Clarke stokes the fire

Nationwide Conference South St Albans City 3 Basingstoke Town 1 LEE Clarke scored a hat trick as St Albans City struck a blow in the Conference South promotion fight with a convincing win over Basingstoke Town at Clarence Park. Saints were looking for a

Nationwide Conference South St Albans City 3 Basingstoke Town 1 LEE Clarke scored a hat trick as St Albans City struck a blow in the Conference South promotion fight with a convincing win over Basingstoke Town at Clarence Park. Saints were looking for a fourth home win in a row and began in determined mood. Simon Martin's deep cross was knocked behind by Wayne Heath and Ben Walshe stepped up take the corner in the fourth minute. The left winger curled in a superb in-swinging cross which goalkeeper Stuart Searle dived to meet but he could only palm the ball out to the penalty spot and Clarke drilled home a low shot through a crowd of players for 1-0. To their credit, Basingstoke responded well and in the sixth minute James Taylor beat the City defence with ease but smashed his shot far wide of the right hand post, with the goal at his mercy. The game had a frantic early pace and City surged onto the attack again, with the returning Ram Marwa breaking forward but Searle saved his low shot. At the other end the City defence looked shaky and Taylor again found himself in on goal after hesitant defending from Ben Lewis and Chris Seeby. The Town striker took the ball through but Paul Bastock was alert to block the shot with his legs. In the 18th minute City surged into a two goal lead. Chris Seeby sent forward a high cross and Simon Martin was allowed too much freedom in the box. The big striker looped his header over the stranded Searle but the ball hit the post, only to bounce back to Lee Clarke and he was able to slide in his second goal from two yards out. Three minutes later, Clarke had a chance to complete his hat trick. Ram Marwa got the ball out to Matt Hann and he blasted in a fine volleyed cross. Clarke controlled it superbly with a fine touch at the back post and then turned a defender before smashing his shot just over the angle of bar and post. Basingstoke's defence was unable to deal with the set piece delivery from Saints and, when Hann whipped in a sensational ball from the left, Searle scrambled it out for another corner. Walshe then curled in a fantastic ball with pace from the other side but somehow the City attackers missed it and it flew just wide of the far post. Tom Davis set up the next chance for Lee Clarke when he turned superbly in midfield and delivered a defence splitting through ball. Clarke raced away but dragged his shot just wide of the target. Before half time Marwa set up Clarke who touched the ball around Searle but was denied the hat trick when his effort was hacked off the line. Martin then had a shot saved after Clarke sent him clear and, from another fine Walshe corner, Nick Burton headed just wide at the back post. At the other end Town began to show with the pace and skill of left winger Lewis Cook but City worked hard to close down the visitors and went into the break deservedly 2-0 up. City were not at their most fluent but with Basingstoke offering little defensive resistance, more goals looked certain. In the 53rd minute Clarke turned superbly in the box but was tackled well by Mark Paterson. Matt Hann then picked the ball up on the right and whipped a fine ball across the goal but Simon Martin was unable to make contact. Clarke was clearly on a hat trick mission and in the 56th minute Ben Walshe curled a fabulous ball forward along the left touchline. Simon Martin did well to pick it up and, with Basingstoke caught alarmingly short of cover, he pulled a good low ball back, via a slight deflection and Clarke burst into the box to lash home a low shot, giving Searle no chance. It was another example of Clarke's superb finishing ability and made it 18 goals for the season for the striker. At 3-0 City seemed to relax and Town began to dominate, with Cook looking dangerous and, after a good break from Justyn Mackay, the left winger took the ball into the box and went for the near post with power. Bastock saved well, pushing it out for a corner. In the 70th minute the home side attacked on the break and Simon Martin and Tom Davis combined well to send Clarke into the box. Again the defence disappeared but Clarke elected to square to Matt Hann and somehow, with an open goal, the winger fired his shot in the wrong direction and straight at the relieved Searle. Ben Walshe then flashed a fine cross through the box but the City attack were not prepared and failed to add further to their emphatic tally of 60 goals in 25 league games. Town then gave their sparse travelling support a moment to cheer in the 89th minute when James Taylor was left in yards of space in the box and he thumped a low shot into the net. The late goal was disappointing for City but the 3-1 final score was made to look even better with both Weymouth and Havant and Waterlooville losing. St Albans City: P. Bastock, C. Seeby, L. Flynn, T. Davis (D. Cracknell 81), N. Burton (P. Ada 57), B. Lewis, M. Hann, R. Marwa, S. Martin (P. Hakim 75), L. Clarke, B. Walshe. Basingstoke Town: S. Searle, L. Molyneaux (S. Funes 73), W. Heath (S. Smith 66), J. Bristow, M. Paterson, B. Surey, D. Ray, J. McKay, M. Whiddett (R. Dolan 66), J. Taylor, L. Cook. Unused subs: D. Brown, A. Smallpiece, S. Funes. Referee: S. Rubery. Attendance: 526.