St Albans City successfully protected their unbeaten away record in National League South at a chilly Blunts Wall Road on Saturday, but the 2-2 draw with a Billericay Town side consisting of five debutants from the Essex club’s Under-23 side will very much be considered as two points lost back in Hertfordshire.

City goalkeeper Michael Johnson took the blame for Billericay’s late, freak, equaliser but it was the lack of penetration against an inexperience backline at the opposite of the pitch that ultimately cost City precious ground in the race for the title in this most disjointed of seasons.

City had just seven shots against Kevin Watson’s youngsters who were good value for their one-goal lead at the interval. St Albans bossed much of the play after the break and, once ahead, the points looked to be theirs.

‘Ricay, though, deserve full credit for staying in contention and not surrendering against their loftily perched guests.

Two days before the game, Billericay announced they would not be playing any of their contracted players until such time as funding is forthcoming from whatever source. To avoid sanctions from the National League, the officials of which have handled the whole matter quite abysmally, the club agreed to fulfil their remaining fixtures in the most cost-effective manner possible.

The Saints welcomed back skipper Tom Bender for his first game since mid-December following a lay-off due to a dislocated shoulder. In the Blues line-up was former Saint Darren Foxley whose performance for Bishop’s Stortford earlier in the season led to City’s exit from the FA Cup.

This was City’s first visit to New Lodge since the club had a 3G pitch installed. The surfaced played well and true as drizzle swept across the ground after the interval.

Even so, it took a long time for the game to come alive and it was clear that it was not going to be the walkover that some had predicted.

It took a full 27 minutes before a mildly serious threat was made on either goal and it came when Bender’s cross from the City left was allowed to drop by Town debutant Henry Lukombo. But Ricky Shakes, standing behind the defender, misjudged the bounce and the chance was lost.

Jake Nickless replied by firing high over the top for the hosts but it sparked a good spell for Watson’s boys. Foxley, fed by Rowan Liburd, shot narrowly wide before testing Johnson with another effort from 25 yards.

On 36 minutes Billericay crowned their good spell with a goal aided by some shambolic City defending.

Munashe Sundire challenged for a header and, as the ball dropped, Foxley lifted a hopeful pass over the top of the City defence. As James Kaloczi tried, unsuccessfully, to block the run of Liburd, the Town skipper put pressure on Johnson as he darted out to deal with Joy Mukena’s weak headed back pass. Liburd got just enough of a toe onto the ball to lift it over the advancing Johnson before stroking it into the unguarded net.

Four minutes later and Shaun Jeffers replicated Shakes’ miss and completely fluffed a chance from close in following a cross from the right by Sundire.

A cross-shot by Nwabuokei, comfortably gathered by Harry Palmer, two minutes from the break proved to be City’s only on-target effort of the half.

St Albans' performance after the interval was a marked improvement on the opening 45 minutes but for all of the possession that Ian Allinson’s side enjoyed, Billericay never looked likely to be overrun during an increasingly nippy afternoon.

Palmer, though, was soon called upon to make his first serious save of the afternoon when stretching high to his right to tip over a fine effort from Sundire.

City’s delivery from set pieces was quite dreadful all afternoon but they got lucky on 59 minutes when Bender’s driven free-kick thudded into Town defender Stratford and fell kindly for Jeffers to fire in the equaliser from ten yards.

Seven minutes later and City looked to be on the path to victory. Palmer failed to reach a good, deep, corner by the otherwise disappointing Zane Banton. Bender did get a touch to the ball and Kaloczi headed it into the goalmouth where Nwabuokei, from virtually on the goalline, stooped to head in his third goal of the season.

For a while the game increased significantly in tempo and became quite frantic. Again, to the credit of Billericay’s youngsters, they did not wilt and on 87 minutes they stunned the sparce gathering by plucking a second goal out of nothing.

Lukombo clipped a hopeful ball down the Town left. As Michael Clark called, in vain, for offside, substitute Gabriel Ipanga Mbambo sized possession and headed towards the goalline. Clark darted back and appeared to have blocked the threat but the striker jinked to his left and, from just a yard inside the penalty area, lifted a cross from the tightest of angles over Johnson at the near post and looked on in disbelief as much as anyone else, as the ball dropped inside the far post.

St Albans had two chances to snatch victory in the dying embers of the game. The first saw Nwabuokei dither and lose the ball inside the six-yard box and the second, a diving header by Kaloczi, was cleanly caught by Palmer.

Billericay Town: H.Palmer, G.Wind, M.Stratford (J.Drake 84), C.Ferguson, H.Lukombo, D.Oduntan, R.Soares, J.Nickless, D.Foxley, C.Liburd, T.Olusana (G.Ipanga-Mbambo 67). Subs not used: N.Mesuria, L.Dunwell, M.Hughes.

St Albans City: M.Johnson, T.Bender (L.Warner-Eley 88), K.Wiltshire, J.Kaloczi, M.Clark, S.Nwabuokei, S.Jeffers, R.Shakes, Z.Banton (R.Akinola 80), M.Sundire, J.Mukena. Subs not used: D.Diedhiou, D.Noble, M.Weiss.