St Albans City slipped to a third consecutive Southern League defeat in the most dramatic fashion on Saturday as St Neots Town goalkeeper Jack Giddens saved an injury time penalty and moments later substitute Kyle Asante plundered, with the aid of a handball, the only goal of an error strewn encounter at Clarence Park.
A poor game seemed destined to end goalless until, in the third minute of added time, City winger Chris Henry launched one last assault on the St Neots goal.
Henry got the better of Ryan Auger only to then be tripped by the St Neots right-back, referee Jason Richardson immediately pointed to the spot.
Excruciatingly lengthy time-wasting tactics by the Town keeper Jack Giddens and midfielder Jay Davies maybe unsettled City skipper James Comley as his delayed kick went tamely to Giddens right for the custodian to save in relative comfort.
Having squandered a clear match-winning opportunity City then committed football suicide with shocking defending as the Blues stole victory four minutes into added time.
Joe Bruce and new signing Darren Locke – who had a more than decent debut – struggled to clear their lines with the ball going wide to Auger who neatly got past former Town player Layne Eadie.
Auger’s cross was headed high by Bruce but then headed back into the goalmouth by St Neots winger Lewis Hilliard.
Locke went towards the ball but thinking he had heard keeper Nick Jupp shout for it he then stood off. Asante moved in quickly and after controlling the ball with his right hand fired the deciding goal through Jupp’s legs from point blank range.
The handball was probably unintentional, but with their only on-target shot of the afternoon it helped to decide the destiny of the three points.
St Albans made four changes from the side thrashed in midweek by Gosport Borough and to a degree the latest changes received a positive response.
Playing down the slope towards the Hatfield Road goal City had far the better of the opening half and had sufficient possession, if not clear chances, to have led by the interval.
But it was St Neots, fresh from a 6-1 midweek win over Hemel Hempstead, who had the first couple of attempts on goal. Dubi Ogbonna scuffed a shot wide before the clear Hilliard was smartly tackled by Ryan Wharton who was in for Chris Seeby at right back.
City’s best route to goal looked to be aerial as Giddens looked far from secure in dealing with anything off the ground. Twice the Town keeper was beaten to crosses by Greg Ngoyi.
From the first cross, by Josh Urquhart, Ngoyi just beat Giddens to the ball but as the ball landed it spun away from the goal and Gavin Hoyte walked it to safety.
On 19 minutes the visitor’s goal survived a flurry of activity and miss-kicks.
James Kaloczi sent David Keenleyside scampering down the right flank and from his cross to beyond the back post Urquhart miscued but with his second attempt found Ngoyi.
From his glancing header the ball came back to the incoming Keenleyside whose volley ought to have been caught by Giddens but he was beaten to it by Ngoyi. With a deft touch the striker teed up Kaloczi whose firm drive was blocked and St Neots finally cleared their lines.
As City continued to press forward Keenleyside headed over from a Comley corner and a minute later Ngoyi spooned a Keenleyside cross into the air for Giddens to catch when a goal beckoned.
Just prior to the interval Hilliard wasted a good chance when a quick free kick was played into him and he fired wide when well placed.
But it was Giddens dislike of crosses that almost handed City an interval lead as he flapped at Comley’s in-swinging corner and looked on with relief as it bounced wide of the back post.
The second half saw a transformation in fortunes with St Neots bossing the play but, like St Albans, found clear chances difficult to come by.
Up until the flurry of excitement in added time the second half was an exercise in how to waste an afternoon with neither side able to string a run of passes together, make good use of free kicks or generally appear capable of securing victory.
A rare moment of excitement saw Simon Martin, playing his first game for a month, just beaten to Comley’s angled through ball when Giddens dashed swiftly from his line.
Henry collected his fifth booking of the season when diving inside the penalty area whereas Ngoyi was most unfortunate to win just a free kick outside the penalty area when he had been clearly impeded inside it by former City trialist Ed Adjei.
But most of the activity was at the other end of the pitch although mostly outside the penalty area.
Asante headed wide from a Dan Jacob corner and Ben Mackey, following a short pass from Hilliard, turned sharply and hammered the ball just over the City goal.
A goalless draw was all that this game deserved but then along came a finale that was captivating and in total contrast to the previous 90 minutes. At least it gave a crowd that has been in good voice plenty to chew over as the two sets of Saints supporters made their way home.