Battling Saints take point
ST Albans City had to battle for a point in a war of attrition against Newport County AFC at Clarence Park in the Blue Square South on Saturday. City boss Steve Castle handed a debut to teenager Luke Thurlbourne, signed on a four-week work-experience deal
ST Albans City had to battle for a point in a war of attrition against Newport County AFC at Clarence Park in the Blue Square South on Saturday.
City boss Steve Castle handed a debut to teenager Luke Thurlbourne, signed on a four-week work-experience deal from Southend United. Thurlbourne replaced Dean Cracknell (illness) in midfield while Marcel McKie and Hassan Sulaiman dropped to the bench after the midweek defeat to Aldershot Town. Paul Bruce returned from his five game suspension on the left flank and Paul Hakim switched to right midfield. Top scorer Lee Clarke, back after a two-match ban, led the attack alongside Simon Martin.
County manager Peter Beadle handed a first league start to muscular striker Jermaine Clarke, with Craig Hughes out suspended.
Tenacious talent Thurlbourne was the first to set his sights on goal for Saints after right back Jomo Faal-Thomas fed a measured pass into Simon Martin. The ball bounced off the big striker into the path of Thurlbourne who turned well and swept his shot narrowly wide.
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City held the early ascendancy and, in the 21st minute, striker Martin planted a header straight at visiting goalkeeper Glyn Thompson from a Bruce free kick.
Newport defender Ian Hillier crashed a header wide at the other end before he was the victim of a late lunge from City skipper Lee Clarke. The striker, back from a two game ban for receiving 10 bookings this season, collected his 11th after just 23 minutes of his return. Hillier soon left the field with a hamstring problem.
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County launched their first meaningful foray in the 25th minute when former Premier League winger Jason Bowen ghosted on to a cross from Richard Evans and powered his header over the crossbar. The miss prompted a spell of raised intensity from the visitors with first Charlie Griffin looping a header over the bar. Striker Jermaine Clarke then forced a corner off Ben Martin and, after some pinball in the City box, Bowen crunched a perfectly timed left-foot volley across the goal and inches wide of nestling inside Eyre's left post.
Giant City centre back Ben Martin won a heavyweight clash with Jermaine Clarke on 36 minutes as County again threatened. Bowen slid the ball through and, with Clarke ready to fire at the target, the 6ft 7in defender extended a telescopic leg to prod the ball away and clear.
City counter attacked with venom and Simon Martin forced his way through the flagging away defence before thumping a shot against goalkeeper Thompson who narrowed the angle swiftly.
The home resistance continued with Ben Martin and Jomo Faal-Thomas twice thwarting County attacks and the colossal Ryan Frater proving an immovable object.
On 43 minutes, City threatened to snatch the lead. Eyre launched the ball forward and Simon Martin bundled his way clear. County goalkeeper Thompson was alert again and diverted the striker's stabbed effort to safety with a fine reaction stop.
The referee, perhaps bemused by the turgid physical battle, halted the half early with the 45 minutes not expired.
Three minutes after the extended rest break, County forged an opening when Jermaine Clarke flicked the ball on for Griffin who arrowed his volley across the goal and wide of Eyre's left post.
Impressive County goalkeeper Thompson was called into action on 51 minutes to deny City marksman Clarke. Faal-Thomas looped a ball over the Newport defence and with no offside flag Clarke saw his effort gathered at the second attempt.
The hard working Jermaine Clarke's final act for County was to place a deft header wide of the City goal from a deep corner kick floated in by Evans.
In the final 10 minutes, County pressed for a winner and twice the City defence opened up for Griffin. The striker fell just short with his desperate lunge at a Lee Fowler cross from the left. The ball was then moved on to Bowen on the right flank and his perfect cross found Griffin who could only spoon the ball high into the air for the recovering Eyre to punch the loose ball to safety.
Lee Clarke was denied again by Thompson and Thurlbourne forced a good save from the County 'keeper as the frantic fixture came to a close with both sides accepting a hard earned point.