Flying Martin grounded by Martin own goal

SIMON Martin got the season off to a flying start with a quick-fire opener but an unfortunate own goal from City defender Ben Martin rescued a point

Blue Square South

St Albans City 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1

David Brawn at Clarence Park

SIMON Martin got the season off to a flying start with a quick-fire opener but an unfortunate own goal from City defender Ben Martin rescued a point for highly-fancied Havant & Waterlooville at Clarence Park on Saturday.

City boss Steve Castle fielded new signings Ben Bowditch and Sean Ridgway in central midfield with the rest of his side made up of players who helped inspire the remarkable return to form that secured Blue Square South survival last season.

Big spending Havant paired Luke Nightingale in attack with Craig Watkins and included Ian Simpemba and Gary Holloway signed from 2007/08 title winners Lewes. There was no place in the starting XI for former Saint Gary Elphick who featured on the bench along with striker Rocky Baptiste.

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The Saints took just 62 seconds to claim the lead as striker Martin took advantage of woeful defending to fire home a low right foot shot from 20 yards. Bemused Havant goalkeeper Kevin Scriven could only watch in despair as the ball trundled past him into the net.

Scott Cousins headed a corner kick from Holloway off the line after City goalkeeper Paul Bastock was caught under the in-swinging delivery but the threat in the early stages was much more evident at the other end.

Castle's rampant Saints threatened to overwhelm the visitors with fluent incisive passing football and should have taken an almost unassailable lead inside 15 minutes. Paul Hakim fired wide after he was set clear by the impressive debutant Ridgway and Hassan Sulaiman was then denied by the legs of Scriven when he surged clear after clever ball work from Hakim and Simon Martin.

The hapless Havant defence had been spared the humiliation of going three down early on and crucially the visitors were still in the match. On 22 minutes skipper Jamie Collins fired a warning shot to City with a thumping low shot from outside the box that crashed off the foot of the post and rebounded to safety.

The match lulled in atrocious driving rain before Sulaiman showed tremendous skill on the right flank on 37 minutes to set up Hakim who struck his shot against the considerable presence of former Portsmouth defender Guy Butters.

Right back Fisher, who put in a quality display reminiscent of his form for Saints last term, almost proved potent in the opposition penalty box when his improvised acrobatic volley dipped just over the bar after a cross from Jonathan Hunt.

Just 54 seconds into the second half, the City defence disappeared and the sluggish Watkins fired a glorious chance the wrong side of the post after good approach work from Holloway.

Sulaiman set up Simon Martin on 50 minutes only for the striker to narrow his angle with his first touch and goalkeeper Scriven was out quickly to smother the shot. Scriven also gathered a near post cross-shot from Hunt and on 55 minutes City put together a sparkling move. Bastock kicked the ball out to Hakim on the right who fed Sulaiman and a sublime flick touch from the winger returned the ball to Hakim only for his touch to let him down on the difficult sodden surface.

Striker Nightingale was largely kept under wraps by the hugely impressive Ben Martin and his centre back colleague James Quilter until the 57th minute. An innocuous looking ball forward from Collins suddenly sparked danger as Nightingale nipped in ahead of the outrushing Bastock only to stab the ball just wide.

After introducing strikers Baptiste and Sam Gargan off the bench, Havant suddenly forced the play. From the third in a succession of corners Poate whipped a devilish ball to the near post which Bastock, under pressure from Simpemba could only punch onto the head of big Ben Martin and the ball agonisingly nestled into the back of the City net for the equaliser on 72 minutes.

Sulaiman spurned a great opportunity to put City back ahead, just a minute after losing the lead. Hakim flicked the ball through to the winger who raced clear but on his weaker left side, dragged a tame shot across the goal and wide of Scriven's left post.

The chance missed almost proved extremely costly as City were thankful to Bastock for saving a point when he dived to his right to parry a shot from substitute Gargan after good work from Baptiste.

St Albans City: Bastock, Fisher, Cousins, Bowditch, B. Martin, Quilter, Sulaiman, Ridgway, Hakim, S. Martin, Hunt. Sub: Youngs for Hunt (86). Unused subs: Adams, Protheroe, Twomey, Archer.

Havant & Waterlooville: Scriven, Smith, Gasson, Collins, Butters, Simpemba, Wilkinson, Holloway, Nightingale, Watkins, Poate. Subs: Gargan for Watkins (59), Baptiste for Nightingale (59), Gray for Wilkinson (79). Unused subs: Elphick, Conroy.

Referee: Mr G. Muge (Totternhoe).

Attendance: 522.