A dramatic penalty equaliser by the former Southampton and Reading star Craig Maskell just seconds from the end of extra time at a bone chilling Clarence Park on Wednesday night denied St Albans City a guaranteed place in the last four of the Ryman League Cup.
After a disjointed display during the normal 90 minutes the Saints looked to have booked their fourth appearance in the semi-finals when a brace of goals from former French international Amara Simba carried John Kendall's side into a two goal lead at the start of the second half of extra time. But Hampton, enjoying their best ever season in the Ryman League, fought back superbly to maintain their impressive record of scoring at least three times in every round of the League Cup this season.
Such a dramatic finale hardly appeared likely during the opening half as both sides conceded possession with monotonous regularity and goal chances were at a premium. Indeed when the Saints took the lead on 25 minutes it was with a high quality goal which belied all that had gone before. A Hampton attack broke down near the edge of the Saints penalty area, Simba played the ball up to the halfway line where the debut making Colchester United trainee Sean Hillier took possession and ran at the visitors defence. When reaching the edge of the box the teenager neatly stepped inside one challenge before unleashing a fine left-footed effort which comfortably beat Hampton custodian Matt Hodson low to his left.
The rest of the half passed with little incident to rouse a small gathering on the terraces but just nine minutes after the restart City keeper Richard Hurst had to move swiftly to block a shot from Leroy Griffiths. A minute later Hodson did likewise from Spencer Knight who had been put in by Danny Davis, that save took on greater significance in the 64th minute when Maskell pounced on a cut back from Gary Holloway to drill home the first Beavers equaliser.
Inside the next five minutes Griffiths, with a header, and Maskell, with a deflection, both went close to putting Hampton on the path to their victory at the park for 19 years before City hit back with Simba pulling a fine diving save out of Hodson. Hurst, though, was soon back in action as Maskell sent Holloway through the middle but his goalbound effort was expertly pushed over the bar by the City keeper.
City looked to be going out of the competition three minutes from time when Matt Flitter got on the end of a Holloway cross only to see his point blank header brilliantly blocked by Hurst. Hodson was less impressive in injury time when he allowed a shot from debutante Neville Roach to squirm through his arms but just wide of the target, and, as the seconds ticked away, the keeper meekly clawed away a Knight corner as far as Mark Rooney whose goalbound shot was deflected wide by Maskell.
The Saints regained the lead four minutes into extra time with an unusual goal. Simba was poised to shoot from a good position when he was called back due to the Hampton defender Nick Burton collecting an injury. Once Burton was repaired David Pratt stepped in for the drop-ball and helped it onto Simba who tried his luck from 25 yards and must have been somewhat surprised to see his relatively gentle effort beat Hodson via the inside of the woodwork.
And two minutes into the second period of extra time the Saints moved into a seemingly unassailable two goal lead. Pratt did well to get over a deep cross from the left which Roach collected and laid off to Hillier whose precise header was carefully headed by the incoming Simba over the exposed Hodson for his ninth goal in 11 games for the Saints.
Two minutes later 39 year-old Simba departed for a well earned rest but his good work was soon to wiped out. In the 112th minute defender Tony Houghton beat Hurst with an angled drive to claim his first goal since joining Hampton from Dulwich and only a fortunate deflection denied fellow defender Burton an equaliser on 118 minutes.
City escaped that time but with 30 seconds of extra time remaining Hurst put the only blemish on an otherwise fine display of goalkeeping as he brought down Maskell on the edge of the penalty area. After Hurst became the fifth St Albans player to find his way into the notebook of fussy referee Andy Wilkins, Maskell - who scored a hat-trick of penalties in a league match earlier this season - picked himself up before sending Hurst the wrong way to secure his 21st goal of the season.
Report by Dave Tavener