Preview: City face tough test against league leaders

City welcome Hemel Hempstead Town to Clarence Park tonight (Monday), 7.45pm kick-off.

City welcome Hemel Hempstead Town to Clarence Park tonight (Monday), 7.45pm kick-off. - Credit: Archant

St Albans City will have to quickly shrug off their FA Trophy win at Witham Town to refocus on tonight’s clash with table toppers Hemel Hempstead Town at Clarence Park.

A John Frendo brace and a header from Mark Nwokeji secured City a spot in the second qualifying round and earned the club £2,700 to add to the £15,000 earned from the FA Cup run.

In Hemel, though, they face their toughest opponent of the season. Dean Brennan’s side sit atop the Calor Southern League pile having won 10 out of 11 games this season. Their solitary loss came at Hitchin Town in the season opener.

Part of the reason for Hemel’s success if the fact the side boosts three players in the top eight goalscorers in the Southern League. Lewis Toomey leads the team with seven while Ben Mackey and Charles Mpi are just behind on six.

They are not just prolific in front of goal – they have scored 10 more than any other team in the division – their defensive record is almost impeccable. In 11 league games, they have conceded just five goals.

However, Hemel’s stout defence was breached twice on Saturday in a 3-2 win over AFC Hornchurch in the FA Trophy, which should give Saints reason to be cheerful.

City will take further confidence from having already emerged from Vauxhall Road with a win this season – they beat Hemel (2-1) in the first round of the Herts Charity Cup thanks to an unbelievable 90th minute free-kick from John Frendo – incidentally, it was his first goal for the club.

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The Saints have also enjoyed a run of cup form this week that they will take into tonight’s game. Following on from a dreadful 2-2 draw with Bedford Town, City beat Tonbridge Angels in the FA Cup, Leighton in the Red Insure Cup – albeit not with the best performance – and Witham in the FA Trophy.

City will also field a very strong team. It is unclear whether Paul Bastock, who was injured against Bedford, will make his return but in Tom Coulton joint managers James Gray and Graham Golds have a more than able understudy.

Ryan Wharton has a start and a substitute appearance under his belt since returning from England five-a-side duty in Crete and will push Darren Locke or Howard Hall for a starting spot at centre back or right back, respectively.

Richard Graham has made a welcome return into the team after two games out. His poise and ability to retain possession while creating chances will be integral if City hope to win.

However, City stand no chance of winning if Frendo and Nwokeji are off-target, which seems unlikely. The pair have been superb in recent weeks, providing a formidable one-two punch for St Albans.

With both teams expected to be in the play-off places at the end of the season, tonight’s game is a clash of two of the best the Southern League has to offer. Monday’s game kicks off at 7.45pm at Clarence Park. If you can’t make it to the match, follow @hertsadsport for live updates.