Saints make survival point
We are staying up chanted the travelling fans on the York Road end at Maidenhead on Tuesday night. More in relief, than in celebration that St Albans City had just gained the point they needed to confirm Conference South football
We are staying up" chanted the travelling fans on the York Road end at Maidenhead on Tuesday night. More in relief, than in celebration that St Albans City had just gained the point they needed to confirm Conference South football at Clarence Park for another season.
It had been a close run thing with Richard Pacquette's spinning volley flashing just wide of the City goal in stoppage time.
Not surprisingly manager Steve Castle kept faith with the team that beat Eastleigh on Saturday, notably only Scott Cousins, Lee Clarke, Paul Bruce and Hasim Deen keeping their places in the squad from the team that lost the FA Trophy tie in Maidenhead back in November. Then, City allowed the Berkshire side, whose home form had been abysmal, to win easily. Even now, with the slope in their favour, they could make little impression on a side whose three consecutive wins in eight days had nullified their relegation fear.
Maidenhead played three up the front and caused the City defence problems from the start. Their leading goalscorer Manny Williams had the perfect chance to open the scoring on 14 minutes shooting wide of Paul Bastock and the far post.
Three minutes later Dominican international Pacquette missed a far post header from a perfect delivery from Narada Bernard.
In a rare City attack, Darti Brown collided with Lee Clarke as the City skipper broke into the area but Paul Bruce, wasted the resulting penalty kick. His left foot strike was embarrassingly close to Chris Tardif. Moments later Bruce's season ended with an ankle injury (he is suspended on Saturday) and was replaced by Jonathan Hunt.
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Williams headed into the side netting with the goal at his mercy as City's defence struggled to contain Maidenhead's confident attack. At the other end, City clicked just before half time and a flowing move saw Paul Hakim find Bradley Gray in space but the young Orient loanee scuffed his shot wide.
The second half was less hectic but even so Williams missed another glorious opportunity to add to his 30 goal tally. Just 10 minutes after the restart the former England schools international leaned back and shot over the bar with Bastock exposed.
On the hour Hasim Deen replaced the injured James Quilter with James Fisher moving to central defence and Simon Martin replaced the ineffective Paul Hakim.
After Man of the Match Ryan Frater had denied Jermaine Hinds with a superb tackle, City finished on top but without ever looking like scoring.
For a team that had struggled all season a point was enough for City, hence the muted joy and Castle's post-match comments. He said: "I am very pleased. It wasn't our best performance but the result was all important. We can take heart from the recent resurgence." By that he was referring to the 21 points in 10 games earned since goalkeeper Bastock rejoined the club.
Opinions differ on the reasons behind City's change of fortune but Bastock has organised the defence well, Frater has become a better footballer and Lee Clarke has shown his midfield skill and defensive work to be a valuable addition to his repertoire. The energetic contribution of Luke Thurlbourne, on work experience, from Southend United should also not be overlooked. He has demonstrated to more seasoned professionals what 100 per cent effort really means. City survived, just and should enjoy the spat with Hampton & Richmond at Clarence Park on Saturday.