The Lions registered a late 25-all draw against the Cheetahs in their Currie Cup clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Johannnesburg-based side struggled for most of the match but two tries by Jacobie Adriaanse and Michael Killian in the dying moments gave them an undeserving draw.
With the score at 25-11 to the hosts, Adriaanse barged over from close quarters in the 76th minute and from the kick-off Killian rounded off after replacement flanker Warren Whiteley launched a counter-attack.
A crucial factor which swung the match in the Lions' favour was when Cheetahs replacement scrum-half Tewis de Bruyn was given a yellow card inside his team's quarter in the 74th minute.
From the resulting penalty, the Lions took a tap penalty and after flanker Michael Rhodes was stopped short of the line by four Cheetahs defenders Adriaanse got in for his try.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies landed the extras before Whiteley set Killian up for his touchdwon shortly afterwards.
Jantjies also succeeded with that conversion to leave the Cheetahs wondering how they failed to win an encounter which they dominated for large periods.
Free State fly-half Johan Goosen scored the first points of the match after five minutes when he slotted a penalty after the Lions were penalsied for infringing at a ruck.
Two minutes later the visitors struck back when veteran flanker Cobus Grobbelaar rounded off a move in the left-hand corner of the field.
Grobbelaar crossed over after receiving a pass from Deon Van Rensburg, who did well to keep the ball alive close to the touchline despite the attentions of Cameron Jacobs who tried to tackle him into touch.
That was the Lions' only points of the half although they had other opportunities to narrow the gap.
Jantjies, who is usually a reliable goalkicker, failed with the conversion and two penalty attempts later in the half.
Goosen kept his team in the lead with three further penalties as well as a well taken drop goal which gave the Cheetahs a deserved 15-5 lead at half-time.
They could have led by a bigger margin when shortly before the break, scrum-half Piet van Zyl rounded off a superb team effort which started well inside the Cheetahs half. However, the television match official ruled that Van Zyl had a foot in touch when he went over the tryline.
The Cheetahs suffered a setback when shortly after the restart, Goosen was stretchered off the field after an accidental clash of heads with Lions full-back Jaco Taute.
This did not deter the Cheetahs and Van Zyl was eventually rewarded for a fine display, when he crossed over in the 51st minute after selling his opposite number Michael Bondesio a neat dummy close to the tryline.
Jantjies landed two penalties to close the gap which proved handy as it allowed for his team's heroics towards the end.
Try: Van Zyl
Con: S Ebersohn
Pens: Goosen 4, S Ebersohn
Drop goal: Goosen
Yellow card: De Bruyn (74th minute)
Tries: Grobbelaar, Adriaanse, Killian
Cons: Jantjies 2
Pens: Jantjies 2
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Philip Snyman, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Andries Strauss.
Golden Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Doppies la Grange, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Burton Francis, 21 James Kamana, 22 Dylan des Fountain.
Referee: Marius Jonker