Opinion: Talking points from St Albans City's friendly with Stevenage

Danny Rose of Stevenage tries a over head kick in the pre-season friendly at St Albans City.

Danny Rose of Stevenage tries a over head kick in the pre-season friendly at St Albans City. - Credit: DAVID LOVEDAY/TGS PHOTO

The 2022-2023 season is on the horizon for St Albans City and having seen Saints beat Harpenden Town on Tuesday evening, I was there as they took on Stevenage on Saturday.

As it was my first game at Clarence Park, I cannot claim to be an expert on all things St Albans, however, these are some of the key things I’ve noticed so far.

Centre back depth

On Saturday, Joy Mukena was the only player to play the full 90 minutes and I was very impressed with his performance. He looks extremely composed on the ball, has a strong, physical presence and his decision making under pressure was immaculate.

However, the fact that Mukena was required to play the full 90 minutes raised concerns for me over the depth in that area of the pitch. Stevenage switched their whole outfield squad on 58 minutes and no other Saint managed more than 76.

Mukena persisted though, raising the question of whether he played the whole match due to necessity or for his own fitness.

When I questioned manager Ian Allinson after the match about the centre back situation, he insisted Mukena’s involvement was solely down to the need to get 90 minutes into his legs.

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“Michael Clark had 90 minutes on Tuesday night, Joy’s had 90 minutes today, Callum will probably get 90 minutes on Tuesday, it’s just about trying to get 90 minutes into people’s legs,” he said.

"Joy missed a training session, so he’s one behind… we’ve just got to try get these boys up to speed as quickly as possible."

Whilst this was a fair response and it made sense, there is no doubt that the centre back area requires depth. My next point will go into more detail as to why.

Flexible formations

On Saturday, the Saints started with a five at the back formation, and then transitioned into a four with 15 minutes remaining of the first half.

Whilst Allinson criticised the defensive shape for Stevenage’s first goal, the five at the back was relatively successful, which the boss acknowledged, praising the defensive performance of his team throughout the game.

He said: "I think we defended really well for long periods.

"I think they’ve hit the post in the second half and they’ve probably had one or two chances but they haven’t opened us up massively where you felt it was going to be a cricket score."

Allinson is flexible formation wise going into the new season.

“We can flip to a four [from a five] quite easily… but we’ve got to be flexible."

This is where the lack of centre back depth becomes an issue for me. The only senior options that play centre back are Joy Mukena, Michael Clark and Callum Adebiyi and Adebiyi looks to be the first choice. This leaves no centre back bench options.

The young Riccardo Di Trolio could be an option. He played 15 minutes on Saturday and Allinson was pleased with his performance.

He had this to say about the young centre back: “Riccardo did very well for himself and we’ll certainly have a look at the weekend over July 30 as he’ll get another opportunity then."

However, in my opinion, more depth is needed, especially if the five at the back formation becomes a regular feature.

Creativity going forward

One of the reasons Allinson opted for a five at the start of the Stevenage game was to ensure there was enough defensive cover whilst getting another body up front to support Shaun Jeffers.

However, there was not enough creativity to supply the two strikers and they became isolated as Stevenage dominated possession.

Looking through the statistics from last season, there was not enough support for the talismanic Jeffers.

Johnny Goddard was the other key contributor going forward, with 8 goals and 11 assists, but he has left this summer. No one else reached double figures in goals or assists.

Saints fans will hope that new signing Chris Paul can provide the link between midfield and attack. He operated behind the two strikers at the start of the Stevenage match and had some bright moments. He may be the answer to the Saints’ lacking creativity going forward.

Impressive trialists

Three trialists played for the Saints against Stevenage, with the goalkeeper being the pick of the bunch for Allinson.

He had this to say about him: "I think the keeper’s done very well, very confident boy, he’s got good hands."

With no back up keeper signed on to compete with Michael Johnson, I would not be surprised if he was bought in for the new season. He has looked very confident and composed against Harpenden and Stevenage.

Summary

Saints need to bounce back from their poor end to last season and it seems they are going about it the right way by keeping the core of the squad who were so impressive at the start of the last season, whilst adding in some extra quality.

Tafari Moore looks to be a great signing at right back, with a very impressive footballing background, whilst Chris Paul and Chez Isaac add good competition in midfield and National League experience.

If the Saints get some defensive cover in, they will be looking good going into the new season.