Slideshow: Saints bogged down in relegation struggle
ON the day before St Albans City reached their centenary any hopes of celebrating their illustrious birthday with a valuable and hard earned point against fellow strugglers Bognor Regis Town were cruelly dashed
Blue Square South
Bognor Regis Town 1 St Albans City 0
David Willacy at Nyewood Lane
ON the day before St Albans City reached their centenary any hopes of celebrating their illustrious birthday with a valuable and hard earned point against fellow strugglers Bognor Regis Town were cruelly dashed in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Bognor, trying to make one last spell of pressure tell, forced the ball wide on the right, a cross evaded the City defence who turned to see Mark Knee strike a low shot that beat Paul Bastock but rebound off the far post to full back Seb Wallis-Taylor for the easiest of tap-ins. The goal may yet be the one that decides the fate of both teams at the end of the season.
As expected Hassan Sulaiman was missing through injury but Paul Bruce, having served his latest suspension resumed on the left of midfield with Jonathan Hunt switching to the right side. Otherwise Steve Castle kept the team that earned a point at Welling the previous Saturday. In the event, Hunt limped off after just 18 minutes to be replaced by Hamza Twomey.
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Bognor included loanee Wes Fogden from Brighton and Hove Albion in an attempt to stem a flood of defeats that was sweeping them into serious relegation trouble.
Immediately after the start a fierce hailstorm and deep gloom demanded floodlights but City were unable to take advantage of the elements at their backs and as the sun reappeared Bognor spurned the first chance of the afternoon. Ben Martin failed to connect with a diagonal through ball and Mark Knee drove his shot across Bastock and wide of the far post.
In the 12th minute Scott Chamberlain, arriving late and unmarked at the edge of the penalty area struck a low shot which was inches wide with Bastock unsighted in a crowded area.
Four minutes later City had what proved to be their best chance of the match and spurned it. Skipper Lee Clarke was sharp to intercept a short free kick and his pass to Paul Hakim left the home defence exposed. Hakim's pass to Sunday, with the defence in retreat demanded a positive strike but the big forward checked his run, lost momentum, and although his shot was on target, Craig Stoner was able to save comfortably at full stretch. The Bognor goalkeeper was then alert to tip over a cross cum shot from James Fisher midway through the half and from then on had a quiet afternoon; such was the lack of firepower from Hakim and Sunday.
From then, until the break, City's defence lived dangerously. James Quilter denied Knee with an excellent tackle and the same player, finding space on the left again shot wide with Bastock struggling to cover his far post. Wallis-Taylor, supporting his attack from the left back position did the same and Ben Martin received a yellow card for a mistimed tackle on Dan Beck as half-time approached.
City started the second half brightly against the brisk wind. Scott Cousins and Hakim combined to give Clarke space but his hurried shot was wide and at the other end Bastock was cautioned for handling outside the area. Bruce soon followed him into the referee's notebook which will probably mean another suspension for the combative midfielder before the season ends. Simon Martin replaced Sunday in attack and both he and Bruce were waiting unmarked at the far post for a cross from Fisher which went over the bar. City did not threaten again.
Three minutes from time Ben Martin went down in considerable pain after pulling a hamstring, but that was nothing to the pain suffered by the noisy band of City fans a few minutes later when Bognor forced that decisive goal.
City's first defeat in eight matches was not a disgrace but with both Maidenhead and Welling United winning the team is in real trouble once again. Manager Castle was very downbeat after the game. He said: "We seemed like a team without confidence. I warned them about complacency but we got what we deserved."
City's match at Clarence Park on Saturday against promotion hopefuls Eastleigh becomes a must win game. Ryan Frater will no doubt be back in place of Ben Martin and after 90 minutes of what the manager described as 'toothless' attacking Simon Martin may return to the starting XI.
Not for the last time this season, the Saints have it all to do to avoid their Centenary season being remembered for all the wrong reasons.
St Albans City: Bastock GK, Fisher RB, B. Martin, CB, Quilter CB, Cousins LB, Hunt RM, Thurlbourne CM, Clarke CM, Bruce LM, Hakim CF, Sunday CF. Subs: Twomey for Hunt (18), S. Martin for Sunday (66), Noel for B. Martin (88). Unused subs: McKie, James.