City rocked by injury time strike

Blue Square South Thurrock 1 St Albans City 1 David Willacy at Ship Lane BEFORE the game a local radio reporter suggested that the wind, blowing strongly downfield, could ultimately decide the match as St Albans City took on Thurrock in the Blue Square

Blue Square South

Thurrock 1 St Albans City 1

David Willacy at Ship Lane

BEFORE the game a local radio reporter suggested that the wind, blowing strongly downfield, could ultimately decide the match as St Albans City took on Thurrock in the Blue Square South on Saturday.

In a way the wind did prove decisive but not as predicted with both sides playing better into it. Choosing to play against the wind, after winning the toss City might have been more than one goal up at half time but had to be content with a Paul Hakim strike in the seventh minute. Thurrock's equaliser came deep into stoppage time at the end of their second half domination and prevented the Saints from escaping the third relegation place.

City manager Steve Castle had a full squad to choose from including James Quilter back from suspension but he had to resign himself to a place on the bench. It was no surprise that there were no changes to the team that had toppled Lewes a week ago at the Dripping Pan. Thurrock were buoyant having scored five against Cambridge City in their last game and with eight wins from their last nine home matches they did not lack confidence.

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The hosts were somewhat taken aback when they conceded a goal in the seventh minute, and it was a good one too. Akanni-Sunday Wasiu took the ball on his chest in the centre circle and expertly rolled past his marker and ran strongly at the Thurrock goal. He delivered a perfectly weighted pass to Hassan Sulaiman who reached the bye-line and delivered a gem of a cross over the tall David Blackmore to the far post where Paul Bruce saw his downward header blocked on the line. Sunday's stab at the rebound came back to Paul Hakim who found the net from six yards to score his fourth goal in five games.

Inspired by this City started to play some good football and Hakim, after a neat move with Sunday, attempted a lob to the unmarked Sulaiman but ex Saint Lee Flynn was just able to head the ball away.

Thurrock responded and opened up the City defence on the right. With Fisher caught the wrong side of the ball Fola Orilonishe flew past Ben Martin and saw his low cross blocked by Lee Clarke doing some defensive work. Minutes later Thurrock's leading goalscorer, Che Stadhart, hit a shot into the side netting when well placed. Paul Bastock was not slow to make his feelings known to his defenders. The Boston legend was then relieved to collect a dipping cross from Greg Lincoln which Mark Bodkin was within a whisker of converting.

Almost on the half hour, City then had two glorious chances within a minute. Both might have been scored and one should have been. Either would surely have settled the nerves and, probably, the match. Firstly, Hakim, doing what he does best, ran past four defenders but, when forced wide, still managed to dink the ball across the goal where Luke Thurlbourne's diving header went wide of the gaping goal. The young midfielder had done well to get into a goal scoring position. The second should have been easy for an in-form striker. Sunday's close control and lay-off sent Hakim one-on-one with the goalkeeper but he sliced his shot wide. It proved to be a costly miss as City failed to get another shot on target for the remainder of the game.

James Fisher was unlucky to get an eye injury and was replaced by Hasim Deen and for once the substitution did nothing to weaken or unbalance a City defence that was proving resolute.

The second half was scrappy but there was every indication that City might hold onto their slender advantage. When a through ball from Flynn found Stadhart, Ben Martin denied him a strike with an impressive overhead kick for such a tall man. Martin then blocked a low shot from the centre forward and Bastock was alert enough to dash forward to collect as Stadhart again sought an equaliser.

In the 70th minute when City did play, Clarke showed a trick to make space, found Thurlbourne on the right but his cross was carried on the wind beyond Hakim. City attacked again 10 minutes later when the on-loan youngster delivered their only shot of the half. It drifted wide and he was replaced by James Quilter. Bruce wasted the only corner of the half and Sunday was replaced by Simon Martin as the final whistle approached.

Three minutes were added for earlier treatment to ankle injury victim Deen and in the second of these Thurrock equalised. A long ball from Flynn fell to Orilonishe who turned and hit a low shot that Bastock, off balance, could only watch hit the foot of his far post and trickle into the net.

At first the result seemed harsh on a St Albans side that had worked so hard to put together a fourth successive win, but on reflection the points were fairly shared. Perhaps they should have tried something different in the second half to secure that elusive and decisive second goal.