St Albans City boss David Howell admits their early season form has cost them their chance of reaching the Southern Premier play-offs.
The Saints’ hopes of promotion were ended after a 2-2 draw at Chesham United on Monday. Howell's side also squandered a two-goal lead at Clarence Park on Saturday as they were held 2-2 by Weymouth.
Their form in their second half of the campaign, which has featured an 11-game unbeaten run, has been up there with the best in the division but the Saints paid the price for a slow start to the campaign.
Howell said: “I thought we really could [ reach the play-offs] because even in the first part of the season there were still signs we had some good players and we did produce some memorable moments. Our cup form wasn't the best but we just lost too many points and gave away too many silly goals.
“We’ve got another home game which we’d like to do well for the fans and put on a show. The supporters came in numbers here and outsung Chesham comfortably. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride but the supporters have stuck with us through thick and thin and I hope they enjoyed it and it's unfortunate we haven't got enough points to be in the top-five.”
Second-placed Chesham took the lead through Simon Thomas but Howard Newton equalised for the visitors shortly after the restart. Chesham regained their advantage through Thomas but Sakho Bakare came off the bench to net his 16th goal of the season.
The striker had the chance to win it for the Saints but his soft penalty kick was easily saved by former St Albans goalkeeper Shane Gore.
There was still time for a controversial moment in the 87th minute when home defender Chris Watters inadvertantly took the ball behind his own goalline but it was not given.
Howell said: “We had the ball over the line, we had Sean Shields with just the keeper to beat and he gets clipped from behind and was yellow carded when the defender should have got red carded. We had a late penalty and Sakho overconfidently struck it to the keeper’s left who made a comfortable save. It was there for us and we just really didn’t take our chances.
“I spoke with Sakho and just felt his attitude should have been to just bury that and get the three points. But he wanted to put a little bit of cherry on the cake and strolled up and tried to out psyche the keeper.
“I know their keeper and he said the ball was over the line and also that Sean Shields was fouled from behind. I spoke to the referee. He said there was no contact and I don’t know where he was standing to say there was no contact. Everyone in the ground could see there was contact. It was just ridiculous for Sean to go down there with just the keeper to beat because he would have scored. It’s ridiculous.”
The Saints threw away a winning position against Weymouth at the weekend after they conceded twice in the last eight minutes. Newton's stunning effort gave them the lead and Sean Shields doubled the advantage before their late disappointment.
Howell added: “When we went 2-0 up at Weymouth I think we missed the leadership of Micah Hyde in midfield and Jimmy Gray at the back. I think if we had just one of those players you would probably have seen us wrap up the three points. But the team is learning and coming together and we're in a much better place now than when I took over.”
l There is a St Albans City team and supporters coach going to Cirencester Town for the away game this Saturday. The coach will depart at 10.45am from the Clarence Park entrance to the ground. Since the coach has only a limited number of seats available, anyone going should book as early as possible. To book a seat call Ian Rogers on 07714 145862 or Barry Hilliard on 07831 85904. The cost is £19 for adults and £11 for juniors.
The club will be holding an end-of-season fans' forum in the Saints Bar on Thursday, April 19 at 7.30pm.
Chairman Ian Ridley will be available to answer any questions on the club in the first half of the evening an Howell will join in after first-team training for the second half. The forum will be an opportunity for fans to hear the analysis of this first year of new club ownership and plans for next season, on and off the pitch.