‘Blockbuster’ tie ends in goalless stalemate

Ben Martin is shown a red card. Picture: Bob Walkley

Ben Martin is shown a red card. Picture: Bob Walkley - Credit: Archant

St Albans City picked up what could be a vital point at Hemel Hempstead on Saturday after the teams played out a goalless draw at Vauxhall Road.

For a game that promised so much it failed to deliver during 90 minutes of football that lacked quality, accept for the teams’ centre-backs: City’s Ben Martin and the Tudors’ Moussa Diarra, who were superb.

The pair headed clear every long ball and bullied the respective opposing strikers. Indeed, the only real chances fell to Jordan Parkes who rattled the woodwork with a thunderous second-half shot and substitute Chris Henry was the victim of a dubious offside call when he was through on goal and probably would have scored.

All the pressure was on Hemel heading into the game with Chesham United nipping at their heels in the league table, and they started the better of the two sides.

Ten minutes after Steve Wales had a penalty appeal turned down in the sixth minute, quick-thinking from Laurie Walker, Hemel’s goalkeeper, saw him collect a new ball from the sideline and score from a free-kick from inside his own half. It was scratched off though as Tom Coulton was collecting the original ball, which hadn’t left the field of play.

The hosts were in the ascendency and every ball City kicked forward was coming straight back at them. However, Martin and Darren Locke, who was drafted in to replace Tom Ward, were in fine form and kept Hemel at bay.

In the 38th minute, the Tudors’ 23-league-goal striker Lewis Toomey went off injured and was replaced by Oliver Hawkins.

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Six minutes later City created their best chances of the half was one-touch passing opened up Hemel’s defence for Warren Whitely but he was flagged offside before he could get his shot away.

In injury time, Parkes had the ball in City’s net but, once again, it was called back, this time for a foul in the build up.

After the break City came out with more impetus and Steve Wales headed a cross onto the top of Walker’s net.

The hosts were not without their chances, though, but Tom Coulton, in this third consecutive start in place of the suspended Paul Bastock, made save after save and commanded his box well.

His best save came from Ben Mackey’s right boot. Hemel’s top-scorer tried to lift the ball over Coulton but was able to retreat towards his goal before making a diving save to push the ball away.

There was nothing he could do to stop Parkes’ well-struck effort but the woodwork came to his, and City’s rescue, as the ball cannoned out of the area.

Henry was brought on for Chris Watters in the 74th minute and having nearly scored with his first touch of the game he was denied what would have been a certain goal by the linesman’s flag.

There was a sour note for City at the end of the game as Martin was shown a second yellow card for dissent, meaning he will miss a game, before the last kick of the game.

While far from a good game for the 1,200 fans, it was a good point for City, who remain ahead of Stourbridge and Cambridge City. The title door, however, has been opened for Chesham United, which sets up a potential championship decider between the top two sides on April 21.