Festive thriller ends all square

Rob Bartley’s spectacular strike cancels out Danny Hart’s opener

Southern Premier Division

St Albans City 1 Chesham United 1

A SPECTACULAR over-head kick from centre-half Rob Bartley denied St Albans City a third straight victory in an absorbing Boxing Day clash with Chesham United.

Bartley’s piece of individual brilliance cancelled out Danny Hart’s third goal of the season that had given City a half-time lead and ensured the visitors left with a deserved share of the spoils.

A season’s best crowd of 606 were royally entertained by a game that was flowing and end-to-end with both sides enjoying spells of dominance before a final 20 minutes of free-for-all action unfolded.

The visitors arrived at Clarence Park in fifth place with a chance of drawing level with the league leaders and it was they who started the brighter.

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St Albans’ recent run of form has coincided with goalkeeper Nick Jupp enjoying his best spell in a City shirt and the Great Britain Universities’ international continued in the same vein to thwart Chesham.

A disputed throw-in was given the way of the visitors and as City complained to the officials Chesham caught them cold with a quick throw-in that allowed captain Danny Talbot to waltz into the box and cross for the unmarked former Saint Chris Watters but he was foiled by a superb one-handed save from Jupp.

There was a visible rise in the tempo after that with both sides giving as good as they got. A kind ricochet in midfield played Paul Furlong in on goal but Chesham goalkeeper Harry Ricketts, deputising for suspended No.1 Shane Gore, was quick off his line to deny the forward with Ryan Watts and Danny Hart both unable to take advantage from the follow up.

Ricketts was proving a more than able replacement between the sticks for the visitors pulling off a good stop to deny Matt Cutchey from a corner but there was nothing he could do to prevent City taking the lead five minutes before the interval.

Another feature of St Albans’ recent upturn in fortunes has been the eye-catching displays of David Ijaha in midfield. The former Harrow Borough man’s bursts from midfield have proved difficult to stop and so it proved again in this encounter. The midfielder collected Furlong’s pass, powering his way into the box and as the Chesham defence closed ranks in front of him, Ijaha rolled the ball into the path of Hart who side-stepped Bartley before driving a left-footed shot past Ricketts from 16 yards.

Simon Martin’s well-timed run, three minutes into the second half, saw the striker break the offside trap but he could only shoot straight at Ricketts who gathered the ball at the second attempt.

The second period was only nine minutes old when Bartley stamped his mark on the game but St Albans can certainly feel a little hard done by events in the build up to Bartley’s wonder strike.

Narada Bernard was very harshly adjudged to have impeded his opponent out on City’s left flank, close to the halfway line. The position Talbot took the subsequent free kick from, a good five yards in front of where it should have been taken, allowed the midfielder a much better angle with which to fire the ball into the box and although James Gray blocked Simon Thomas’ shot superbly, the ball looped invitingly in the air for Bartley to execute his textbook overhead kick and send the ball flying past the helpless Jupp.

That sparked Chesham into life but wayward finishing from Thomas and his strike partner, another former Saint, Leon Archer was proving hurtful.

The final 20 minutes saw the ball fly from one end of the pitch to the other as both sides tried to force a winner and it was the home side who came closest to snatching all three points.

Jupp’s long goal kick was knocked over his own defence by Talbot putting Furlong in on goal and with Ricketts well off his goal line the veteran striker hit an early half volley attempting to catch the goalkeeper out. The former Watford striker didn’t get enough power on his effort though and the ‘keeper tipped it around the post.

There was still time for Ijaha to fizz an inviting cross-cum-shot across goal but Hart was unable to get a touch at the far post that would certainly have handed all three points to the home side.

St Albans City: Jupp; Harriman, Cutchey, Gray �, Bernard; Hart, Ijaha, Hyde, Watts (Ehui 83); Furlong (Lansiquot 90+1), Martin (Bakare 63).

Subs not used: Matthews, Jinadu.

Chesham United: Ricketts; Kyriacou, Lambert, Bartley, Gudgeon (Wilson 90); Fotheringham (Wales 44), Potton, Talbot �, Watters; Archer (Wadkins 69), Simon Thomas.

Subs not used: Watson, Scott Thomas.

Referee: Rob Hodges (Milton Keynes)

Att: 606.