St Albans City picked up only a solitary point from their Christmas double-header with Hemel Hempstead Town, and played out a miserable start to 2018 with a 2-0 defeat at Vauxhall Road on New Year’s Day.

An entertaining 2-2 draw on Boxing Day was one for the neutrals as Sam Merson grabbed his fourth and fifth goals in six games with a brace, twice cancelling out Hemel’s lead in the first of the two games in the space of six days.

The Tudors were in command by the time left-back Joe Howe slotted in a loose ball to open the scoring, but they conjured up an equaliser from seemingly nowhere when Merson was played in by Tom Bender to curl the ball in.

As is often the case, the goal totally changed the momentum of the game, albeit not in terms of the scoreline - because Hemel soon restored their advantage with 10 minutes left when Spencer McCall finished off a slick one-two with Alex Osborn.

But Merson slotted in another leveller to rescue a deserved point for the hosts, although there was still time for the game to end on a sour note.

Zane Banton looked to regain possession with a reckless challenge after a heavy touch, and gave referee Josh Smith no choice but to issue a straight red card to the striker.

Because of the quick turnaround, he was fit to face the Tudors for a second time in the space of a week at Vauxhall Road on Tuesday, and had a fair impact on the game despite the Saints’ defeat.

St Albans keeper Dean Snedker tipped an early shot from Scott Shulton over, but the visitors shaded the early chances when Rhys Murrell-Williamson struck the post with eight minutes gone.

A lively start continued, and Harold Joseph had to clear a loose ball from on the line and keep the scores level.

After a brief respite, the chances began to flow again - and, finally, goals too.

Hemel perfected the route-one option as a long ball found David Moyo, and his first-time shot beat Snedker before caressing the post on its way in.

St Albans responded through a saved effort from Banton and another just wide from Merson.

The two linked up after half-time but couldn’t quite find the finishing touch, as Banton’s cross just evaded his in-form teammate.

Merson came closer yet with 10 minutes to go, directing a header goalwards from a corner, but had his head in his hands when it was cleared off the line.

And that miss became all the more costly when Hemel added a second goal shortly after that scare.

Jordan Parkes crossed, and Moyo was there to nod in and double his tally for the afternoon.

That measly return of a point from the two games with Hemel leaves the Saints outside the play-off places by one position and three points.

Ian Allinson’s side next host Chelmsford City, who are four points ahead of them and sitting fifth, on Saturday.