The curtain closed on a bewildering season for St Albans City on Saturday with a satisfactory 1-1 draw against Alan Devonshire's Hampton & Richmond Borough who go into the coming weeks promotion play off matches in good spirits after overcoming the handicap of playing much of the second half with just men.
Seemingly relegation certainties just a few ago City ended the season with a run of just one defeat in eleven games.
That run coincides match-for-match with Paul Bastock's return to Clarence Park and the point was not lost on City supporters who voted the hugely influential Bostonian as the Saints Player of the Year for a second time.
As if to further justify the award after making only 11 appearances Bastock had one of his busiest afternoons since returning from Rushden & Diamonds and again demonstrated his ageless qualities with another faultless display.
Also catching the eye on a day when City's defence was frequently tested was James Fisher who responded to his first run out in the middle of the defence with a very accomplished performance.
City supporters were still congratulating each other on the teams successful battle for survival when the opening goal was planted into the back of the visitors net on four minutes.
As a St Albans attack appeared to be breaking down, Paul Hakim tackled Hampton left back Ryan Lake and drilled a low cross to Simon Martin who, from eight yards, swept home his fourth goal of the season. The goal was the highlight of a surprisingly open and entertaining first 45 minutes befitting the warm sunshine that encased the Victorian ground.
Luke Thurlbourne, switched to right back as City struggled to put out a recognisable side due to various injuries, won the first corner on nine minutes. Jonathan Hunt, who seldom wasted a ball all afternoon, curled the corner into the Hatfield Road goalmouth with the ball dropping to Akanni-Sunday Wasiu whose shot on the turn flew high out of the ground.
Having put six goals past Blue Square South champions Lewes in midweek Hampton were understandably confident in front of goal and were not afraid to shoot from distance. Elliott Godfrey, a one-time City trialist, had an early header saved by Bastock before sending wide an effort from long range.
Bastock did well to parry a fierce drive from Shaun McAuley from 25 yards and was up quickly to force Ian Hodges away from goal as the Beavers striker latched onto the loose ball seeking his 16th league goal of the season. St Albans hit back well with Ryan Frater, one of the outstanding players during City's recovery, heading just over from a Hunt corner.
Moments later a flowing move ended with Martin outstripping Marcello Fernandes down the City left and pulling the ball back to Clarke whose shot with his instep from the edge of the box flew wastefully over the target.
With the Goal of the Season trophy sparkling by the touchline, Thurlbourne made a late bid to secure it with a wonderful chip over a Beavers defenders inside the penalty area and then lashing the falling ball towards goal only for Matt Lovett to spectacularly punch the sphere to safety.
As the game moved towards the interval the play failed to live up to its enterprising start but Bastock had to be alert on 45 minutes when spreading himself well to block with his legs a low drive from Elliott.
Attacking the Hatfield Road goal after the break Hampton looked the side most likely to alter the score but Bastock was determined to extend his excellent record of 43 clean sheets in this his 136th game for the club. On 52 minutes Bastock saved in comfort from Hodges and the Hampton forward was also out of luck when appealing for a penalty following what appeared an innocuous challenge by the excellent Scott Cousins.
Less innocuous was a foul by Clarke, his third in the opening 12 minutes of the second period, on Barrie Matthews who responded with a shove into the back of Clarke. The City captain was shown his 14th yellow card of the season while Matthews received a straight red for raising his hands. Clarke was fortunate to stay on the pitch on 74 minutes following a rash challenge on Fernandes.
Thurlbourne, whom St Albans are hoping to secure on loan from Southend United again next season, almost blotted his copybook with a ludicrously attempted pass the width of the pitch that Elliott intercepted only to be quickly disposed by Fisher.
City's makeshift line up wilted in the closing stages and manager Steve Castle took the opportunity to give Blue Square South debuts to 19-year-olds Kwame Asamoah and Tegana James. Fellow 19-year-old Alex Olcot came on for his second league run out.
Having defended stoutly City will be disappointed to have conceded a soft equaliser twelve minutes from time. Beavers substitute Dean Wells placed a tremendous long throw into the centre of the Saints penalty area that for once neither Frater nor Fisher was able to reach. The ball fell perfectly for fellow substitute Lawrence Yaku to hammer home the equaliser from barely seven yards.
In the remaining time the visitors sought to plunder a second goal but during added time City almost snatched a fifth successive home victory. James, fed by Cousins, raced to the goalline and cut the ball back to Martin whose close range effort was blocked by the sprawling Lovett.
The keeper was less impressive in dealing with the ensuing corner, swung over by Hunt, as he fumbled the ball before it was scrambled to safety. City immediately regained possession with Cousins slipping the ball inside to Frater whose audacious shot with the outside of his right boot drifted not far wide of the keepers left hand upright.