One-time St Albans City goalkeeper Shane Gore and an inattentive assistant referee combined to finally snuff out the Saints late bid for the Southern League promotion play-offs during a highly entertaining 2-2 draw with Chesham United at The Meadow on Easter Monday.
Gore deflated the aims of his former club with a dramatic 81st minute penalty save from the enigmatic Sakho Bakare while Sebastian Podsadny failed to spot when a miscue by United defender Chris Watters crossed his own goalline before being cleared by two-goal Generals hero Simon Thomas.
After the match Gore confirmed he believed that the ball had crossed the line.
It was a cruel way for City’s dreams to be shattered but having had virtually no players at his disposal last summer Saints manager David Howell now has a side that, with just a few additions, looks certain to be challenging for the league championship in 12 months time.
St Albans showed two changes from the side that drew with Weymouth on Saturday with Moussa Diarra and Sean Shields making way for returning captain James Gray and winger Chris Henry.
Henry was under pressure to perform given Shields popularity on the terraces and the former Tonbridge Angels player responded with an excellent display.
City gave early notice of their intentions when Henry, receiving a pass from the impressive James Comley, cut in from the left and curled a fine effort just beyond the back post.
Playing down the slope with the wind and rain behind them seemed to be something of hindrance to the visitors with two of Nick Jupp’s early long kicks running straight through to his opposite number in the Chesham goal.
The most incisive move of the half saw the ever reliable Ryan Watts exchange passes with Henry before whipping over a cross from the left that Simon Martin stretched to head back across the goal and against Gore’s right hand upright.
St Albans continued to press forward with Paul Furlong sending a volley high over the top and Gore beating away a firm drive by the ever-threatening Howard Newton.
Chesham first called Jupp into serious action on 19 minutes with the City keeper saving low to his left from Steve Wales. There was a three minute delay before the taking of the resulting corner due to Mr Podsadny sustaining some damage to his flag and a replacement had to be sought.
United, second in the table, moved closer to extending their unbeaten run to a sixth match on 25 minutes through Simon Thomas’s 20th goal of the season.
Danny Talbot’s corner on the Chesham right appeared to strike team-mate Brad Watkins and fell kindly for Thomas to instinctively shoot right-footed into the roof of the net.
City ought to have drawn level six minutes from the interval when Gray rose well at the back post to meet a Newton corner and head the ball onto Cedric Ngakam who, from five yards out, headed tamely over the bar.
But Chesham could have established a commanding lead when, in the third minute of added time, Wadkins sent Thomas away and only a wonderful run and perfectly timed tackle by Watts denied the Generals leading goal scorer a clear path to goal.
Chesham started the second half brightly with only good work by Matt Cutchey, at the cost of a corner, stopping Wadkins from breaking through.
But City hit back powerfully and on 49 minutes Newton collected the ball just outside the home penalty area and drifted out from his right to left foot before, just as his standing leg slipped from under him, beating Gore with an angled drive.
It was the Guyana internationals fifth goal in just eight games for the Saints.
City had a narrow escape on the hour when a Wales corner clipped the head of Gray and looped just over Jupp’s goal.
Two minutes later Furlong, still looking rusty after his recent lay off, made way for Bakare.
Two successive City corners had Chesham on the back foot, from the second of which David Ijaha headed wide.
Next it was Chesham’s turn to apply sustained pressure and from a couple of free kicks and three corners Andy Leese’s side pressed for a second goal and it came on 75 minutes following an amazing goalmouth scramble.
Robert Bartley flicked the ball on from Bruce Wilson’s corner on the Generals right, Simon Martin blocked the ball, Jupp superbly blocked Chris Watters follow up, Bartley and Wadkins both tried to force the ball home before it flew up onto the crossbar and on its way down was knocked straight to Thomas who scored from a yard out.
And all of that happened inside the six yard box but City shrugged of this latest setback to equaliser on 77 minutes.
Bakare burst into the penalty area and with the aid of a deflection off the lunging Mark Lambert scored his 16th goal of the season past the deceived Gore to stretch the Saints unbeaten run to an 11th game.
Bakare was back in the thick of the action on 80 minutes when his cross was partially glanced away by Bartley but only to Newton who headed it back into the part of Martin only for the striker to have his shirt pulled by Bartley.
The Chesham defender was most fortunate to be shown just a yellow card and was further relieved when Bakare, after an excruciatingly long wait, saw his soft spot kick to Gore’s left easily pushed away by the keeper.
Still the drama was not over and on 87 minutes City were denied a possible winning goal when Newton’s cross was glanced on by Martin with Thomas also getting a touch before Watters inadvertently sent the ball towards his own goal and, as confirmed by the keeper, over the line before Thomas cleared.
That decision went against City with no goal being awarded and they had further reason to be miffed with the officials when Henry pushed the ball into the path of the free Shields who looked to be tripped from behind 20 yards from goal by John Kyriacou only for the City winger to be booked for diving.
Chesham United: S.Gore, J.Kyriacou, C.Watters, M.Lambert, R.Bartley, D.Talbot (B.Wilson 67), D.Fotheringham, S.Wales, B.Wadkins (L.Archer 82), Si.Thomas, J.Potton (Sc.Thomas 67), subs; A.Watson, A.Parker Booked: Bartley.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, M.Cutchey, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, J.Gray, C.Ngakam, H.Newton, J.Comley, P.Furlong (S.Bakare 62), S.Martin (Se.Shields 88), C.Henry, subs; D.Hart, N.Bernard, D.McGonigle.
Booked: Henry, Shields.
Goals: 1-0 25 Thomas, 1-1 49 Newton, 2-1 75 Thomas, 2-2 77 Bakare.
Referee: Adrian Piggott (High Wycombe).