St Neots Town manager Marc Abbott took huge encouragement from his side’s performance against the hottest properties in Southern League Division One Central last Saturday.

St Neots Town defender Tommy Boxer concedes a penalty during their trip to Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019St Neots Town defender Tommy Boxer concedes a penalty during their trip to Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019

Second-bottom Saints were beaten 2-0 at high-flying Halesowen Town as the title favourites reeled off a ninth consecutive victory in all competition.

But there were plenty of reasons for Abbott to be upbeat in defeat in the Midlands especially as both of the hosts' goals could be classed as controversial.

The first of those arrived from a hotly-disputed penalty and Halesowen then doubled the lead in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half . . . after referee Stephen Oakley had indicated that only two additional minutes would be needed.

Abbott said: "We defended really well against what I believe is the best team in the league. Put it this way, I'll be very shocked if Halesowen don't win the title.

St Neots Town man Ben Bradley on the ball at Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019St Neots Town man Ben Bradley on the ball at Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019

"We were unfortunate with the penalty decision as it was very clear that Tommy took the ball, but we then did have another one which looked like a spot-kick go our way a few minutes later.

"Even when behind we kept ourselves in the game and a clean sheet in the second half was a big positive.

"Naturally the players were disappointed not to get any reward for their efforts, but the message to them was to continue to ensure they do the basics as well as we can."

Recent signing Tommy Boxer was the man guilty of conceding the early penalty although he appeared to win the ball cleanly when challenging.

St Neots Town manager Marc Abbott deep in though during their defeat to Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019St Neots Town manager Marc Abbott deep in though during their defeat to Halesowen. Picture: DAVID R. W. RICHARDSON/RICH IN VIDEO 2019

But, much to Saints' dismay, official Oakley pointed to the spot and leading Halesowen scorer Montel Gibson made no mistake.

Saints keeper James Philp then prevented them striking again when tipping a Robbie Bunn free-kick onto the bar, but the deficit did grow on the stroke of half-time.

Jordan Piggott struck from the edge of the box with Saints captain Lee Watkins' spectacular attempt to head the ball off the line being to no avail.

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Simeon Cobourne saw a third Halesowen 'goal' ruled out for offside in the second half before Saints were twice denied a reply.

The woodwork thwarted Boxer as he headed a Watkins corner against the bar before a goalbound effort from debutant Joe Massaro was cleared off the line.

Saints now face the current Division One Central leaders this Saturday when Corby Town visit the Premier Plus Stadium, 3pm, and Abbott is predicting another tough assignment.

"Corby are the current leaders and have a side full of quality," he added. "But we've competed very well against other top sides in Halesowen and Berkhamsted recently and we need to ensure we do that against Corby as well.

"We know we will have the odd chance in the game and it's just a case of ensuring we're that bit more clinical than we have been."

Saints are due to host neighbours Eynesbury Rovers in a Hunts Senior Cup quarter-final tonight (Tuesday).