Teenage substitute Tremayne Charles was the toast of St Albans City on Boxing Day when his 94th minute equaliser salvaged a Southern League point for the Saints from a drenched and absorbing Premier Division encounter with Hemel Hempstead Town at Vauxhall Road.
Charles’s dramatic late equaliser was the least City deserved against the league leaders and but for an outstanding display by Tudors keeper Sam Beagle the visitors would have secured a merited fifth consecutive victory.
City, despite missing their two most creative players in Richard Graham (illness) and Sean Shields (injured), generally had the better of a thrilling match played under solid grey skies and increasingly heavy rain but Dean Brennan’s side are not top for no reason and once ahead bossed much of the second half until the Saints pulled one last sucker punch.
Goalmouth activity came thick and fast with the Tudors, through Jordan Parkes, striking the Saints crossbar inside four minutes. Playing up the slope into a strong breeze City responded with Chris Henry firing wide.
Henry was a handful for the home defence to contend with throughout but a tendency to drift offside ended some promising attacks prematurely.
Henry did, though, link well with Layne Eadie down the City left and ended one such combination with a low ball into the home goalmouth that was blocked close to the goal line by Joe Bruce who then also blocked Greg Ngoyi’s follow up.
As City got into their stride former Tudor Lewis Toomey, set up by James Comley, shot low to Beagle’s right with the Hemel custodian just managing to palm away for a corner.
Toomey then stabbed an effort narrowly wide following another Henry cross while a wonderful tackle by Moussa Diarra denied Victor Osobu when a goal beckoned.
Making light of the heavy conditions City continued to push forward impressively with Eadie sending Henry away once more and this time Toomey deftly guided his shot towards the centre of the goal but again the excellent Beagle made a point blank save.
Toomey looked to have broken through the middle of the home backline on 26 minutes only to be hauled back by Kyle Anthony who was possibly fortunate to escape with just a yellow card.
The ensuing free kick was blocked but the rebound was collected by David Ijaha whose shot from 20 yards was smothered by the diving Beagle.
The Hemel keeper continued to be top dog just after the half hour when leaping to his right to save from Diarra following Eadie’s ball into the box.
Hemel remained on the back foot as Eadie and Comley combined to free Toomey whose low cross was destined to be turned in by Ngoyi until Parsons slid in with a crucial tackle and clearance.
Young Matt Taylor continued his run of solid performances and, on 41 minutes, fed Comley whose through ball sent Toomey away. The City striker’s shot was saved by Beagle with Ngoyi tucking home the loose ball only for the most marginal of offside decisions to go against Toomey and curtail the celebrations.
Hemel had not been without goal scoring opportunities but it was mostly half chances although Ryan O’Toole was only a hairsbreadth away from turning in a cross by Osobu.
As the teams came out for the second half the ferocity of the rain stepped up a notch but City took it in their stride and were quickly reaffirming their superiority.
A superbly timed tackle by Parsons denied the goalbound Henry while Beagle did well to beat out a fierce drive by Ijaha.
But just when a City goal looked to be on the cards Hemel opened the scoring with an unusual goal on 58 minutes.
Osobu slipped on the sodden surface as he fell to collect a wide ball but by keeping his body close to the ball stopped Chris Seeby from gaining possession.
Once back on his feet Osubo twisted inside Seeby and evaded Comley’s slide tackle before pushing the ball into the six-yard box where Parkes cleverly clipped the ball left-footed across Jupp for his ninth goal of the season.
Hemel’s lead was held almost briefly as Beagle, otherwise flawless, fumbled a corner with Curtis Ujah lunging forward to hammer the falling ball into the face of the crossbar.
After that let-off Hemel took control for much of the remaining time and the prospect of St Albans defeating the Tudors in a league match for the ninth consecutive time began to wane.
Hemel ought to have extended their lead when Jupp punched away a corner but only as far as Anthony who wastefully shot over.
The City keeper then had to dive full length to his left to thwart a header by Hemel skipper Steve O’Leary and followed that with a save from Campana.
St Albans still threatened on the counter-attack with Ngoyi stabbing the ball wide after good approach play by Toomey and substitute David Keenleyside.
Hemel, though, were almost gifted a second goal on 86 minutes when Jupp let a free kick slip through his fingers but the City keeper redeemed himself before the ball could trickle into the goal.
And moments later the Tudors went even closer when a near post header deflected off the head of Osobu to the edge of the penalty area to Dave Pearce whose angled drive took a slight deflection off Seeby before being cleared on the goal line by the excellent Eadie.
Four minutes into added time the full significance of that clearance became apparent as City broke away to grab a sensational equaliser courtesy of a player that had only been on the pitch for five minutes.
Diarra launched a desperate long ball that Charles – last season’s top scorer in the Allied Counties Youth League - brought down with the outside of his left foot before shooting under Beagle with a cleanly struck drive.
Less than a minute later and referee Matt Foley, who was in as good form as the players, called an end to the drama.
The fitness of the two teams was remarkable given the strength sapping conditions underfoot and driving rain in their faces and for providing such rich entertainment both sides deserve great credit.