Hemel Hempstead Town’s inspirational captain Jordan Parkes produced a spectacular Christmas cracker with his stunning late strike holding St Albans City to 1-1 draw in a tense local derby Boxing Day battle at Clarence Park.
Hemel forced the pace during the early exchanges but found the City defence maintaining the good form that had seen it concede just one goal in the previous three league games.
Such was the impressive nature of City’s defensive work that Parkes’ goal was the only on-target effort that Hemel could muster all afternoon.
On a dreary, cold winter’s day at Clarence Park it was Hemel that started the stronger of the two sides, but once into their stride St Albans were the more threatening.
Good approach play by John Kyriacou and Sam Corcoran created space for John Frendo to have the first shot of the day but, due to slipping as he went for goal, the City marksman scuffed his shot wide.
Tudors keeper Laurie Walker made his first save when called upon to collect a Nathan Green free kick, awarded against former Saint Moussa Diarra for a foul on John Frendo.
St Albans played some fine passing moves, but their next threat also came from a set piece when Green’s near post corner flicked off a defender’s head, at some speed, to David Keenleyside who was just unable to control the ball and the chance was lost.
Kyriacou, receiving a pass from Lee Chappell, set off on a good overlap down the right flank that ended with his low cross being diverted towards the goal by the boot of Diarra before Walker made a fine tip away for a corner.
Hemel broke swiftly from the corner, taken by Green, but a superbly timed tackle by Kyriacou denied Nicke Kabamba a clear run on goal.
Hemel’s best opportunity of the half saw Kyle Connolly burst clear down the left and slide a good low ball across the face of the goal that Dennis Oli looked set to turn in, only for Darren Locke and Green to get in a last ditch block at the expense of a corner.
City took the lead on 32 minutes with a move that typified much of their first half play.
Kyriacou, midway inside the Hemel half, threw the ball in from the right to Corcoran whose pass into the middle of the pitch was most enterprisingly clipped forward first time by the always alert Keenleyside.
The Tudors were caught napping by Keenleyside’s excellent pass but Frendo was fully in tune with his team-mate and once clear of Diarra stroked a right-footed shot to the left of Walker for his 54th goal in 80 games for the Saints.
Having been teased by the Hemel supporters earlier in the game, Frendo celebrated with some seasonal good wishes in the form of hand-blown kisses to his tormentors.
Hemel were afforded few chances to restore parity but Kieran Murphy wasted one good chance when a poor clearance came to him on the edge of the home penalty area but his rising sot cleared the target.
Indeed it was City that went closest to increasing their lead prior to the interval.
Another piece of Keenleyside magic saw the midfielder weave his way past Connolly and Parkes before his chipped shot was deflected out for a corner by Diarra.
Omar Beckles, who has proved to be an excellent capture from AFC Hornchurch, sent a glancing header onto the back upright following a long throw by Chappell, as the possibility of a second City goal grew.
But the best chance of City adding to their lead was still to come.
City struggled to clear their lines following a throw from the Tudors left by Connolly before Comley began a wonderful counter-attack that saw Chappell exchange passes with Corcoran and run from deep inside his own half to deep into Hemel territory.
An excellent pass sent the free Frendo into the penalty area. But in neatly side-stepping the advancing Walker, Frendo touched the ball just a bit too firmly and allowed the retreating Connolly to do enough to stop the City striker from applying the killer touch just yards from goal.
Frendo then turned provider with a pass from the City half that looked to have sent Chappell clear only for Matthew Sanders to slide in with a perfectly timed tackle that got the ball back to his keeper.
Playing down the slope after the break Hemel bossed much of the play but City’s defensive work was most admirable and provided excellent protection for keeper Joe Welch, whose handling throughout was exemplary.
But for all of their territorial advantage Hemel constantly hit a brick wall when reaching the home penalty area, with a stream of crosses all being won by the City back line.
A rare attacking foray by the Saints saw the excellent Green charge down the left before attempting to feed Comley on the edge of the penalty area.
Unfortunately for City, Comley and substitute Cameron Lancaster, got in each other’s way and Walker was able to smother the ball before Comley could get in a shot.
Most of the attention, however, remained focused on the home goal as Hemel continued to prise for an opening.
That opening looked to have been lost once again in the 89th minute when City’s Darren Locke made his umpteenth headed clearance as the ball was crossed in under a threatening winter sky.
But this time the ball was collected by one-time Saint Mo Shariff who played it wide to Kabamba.
The Hemel striker’s cross was headed goalwards by Ollie Hawkins, but again Locke stooped to head the ball out of the penalty area to where Parkes unleashed a blistering right-footed half volley that screamed past Welch’s despairing dive into the Hatfield Road net.
Hemel now had the momentum behind them but more than four minutes of added time could not stop the close rivals from recording a third draw in the last three league meetings.
A draw was probably a justified outcome but how City must rue not moving into a stronger position by the time of the interval.
The attendance, which included the second highest goal scorer in City’s history, Steve Clark, and was sponsored by his former City captain Kevin Mudd, was just the second four-figure gate for a league match at Clarence Park since St Albans dropped out of the Conference National in 2007.
St Albans are back in Conference South action on Sunday, 28 December, with a trip to Sutton United. Kick off at Gander Green Lane is at 3pm.
St Albans City: J.Welch, J.Kyriacou, L.Chappell, O.Beckles, D.Locke, I.Gayle, D.Keenleyside (H.Hall 67), J.Comley, J.Frendo (C.Lancaster 67), S.Corcoran, N.Green, unused subs; D.Longe-King, J.Green, T.Coulton.
Booked: Kyriacou (15), Locke (27).
Hemel Hempstead Town: L.Walker, E.Asafu-Adjaye, K.Connolly, J.Parkes, K.Murphy, M.Diarra, D.Talbot, D.King (J.Potton 54), D.Oli (M.Shariff 64), N.Kabamba, M.Sanders (O.Hawkins 71), unused subs; J.Johnson, R.Newman.
Booked: Diarra (11), Hawkins (77).
Goals: 32 1-0 Frendo, 89 1-1 Parkes.
Referee: Chris O’Donnell (Leighton Buzzard).