St Albans City were some way below their best at a windy Camrose on Saturday but late goals by Sam Corcoran and Ben Martin preserved the Saints unbeaten record under caretaker-manager Harry Wheeler by salvaging a 2-2 draw from the National League Southâ€™s bottom side Basingstoke Town.
Sam Corcoran scores.
After a timid first half showing City gave a greatly improved display after the break but could have had few complaints had Basingstoke handed new manager Michael Gilkes his first league victory since replacing Jason Bristow.
Saints â€˜keeper Joe Welch made a couple of outstanding saves to deny the struggling Hampshire outfit while a thunderous drive by Corcoran and a trademark header by Ben Martin extended Cityâ€™s undefeated run at the Camrose to a fifth game stretching back seven years.
The Saints made one change from the midweek win over Maidenhead United with James Comley returning from suspension in place of Jack Green.
With the teams immediately above them picking up points in recent weeks, Basingstoke needed to beat St Albans to drag the Saints back into relegation trouble, and in taking an eighth minute league the Dragons laid the foundation to do just that.
Having already gone close with Chris Flood heading over from a Rowan Vine cross, Basingstoke took the lead when Flood threaded a ball through the City defence to send Jamie Brown away.
Brown, by the goalline inside the City penalty area, slid an innocuous looking ball low towards Welchâ€™s near right hand upright. Welch and skipper Lee Chappell indulged in an embarrassing mix up and allowed the ball to roll through to Vine and the well-travelled debut-making former Gosport striker made no mistake from three yards.
City created few chances to pull level before the interval although on 20 minutes Jernade Meade, who complained that he had been pulled back, just failed to get on the end of a Billy Gibson corner.
Gibson had Cityâ€™s only on-target shot of the half but his crisp drive from the outside the penalty area, that dipped prodigiously, was beaten away by home keeper Aaron Howe â€“ son of the former Fulham defender and Basingstoke boss Ernie Howe â€“ with James Comley completely miscuing his follow up effort.
Basingstoke ought to have taken a two-goal lead into the break but Dominic Hyam, having got in front of City defender Eddie Oshodi, headed across the goal and narrowly wide from a James Harper corner.
Howe parried away another firm drive, this time by Louie Theophanous, before an audacious effort from 40 yards by Gibson bounced barely a yard wide of the target.
With the strong cold wind now to their backs St Albans continued to push forward with greater menace and Howe did well to save from the free Meade following a long punt by Welch.
It could be said that City also posed a more physical threat after the restart. Having had just one free kick awarded against them prior to the interval the Saints picked up four yellow cards after the break; taking their recent tally to 12 in three games.
Corcoran and Tom Bender appeared unfortunate to find their way into Adam Penwellâ€™s notebook but Martin and Jonathan Edwards, for a shocking challenge and a show of petulance respectively, could have no complaints.
The City goal enjoyed a charmed life just before the hour when a low free kick into the penalty area led to Hyam having two shots blocked, and Jay Gassonâ€™s goal-bound follow up thudding into the chest of Comley.
The final rebound fell again to Hyam whose rising shot from close in was superbly pushed upwards by Welch and out for a corner after dropping onto the top of the crossbar.
City broke swiftly from the resulting corner but Theophanousâ€™s shot from a tight angle was saved by the legs of Howe.
If ever Basingstoke needed confirmation that this was not to be their day then it arrived on 66 minutes.
Harper floated an exquisite cross over Oshodi from out on the Town left, Flood took the ball down on his chest and rolled it the six-yard box seemingly for Vine to score, But just as the experienced striker waited to pounce Bender slid in with an astonishing tackle to concede nothing more sinister than a corner.
The chill wind was soon forgotten as chances continued to flow. Welch did well to save a snapshot from Tom Bird while at the opposite end of the pitch Meade shot wide when well placed after a blocked effort from Bender had dropped into his path.
Corcoran sent an effort sailing high and wide from 15 yards inside the Town half but on 79 minutes the midfielder got his sights correctly adjusted to score a spectacular equaliser.
A corner on the City right was chipped in left-footed by Chappell and retrieved beyond the far post by Theophanous. His attempted cross was deflected to Comley who turned away from goal and laid a pass back to Corcoran.
With his second touch from 28-yards the 24-year-old sent a glorious right-footed shot screaming past the outstretched arms of the fully extended keeper.
City had barely finished congratulating themselves on that goal when Welch pulled off an excellent save to keep out a firm header by Hyam.
But the relief was short-lived and from Harperâ€™s corner on 81 minutes the Dragons leading scorer Flood swept home a wonderfully controlled volley for his 12th goal of the season.
Harperâ€™s joy at setting up that goal will have been tempered somewhat three minutes later, as he moved to within two booking of a two-match ban when some unwise words earned him his eighth yellow card of the campaign.
The dramatic late flurry of goals continued on 86 minutes when Martin headed home to Howeâ€™s right following a Chappell corner on the City right.
St Albans attitude during the final ten minutes, when they could so easily have sat back to hold out for a point, was most commendable as they pushed forward in search of victory.
Edwards, surprisingly kept on the bench for more than an hour when many had expected him to start the game, forced Howe to save low down with one effort and then sent a glancing header narrowly wide from a Theophanous cross.
The draw takes Cityâ€™s points haul to seven in three games under Wheeler but victories for Margate and Havant on Saturday sent the Saints back down to 21st position in the table.
St Albans have three games coming up over the festive period including two against county rivals Bishopâ€™s Stortford who, although seven places above the Saints, are just four points better off.
The two sides meet on Boxing Day at Woodside Park and then at Clarence Park on 2nd January. Both games kick off at 3pm.
In between those two matches City entertain Chelmsford City at Clarence Park on Monday 28th December, that game also has a 3pm kick off.