The Rooks of Lewes were silenced two minutes into stoppage time at Clarence Park on Saturday as Mark Peters, minutes after coming off the bench, marked his home Blue Square South debut with a headed goal that preserved St Albans Cityâ€™s unbeaten home record with a 1-1 draw.
Saints celebrate equaliser
Despite having the greater share of the possession of a match low on good quality football, City were possibly fortunate to salvage a draw after Steve Ibbitsonâ€™s side squandered three guilt-edged chances on a welcome warm afternoon.
Following Cityâ€™s dramatic, if not traumatic, midweek defeat at Welling manager Steve Castle made two changes, once forced and one voluntary.
The first game of left-back Adam Everittâ€™s three-match ban following his dismissal at Dorchester on the opening day of the season paved the way for Jamie Thurlbourne to start a league match for the first time.
While, in midfield, Darren Quintonâ€™s reward for his two goals at Welling was a first start as Luke Thurlbourne was left out due to disciplinary reasons laid out Castle in his post match interview.
City were looking to extend their best winning home start to a season for seven years with a third successive victory but during a lifeless opening 45 minutes it was difficult to believe that the game was not a summer training session. Threats on goal were few with both sides struggling for cohesion.
In fact the first person to draw any attention to himself was Lewes defender Danny Cullip, who was not even playing. The former Fulham, Brighton and Nottingham Forest player was on the bench but was swiftly ejected by referee Neil Hair for alleged comments made to linesman Dele Sotimirin.
A quiet start to proceedings, which enabled the sparse gathering to stay abreast of events at the Oval, was shattered on 14 minutes when Gary Cohen, to the right of the York Road goal, twisted smartly and tested Rooks keeper Rikki Banks with a rising effort.
Two minutes later Quinton caused some concern for the visitors when charging down two attempted clearances with the second block sending the ball towards goal for Banks to collect.
Lewes, relegated from the Premier Division after just one season in the top flight, went close on 27 minutes when Andrew Pearsonâ€™s high ball towards the edge of the City penalty area was not dealt with effectively and leading scorer Daniel Beck stepped in to lift a clever effort over the advancing Paul Bastock but wide of the target.
Lewes proved themselves to be slightly more adept at playing a passing game with Cityâ€™s frustrating over reliance on the long ball leaving the front three of Cohen, Danny Green and Drew Roberts chasing hopeful, but mostly lost, causes.
Banks almost presented City with a gift on the half hour when his poor goal kick was seized upon by Cohen with Green taking up possession to lash a cracking drive a yard wide of the keepers right hand upright.
Thereafter the half simply petered out most tamely until the final minute when Green, a real joy to see in full flight but out of the action for too long, was hauled down just outside the penalty area by Andrew Pearson.
City skipper Ryan Frater lined up the free kick only to send it bobbling weakly well wide of the goal. Seconds later that miss was almost punished when William Pearoux crossed towards the near post for the lively Beck to stab wide.
The second 45 minutes could only be an improvement on what had gone before and City spirits were raised when the side won its first corner within a minute of the restart. Sadly it failed to produce a threat on goal.
A slick exchange involving Cohen and Quinton opened the way for Green to shoot from 23 yards only for Banks well low down.
Bastock had a scare when Rooks substitute Daniel Royce burst through and shot low. The City keeper dived to save by the foot of his near post but was horrified to see the ball clip an outstretched leg and spin towards the goal after landing before being clutched by the sprawling keeper.
A long cross-field ball by Royce set up David Wheeler for a quick interchange of passes with Joseph Keehan before seeing his shot cleanly taken by Bastock.
With both sides appearing weak in attack a goal was nothing but a fanciful possibility, until the 67th minute, when, almost out of nowhere, the Sussex side forged ahead.
Wheeler, attacking down the Lewes right, crossed low into the goalmouth, the ball was missed at the near post but Samuel Crabb was following up to fire high into the goal from six yards.
Lewes should really have made the game safe two minutes later when Royce dispossessed James Quilter just outside the City penalty area, the ball ran on to Crabb who, with the goal at his mercy, scuffed an embarrassing effort through to a relieved Bastock.
Somewhat belatedly, City finally upped the tempo and for a while Lewes had to defend in numbers. Cohen clipped a half chance just wide while Banks, under pressure from Cohen at a Thurlbourne corner, lost the flight of the ball with Frater heading just wide.
Seven minutes from time Castle played his final hand with a double substitution. Off went full-backs Thurlbourne and Alex Bailey to be replaced by central defenders Bradley Thomas â€“ for his debut â€“ and Peters.
Assistant manager Peters went, as expected, to bolster a somewhat lightweight attack and suddenly the Rooks backline had a real heavyweight to contend with.
Lewes looked to be wilting as Sam Fisk collected the only booking of the game with a cynical trip on the marauding Cohen. Green whipped in the free kick left-footed from the City right and Banks palmed the ball a tad uncomfortably out for a corner.
From the ensuring corner, taken by Quinton, Lewes should actually have won the game but this time were thwarted by the brilliance of Bastock. The ball was cleared upfield by Wheeler to Scott Kirkwood who, unchallenged, raced through the City half towards the home penalty area.
Kirkwood, ignoring the opportunity to square the ball to his left to Louis Pople, shot to Bastockâ€™s right but the City keeper, close to the edge of his penalty area, took the sting off the shot with his right hand, thus allowing James Fisher to complete the clearance.
Two minutes into added time Lewes were denied their first win of the season as Banks, again under pressure from Cohen, flapped meekly at a Roberts cross and only helped to place the ball onto the forehead of Peters who duly sent a header from the corner of the six-yard area into the centre of the goal.
During the remaining three minutes it was, surprisingly, the visitors who came closest to snatching all three points.
Royce, when well placed, sent a header from a free kick across the face of the City goal while Pople, after cruising past Quilter, became the second Rook to pathetically scuff the ball wide of Bastockâ€™s right hand post when perfectly placed to score.
The draw was Lewesâ€™s fourth in five games and extends their winless run against the Saints to a sixth match.
City will be relieved that no further damage was inflicted upon their disciplinary record, especially given that Everitt still has two games to go to clear his ban and that Bastock and Shields will shortly start their suspensions.
Shields, as expected, has been handed a three-match ban but Bastock will miss just Cityâ€™s trip to Chelmsford next month. City may turn to former Rushden & Diamonds youngster Michael Emery to cover for Bastock that day although Castle did add that he has another keeper coming along to training this week.
Bradley Thomas made his debut for City against Lewes but is, unfortunately, best known to City supporters for having been sent off when playing against St Albans for Sutton United and Weymouth.
A question mark hangs over Luke Thurlbourneâ€™s head following his dropping from the Lewes match for disciplinary reasons. Two other players have left the club during the past week, central defender Jason Mitchell and striker Jamie Oâ€™Donoghue have both departed with the latter signing for Wingate & Finchley.
But City have made two new signings this week with Godfrey Poku and Jackson Ohakam both signing Conference South forms. The duo appeared as substitutes during the Reserves win over Hertford Town last week.