NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL: It’s almost a fairytale return to action for Lee Clarke, but St Neots Town are beaten

Jevani Brown scored and saw a penalty saved as St Neots were beaten by Hitchin.

Jevani Brown scored and saw a penalty saved as St Neots were beaten by Hitchin. - Credit: Archant

Lee Clarke almost salvaged a Southern League Premier Division point for St Neots Town in his first appearance of the season.

The player-coach has been sidelined since suffering a ruptured Achilles in the final match of last term.

But, after almost seven months out, he was sent on as a substitute yesterday as Saints were beaten 2-1 at Banbury United.

And Clarke came closest to a leveller when seeing a late shot blocked on the goal-line.

Manager Matt Clements felt that would have been a deserved outcome in a match that his team led before conceding two goals in quick succession around half-time.

Jevani Brown was the player to put Saints ahead when firing home in the 21st minute after a long-throw from one of the club’s two debutants, Johnny Herd.

The former Southend man slotted in at left-back while fellow Friday capture, Jonny Butler, lined up in midfield.

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But Saints saw their advantage turn into a deficit by two Banbury goals in the space of six minutes.

The equaliser arrived four minutes before the break when Conor McDonagh provided the finishing touch to the best move of the half.

And he struck again two minutes into the second period after being left completely unattended to turn in a cross from young West Bromwich Albion loanee James Smith.

Only a fine save from goalkeeper Alex Archer denied the Banbury goalscorer a hat-trick while Saints saw a strong penalty appeal ignored by referee Sarah Garrett when Bradley Fortnam Tomlinson was brought down.

And their final hope of an equaliser disappeared when Clarke’s effort from a Declan Rogers corner was blocked.

“I definitely feel we did enough to get something from the game,” said Clements. “We went toe-to-toe with a good Banbury side and were competitive all over the park except for a short spell just before and after half-time.

“I’m proud of the performance and attitude of the players, and just disappointed they didn’t get what they deserved.”

Saints remain a point above the relegation zone. They host promotion-chasing Slough at the Premier Plus Stadium on Tuesday.