Gary Elphick is congratulated by Matt Hann after his late equaliser for the Saints
VIDEO St Albans City and Southport, the bottom two clubs in the Conference National, saw their winless runs extended to six and four games respectively at Clarence Park on Saturday and while City held the balance of play both could have claimed a victory that would have enhanced what can best be described as a slender hope of avoiding relegation. As with the earlier meeting at Haig Avenue the home side had to come from behind to salvage a draw but it is fairly certain that both would have gladly sacrificed that away point to gain a vital extra point with victory at home. Southport's first visit to Clarence Park kicks off a run of five home matches in seven games for the Saints, by the end of this spell our fate will almost certainly to be sealed, in fact the outcome could be known far sooner unless a winning formula can be struck very soon. Given what was at stake for both clubs maybe a more blood and thunder encounter had been anticipated but the generally genteel action on the pitch mirrored the pleasing sunny early spring day that was enjoyed by other uses of the Victorian park. By recent standards, this was almost an unchanged side as Colin Lippiatt made three changes to the XI who started at Morecambe the previous week. Just to keep matters equal Southport boss Peter Davenport also made three changes from his side that lost in midweek at home to Oxford United. It was the visitors, winners in just two of their previous 17 away Conference matches this season, who started the most positively of the two sides. Inside two minutes the Port won the first corner of the game but that it was to be another 88 minutes until their next one gives an indication, albeit exaggerated, of how much City enjoyed the greater balance of the play. St Albans won eight corners - the quality of which was an improvement on recent weeks - and the Saints also had more shots during the game than Southport but seldom did there seem to be a goal just around the corner. Maybe during the opening half, when City attacked the Hatfield Road end containing the 121 Southport supporters present, they were put off by a range of summer shirts worn by a number of the visitors fans that varied from the gaily coloured, gregarious and eye-catching to the downright headache-inducing. City's uncomfortable start continued when a low cross came into the box and Gary Elphick sliced the ball into the face of Patrick Ada who needed treatment before continuing. Having seen off Southport's early promise City gathered some momentum with positive attacks down either flanks. Excellent defensive work stopped Elphick and John Hastings from turning in a Matt Hann cross while a Chris Watters ball in from the opposite wing was put out for a corner by Stephen Rowland as Hann waited to pounce. Southport hit back with a good run by Liam Blakeman although his shot failed to trouble Paul Bastock. On 18 minutes City almost found a way through when Ada collected Dean Cracknell's short pass and lofted a good ball up to Hastings who controlled it well and turned Mark Birch only to be hauled down by the Port defender. That referee Dave Phillips did not see this as a cautionable offence suggested that he was in a hurry to get out later that evening and could not be doing with time consuming paperwork. From the free kick Ahmed Deen, who continues to impress with every passing game, saw his goalbound shot deflect off the wall and over for a corner. Sustained pressure is not a commodity in which City have excelled recently but Southport were stretched again when Watters retrieved a wide ball and played it in to Hastings whose shot on the turn was taken low down by the diving Paul Harrison. A good build up that saw Davis twice involved ended with Deen crossing from the left to Lee Clarke who chested the ball down and back-heeled it to Hann. The ball ran quickly onto Watters whose right-footed shot was saved once more by the sprawling Harrison. On 25 minutes the busy Port keeper was called into action again to deal with a soft effort from Clarke. Leading the Southport frontline was the experienced Dino Maamria who increased the Saints woes three weeks earlier when scoring the winner for Rushden & Diamonds upon our visit to Nene Park, and again on Saturday he was a constant threat although Elphick shaded the personal duel. Maamria fired over following a swift turn and had his audacious and forceful claim for a corner rejected, but he was back causing problems three minutes later when his low cross went between Elphick and Ada with Carl Baker quite wastefully sending his free shot in the general direction of York Road. Bottom of the pile Southport may be but nine sides have lost more times on their travels this season than the Lancashire club and City's chances of denting that record dipped on 35 minutes when Tony Gray, receiving the ball from Chris Holland wide on the Port left, arrowed an excellent ball cross the pitch to Blakeman who cut inside before placing a fine shot low across Bastock and into the far corner of the net for the opening goal. It was the 14th consecutive match in which City have conceded a goal but possibly more significantly it meant that for the 13th time in 14 games St Albans were chasing the game after being on the receiving end of the opening goal. Two minutes after that blow City were refused what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty when Hastings looped a header into the goalmouth from a Hann corner. As Watters waited for the ball to drop he was unceremoniously shoved two-handed in the back by Harrison but Mr Phillips, perhaps in training to become a Premiership manager, saw nothing untoward. City were just 45 minutes away from slumping to the foot of the table for the first time since early November and maybe attacking the end where they have scored the greater number of their goals this season, York Road, was the positive omen they were looking for. Within two minutes of the restart Davis, after his free kick was blocked, sent a volley screaming just wide of the target. A minute later Blakeman drilled a dangerous free kick into the goalmouth that Bastock did well to cling onto but was clattered into by Watters for his troubles. It is possible that Watters was not aware that the sides had changed ends having caught Harrison, innocuously it should be said, at the same end earlier in the day. City's break for freedom took a turn for the good on 56 minutes when a Hann corner was headed goalwards by Hastings. Watters, standing in front of Harrison, reacted well to not only control the ball but also turn swiftly and fire home from close range his first goal for the club in his eighth appearance. Salvation appeared to be at hand and it was also a tidy statistical moment as it was City's 100th goal in 50 home league matches under Lippiatt. Stung into action Southport hit back on the hour with a cleanly struck effort from skipper Mark Boyd that flew wide of Bastock's left hand upright but it came at a time when the Albanians were shaping up for a second goal. Cracknell played the ball out to Ada who fed Hastings down the City right on the cricket ground side of the stadium, his powerfully struck bouncing cross bamboozled Harrison who was relieved to see the ball go beyond the far post after clipping his fingertips. From Hann's corner the ball was knocked away as far as Cracknell whose shot, although well struck, was always going wide. Since the turn of the year St Albans have twice overturned a deficit away from home to collect all three points and the feeling was growing that the trick was about to be replicated at the Park. Davenport sought to quell City's growing confidence with the introduction of Mark Duffy for Baker, it proved an inspired move although City went close again on 66 minutes. Hastings ran menacingly at the Port defence before slipping the ball into the path of Hann whose firm cross was headed behind by Matt Hocking. Hann, making his 100th league appearance, took the corner himself with Elphick this time heading the ball onto Watters but his hopes for a repeat of his earlier effort were dashed as Harrison blocked the shot. After spending a prolonged period defending Southport could be excused for thinking that this as to be their day as Duffy, on 69 minutes, ran at Deen and, with no tackle being forthcoming, shot through the defenders legs with the ball going across Bastock and inside his right hand upright. The sight of so many garish shirts bouncing up and down in celebration on the Hatfield Road terrace did not sit easy on unprotected eyes. The game, to all intents and purposes, looked to be over with that second Southport goal. Now they attacked positively and confidently. The ball was going to feet and City looked to be heading out of the Conference but during this spell the Port failed to add a deciding third goal and, in fact, until added time did not really look capable of so doing. There was still at least one more twist to the saga and for once, late in the day, it went City's way. On eight previous occasions this season City have lost points to goals conceded inside the final seven minutes, now, for the first time, they were about to salvage a point with a goal seven minutes from time - excluding six minutes of added time. The goal was soft and certainly controversial, all the ingredients one needs really at the climax for such a crucial encounter. City won a free kick 22 yards out, Deen chipped the ball towards the back post and some ten yards from goal. Leon Archer, barely a minute after replacing Watters, seemed to be nudged in the back as he went for a header, whether he got his head to the ball or not is immaterial but it was certainly not a clean contact and the ball, according to Southport defenders, was knocked goalwards by the strikers hand. Even so, the little white ball was virtually sitting at Harrison's feet waiting for the keeper to pick it up, instead he astounded everybody by waiting for a whistle that never blew and Elphick was rewarded for one more wholehearted performance by poking the ball between the keepers legs for his first Conference National goal. Southport complained, Harrison placed his head in his hands, but it made little difference as the goal stood and both sides were now on course to fritter away two points. Southport may not agree, but that goal was just what the game needed for in the remaining minutes both sides, at last, went all out to claim the extra two points. Twice Bastock thwarted Maamria while Gray was denied virtually on the goalline by the combined presence of Elphick and Ada and as Southport rued their bad luck City broke way at speed and looked certain to clinch a sensational victory when Archer slid a perfect ball alongside Clarke that the St Albans captain scuffed, left footed not only across the keeper but also, painfully, beyond his left hand post.