New boys make their mark as Saints hammer Evesham
Debut goal for QPR-loanee Shariff and two for Furlong
Southern Premier Division
St Albans City 4 Evesham United 1
DAVID Howell’s midweek changes paid immediate dividends as St Albans City brushed aside a poor Evesham United.
New boys Mo Shariff, Michael Harriman and Chris O’Leary were all handed their full debuts while Nathan Ralph went straight in at left-back following his return from Peterborough United with all four playing their part in City’s victory.
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While it was QPR duo Shariff and Harriman that grabbed the attention with their part in City’s goals it was the simple, effective style of O’Leary in the middle of the park that proved to be the biggest plus for the Saints.
The former Wealdstone midfielder looks, on first showing, to be the missing component St Albans have been in desperate need of this season despite not being fully fit.
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Saints fans could be forgiven for thinking that it was going to be another long afternoon when the visitors, who only arrived at the ground at 2.15pm, took the lead from the penalty spot after James Gray was penalised for a foul on Lewis Pountney. Full-back Josh Quaynor stepped up and fired the spot kick low under the torso of goalkeeper Nick Jupp.
That kind of setback has seen St Albans fall to pieces in recent weeks but this new look XI showed no such mental frailties and immediately set about turning the game around.
Shariff forced Evesham stopper David Bevan into a smart save with a thunderous effort from 25 yards that the Robins stopper turned around the post before City drew level with a goal of real quality from veteran striker Paul Furlong.
Harriman, who made his Premier League debut for QPR against Wigan in August, produced a run and cross down the right wing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in England’s top flight and Furlong needed no second invitation to rise above his marker and steer a header inside Bevan’s upright.
Evesham struggled to create goalscoring opportunities throughout this contest but they could have retaken the lead shortly afterwards when goalscorer Quaynor picked out Marcus Palmer in space who beat Matt Cutchey but saw his shot repelled by the legs of Jupp.
It was a rare scare for the Saints who took control of the contest with two goals in as many minutes.
Harriman and Furlong again combined to give City the initiative, the on-loan defender this time picking out Furlong at the far post and the 43-year-old striker stuck out a knee to turn the ball high into the roof of the Evesham net.
Saints’ third goal had more than a hint of fortune about it as Shariff cut inside onto his left foot and let rip with a shot that Evesham defender James Blake turned into his own net but it was no more than Howell’s side deserved for their domination.
O’Leary very nearly got the debut goal his performance deserved when Furlong cushioned Ryan Watts’ free kick into the midfielder’s path but despite beating two would-be challengers he could only fire into the side netting.
Harriman’s marauding runs down the right flank were causing the visitors all sorts of problems and he nearly teed up a goal for fellow loanee Shariff but the young forward, on the stretch, could only head wide of the target.
The 18-year-old wasn’t to be denied a debut goal though and it duly arrived in first half stoppage time. Watts looked to have wasted the chance when he dallied on the ball in the penalty area but Shariff took charge, twisting past the challenge of a defender before arrowing a shot low into the bottom corner of Bevan’s goal.
There looked like there would be no let up from the Saints after the break when, just three minutes after the resumption, Shariff collected the ball inside his own half before advancing and drilling an effort wide of the target from 25 yards but it was a rare sight of goal in a second half that was as gloomy as the weather.
Evesham, fresh from a half-time dressing down, upped their game after the break but never threatened Jupp in the City goal.
The closest they came was when the ball was worked across the face of the City goal for half-time substitute Kevin Vogeli but his effort from the edge of the box was deflected over the bar by the dive of the excellent Matt Cutchey.
Sakho Bakare was given the final five minutes to try and add to his seven goals so far this season and very nearly did when he headed Watts’ deep corner goalbound but the French striker was denied by the boot of a visiting defender.
The win leaves St Albans 10 points behind league leaders Oxford City and gives the supporters renewed hope that a place in the end of season play-offs is still a reasonable aim.
City: Jupp; Harriman, Gray, Cutchey, Ralph; Sean Shields, O’Leary, Ijaha, Watts; Furlong � (Bakare 86), Shariff.
Subs not used: Haworth, Hart, Moran, Ehui.
Evesham: Bevan; Quaynor, Hyde �, Blake, Walker, Wilding, Connor, Panene (Vogeli 46), Palmer, Mackey, Pountney.
Subs not used: Taylor, Spencer, Swain.
Referee: Graham Ions (Westerham)