City get no love from officials on Valentine’s Day

Eastleigh run out winners at a sodden Silverlake Stadium

Blue Square Bet South

Eastleigh 4 St Albans City 2

DESPITE the scoreline there were plenty of positives for St Albans City to take from this entertaining Valentine’s Day clash at Eastleigh.

Starting with an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation with centre-half Ben Martin playing as a makeshift striker alongside Inih Effiong the Saints produced one of their best performances in recent weeks and, but for a couple of decisions that went against them, they could have returned to Hertfordshire with at least a point.

The first of referee Mark Russell’s controversial decisions came with just eight minutes gone when the Bristol-based official failed to penalise Tony Taggart for a foul on Pete Smith inside the penalty area. Ross Dedman’s cross-field pass found Smith ahead of his man and clean on goal but as the left-back was about to shoot Taggart stood on the back of Smith’s leg and gave him a push just to make sure but referee Russell ignored the injured City player’s protests.

For a team that, in recent weeks, hasn’t looked like scoring in a month of Sundays City continued to carve out good goal scoring opportunities.

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Dedman possibly should have done better when Effiong’s cross found him unmarked at the far post but his low drive was repelled by goalkeeper Jason Matthews’ feet.

The opening goal eventually came in the 13th minute when City seized on a poor throw out by Matthews. The goalkeeper’s pass to Danny Smith was intercepted by the long legs of Martin and with plenty of space to run into the makeshift front man had plenty of time to pick out Effiong who guided the ball into the far corner of the net with the inside of his thigh.

The goal sparked the home side in to life and Richard Graham, scorer of the only goal when the teams met at Clarence Park last month, began to give Dave Deeney a torrid time on the wing.

The former Barnet man teed up Jamie Slabber only for the striker to head wide before producing the cross from which Shaun McAuley netted the equaliser.

Graham was given far too much space on the left wing and his cross was cleverly stepped over by Anthony Riviere to allow the ball to reach the unmarked McAuley who hammered the ball past Paul Bastock.

The home side then enjoyed a dominant five minute spell but to City’s credit they never gave them another sight of Bastock’s goal until Taggart picked out Graham at the far post only for the winger’s header to be cleared off the line by Deeney.

The second controversial decision from Mr Russell came when Effiong beat two Eastleigh defenders on the edge of the box only to go down under the challenge of Matthews. The City players were adamant they should have had a penalty but again referee Russell was totally unmoved.

Sean Shields was introduced as a substitute for Dedman after just 35 minutes and the replacement could have been on the scoresheet immediately.

The youngster successfully beat the offside trap and went in on goal but Matthews stayed big and kept the shot out with his right boot.

The game was ultimately decided in a crazy two minute spell 10 minutes after the break.

First Adam Everitt was penalised for a robust but fair challenge on Taggart on the edge of the City box. From the resulting free kick Brett Poate fired the ball under the jumping City wall and into the corner of Bastock’s net.

Then a little over 60 seconds later Jamie Slabber made it three when he was given the space to turn inside the penalty area and his shot deflected off Everitt’s knee over Bastock and into the net.

Slabber grabbed his second of the contest a little over 10 minutes later when he was the beneficiary of an incredibly soft penalty award. The former Spurs trainee had latched onto a ball into the box and as Bastock came out he went sprawling to the sodden turf. The referee awarded the spot kick but his failure to even book the City stopper came across as maybe an admission he’d got the decision wrong. Slabber confidently beat Bastock from the spot and City were in danger of getting a hammering.

However, City didn’t capitulate which is credit to the players and they still created chances to grab something from the game.

Sean Shields’ excellent first touch and ball control meant he was a menace to the home defence who were unable to get to grips with the diminutive winger.

It was from a foul on the City sub that the visitors were handed a lifeline. Deeney’s free kick from around 40 yards was directed into the crowd of players in the middle. The ball somehow evaded everyone and skidded off the greasy turf and into the corner of Matthews’ goal.

Substitute Chris Benjamin, originally due to start but dropped to the bench because he didn’t have suitable footwear, eventually joined the fray and had a good chance to get on the scoresheet but his first touch was heavy and he had to rush his effort which flew past the far post.

This was a valiant effort from the Saints, for whom Ollie Kelly produced an impressive debut performance in midfield, and a step in the right direction in terms of performance and quality in the final third but until they start picking up three points they will remain in serious danger.

Eastleigh: Matthews; Smith, Jordan �, Holland, Poate; Taggart, Riviere, Adeniyi, Graham; Slabber (Bennett 82), McAuley (Gillespie 76). Subs not used: Sharp, Barfoot, Osman.

St Albans City: Bastock; Deeney, Peters (Kweme 69) Everitt; Dedman (Sean Shields 35), Kelly, Magwood (Benjamin 35), A Martin, Smith; Effiong, B Martin �. Subs not used: Petrucci, O’Donoghue.

Referee: Mark Russell (Bristol, Gloucs.)

Att: 248