certainly went to the Willows as clear underdogs but a wonderfully spirited performance saw them maintain their unbeaten record and move away from the foot of the league table.

The Vikings looked the more inventive side in the early stages of the match and will probably feel they should have taken advantage of some excellent attacking football.

Clean breaks by second row Danny Hill and stand-off Lee Paterson cut deep into the heart of the Salford defence but the killer pass proved elusive on both occassions.

It was 20 minutes before the deadlock was broken and it deservedly came Widnes's way.

Tommy Gallagher took the ball forward purposefully from close range and found a superb offload which sent prop Jim Gannon surging over at the posts with Tim Hartley converting.

Salford hit back on 28 minutes when second row Andrew Brocklehurst forced his way over before Hartley and City Reds winger Andy Ballard swapped penalties to leave the Vikings with an 8-6 interval lead.

The home side came out in determined mood for the second half and began to exert some territorial dominance.

The towering bombs of stand-off Stefan Ratchford began to ask questions of the Vikings defence to which they clearly did not have all the answers.

Pressure told when swift ball movement across the line saw Ballard squeeze in at the corner to give Salford the lead.

On 56 minutes they increased it when loose forward Jordan Turner powered through from 20 metres on the first tackle from a scrum.

At 16-8, it looked like Widnes might capitulate but Steve McCormack's men steeled themselves and roared on by a vociferous travelling contingent produced a stirring comeback.

Hill crashed through the home defence from close quarters on 65 minutes to bring Widnes back within four points of their hosts though Hartley surprisingly missed with the extras.

Salford seemed to be tiring as the Vikings began to turn the screw.

Wiith nine minutes remaining left winger Gavin Dodd leapt high to catch a Mark Smith bomb to the corner and planted the ball down to stun the home support.

Hartley pulled his touchline conversion attempt about a foot wide of the posts but the game was now in the balance at 16-all.

Salford had a couple of attempts at kicking the winning drop-goal without really scaring the posts and a last-gasp, long range effort from Bob Beswick for Widnes never quite got off the ground.

When the final hooter sounded, the spectators had been thoroughly entertained but the Vikings followers were probably the more satisfied as they set off on their short journey home.

Widnes: Yates; Flynn, Hardman, Hartley (2g), Dodd (1t); Paterson, Duffy; Morrison, Smith, Gannon (1t), Hill (1t), Gallagher, Beswick. Subs: Grady, Ostick, Donoghue, Kavanagh.