MANAGER Iain Parr believes St Neots Town’s performance against Chesham United on Saturday suggests the club will be ‘challengers’ in the Premier Division of the Southern League this season.

The Saints were beaten 2-1 in Buckinghamshire with goalkeeper Michael Duggan seeing red and striker Stefan Moore hitting the bar with a possible point-saving spot kick.

But Parr, the man who replaced Dennis Greene in the hot seat at Rowley Park, told The Hunts Post: "To be honest, our main aim was always consolidation this season, but after watching that game I think we have a good chance of challenging at the top.

"It's early days to be saying that, I know, but I was very pleased. I saw other qualities in the players from those I had seen in pre-season.

"There was a lot of effort and desire in that performance and it could be the springboard for the rest of the season."

Striker Ben Mackey gave the Saints a 21st minute lead at The Meadow but the home side equalised just three minutes later when Bruce Wilson slotted the ball home.

It was in the 41st minute that Duggan was red carded when he was adjudged to have handled the ball outside of his area, despite his insistence that it hadn't touched his hand, and the lack of any real goalscoring opportunity.

Without a goalkeeper on the bench, Parr was forced to hand right winger Lewis Hilliard the gloves, and in the 57th minute the 21-year-old was beaten by Chris Watters for 2-1.

Moore's penalty miss came in the 60th minute when Chesham's Dan Braithwaite was sent off for stopping a goal-bound Dan Jacob shot on the line with his hands. Having been denied that goal, the Saints captain fluffed his chance of an equaliser when he smashed his shot against the crossbar.

Parr handed full debuts to three players - Jon-Paul Duncliffe, Arthur Lee and Charlie Dove - while Ed Adjei chalked up his first appearance when he came on for Moore in the 75th minute.

Declan Rogers, who won the United Counties League Division One title with Huntingdon Town last season, began his third spell with the club at left back.

Mackey was composed when he scored the Saints first goal of the season. The big forward turned beautifully to find the net with a sweet strike after Chesham, who made the play-offs last season, had failed to deal with a long throw from Duncliffe.

The Saints had started well and Jacob had already sent a shot fizzing across the mouth of the Generals' goal. Jordan Gent had also gone close with a header, but just three minutes after the Saints had taken the lead, they lost it again when Steve Wales threaded a clever ball through to Bruce Wilson who netted with an angled shot.

Duggan denied Simon Thomas and goalkeeper Shane Gore pushed away an excellent Hilliard effort before Duggan was sent packing.

In the 56th minute Watters beat the stand-in goalkeeper with a 30-yard drive which seemed to wrong-foot Hilliard.

After Moore had missed his penalty, the St Neots striker was fouled on the edge of the box, but Jacob's free kick was also too high. In the final minutes, a goal-bound Mackey shot was stopped on the line, this time legally, by Ryan Moran.

On Tuesday evening the Saints are at home to Hitchin Town (7.45pm).

St Neots: Michael Duggan, Jon-Paul Duncliffe, Declan Rogers, Callum Stewart, Jordan Gent (Kaine Felix), Arthur Lee, Lewis Hilliard, Charlie Dove (Ryan Sharman), Stefan Moore (Ed Adjei), Ben Mackey, Dan Jacob.