St Albans City’s push for a swift return to Conference South hangs by a thread after the Saints surge up the Southern League Premier Division table was slowed at Clarence Park on Saturday by Banbury United for whom a 1-1 draw strengthens their fight against relegation.
City, so dominant before the interval, failed to turn chances into goals and Banbury almost capitalised on their good fortunes to claim all three points with a couple of frantic scrambles inside the City goalmouth during added time.
St Albans went into game unbeaten in seven games whilst the Puritans had lost five on the spin and at half time there appeared little threat either side changing course from its recent run.
After Ricky Johnson had headed over for the visitors inside the opening 30 seconds St Albans took control and just a minute later United keeper Andy Kemp make a fine save to his left following a powerful Danny Hart drive.
Banbury gave occasional notice as to their threat with Howard Forinton, at the start of his third spell with the club, sending a volley over the crossbar after a rare poorly headed clearance by James Gray from a Joe Coleman free kick.
Playing no shortage of positive passing football City pressed forward confidently and from one flowing move, involving David Ijaha, James Comley and finally Danny Hart, leading goal scorer Sakho Bakare headed wide.
The play was interrupted on 18 minutes when Micah Hyde was ludicrously booked for taking a free kick before referee Darren Stobbart was ready. Mr Stobbart’s delaying of free kicks throughout the game caused several totally needless extended stoppages.
St Albans enjoyed plenty of success down the flanks but all too often crosses failed to reach their intended target and after beating the amply framed Liam Dolman repeatedly City winger Howard Newton tried something different and cut inside before seeing his low shot well saved by Kemp.
With a cleanly struck effort from 20 yards Bakare hit the base of Kemp’s right hand upright while the Frenchman then thrilled the sun-kissed crowd with a spectacular overhead kick from 18 yards that crashed against the crossbar.
But Bakare also proved wasteful when racing into the six yard to somehow scoop the ball over the bar from no more than three yards out following a low cross from the right by Hart.
Sandwiched between Bakare’s efforts the diminutive Simeon Williams forced Saints keeper Nick Jupp into making a couple of saves.
The second half began encouragingly for St Albans as Simon Martin exchanges passes with Bakare before slicing his shot comfortably wide.
Banbury also started with greater attacking intent and from a Coleman corner Josh Cole forced Jupp to dive to his right to save and following a sharp counter-attack Johnson sent a bouncing effort just beyond the far post.
Ten minutes after the restart City opted for a familiar swap with Sean Shields replacing Hart but the magic Shields produced in the Saints previous home game when helping to overturn a two-goal deficit against Oxford City, was not to be repeated.
But St Albans did have a good opportunity to breakthrough when Kemp misjudged a charge from his penalty area and was beaten to the ball by Bakare. Forced wide Bakare sent over a cross that was too high for Martin but Newton came in at the back post only to stab the ball wide with his second touch.
Jupp copied Kemp’s error on 60 minutes when misjudging a ball to the edge of the home penalty area and conceded a penalty by barging into the back of Forinton. Johnson despatched the spot kick low to Jupp’s left as the Puritans closed in on ending their losing sequence.
Martin put a snap shot over the top before City restored parity on 69 minutes.
Ijaha played a short pass to Bakare before continuing his run down the Saints right flank and from his low cross, which was cleverly stepped over by Martin, Newton swooped at the back post to fire to Kemp’s right for his first goal at the Park.
Gaps now began to appear at either end of the pitch with Kemp saving headers from Bakare and Martin.
Banbury went close to scoring a bizarre second goal when a Williams cross from wide on the right sailed over Jupp and struck the inside of the back post and Forinton’s follow up was blocked close to the goalline by Gray.
Watts, once again in good form down the City left, went close with a couple of efforts towards the Hatfield Road goal and Bakare, after taking a pass from Shields, shot against a stanchion before a late flurry by the visitors led to some frantic action in the City goalmouth before the final whistle sounded.
The draw, which extends City’s unbeaten run to eight games, leaves David Howell’s side seven points outside the play-off places with just six games remaining.
Anything other than victory for eighth placed Saints against sixth placed Stourbridge at Clarence Park on Tuesday (kick off 7.45pm) would virtually end the promotion challenge for this season.
Howell made two new signings on Saturday with Farnborough defender Richard Orlu and Aveley midfielder Sean Bonnet-Johnson both switching to Clarence Park.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, J.Comley, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, J.Gray, C.Ngakam, D.Hart (Se.Shields 55), M.Hyde, S.Bakare, S.Martin (C.Henry 88), H.Newton, subs; A.Lansiquot, N.Bernard, P.Furlong.
Booked: Hyde, Jupp.
Banbury United: A.Kemp, B.Thackeray, T.Kinch, L.Dolman, C.Chilton, J.Coleman, R.Howell, J.Cole, R.Johnson (J.Blake 56), H.Forinton, S.Williams, subs; B.Polk, D.Angus, L.Richardson.
Goals: 60 0-1 Johnson (p), 69 1-1 Newton.
Referee: Darren Stobbart (Bury St Edmunds).