Saints ready for blockbuster Hemel tie

Steve Wales celebrates his first goal of the afternoon. Picture: Leigh Page

Steve Wales celebrates his first goal of the afternoon. Picture: Leigh Page - Credit: Archant

St Albans City travel to Vauxhall Road on Saturday to take on league leaders Hemel Hempstead in a game that has wide implications on the play-off chase.

Hemel head the league by six points from Chesham United but the latter have won 11 of their last 12 games so any slip up by the Tudors, who are unbeaten in their last six league games, could be costly to their promotion charge.

For the Saints, three points could keep clear distance between them and the other five teams vying for third place and a home-tie in the first round of the play-offs.

“There’s a lot riding on the game,” admitted joint manager James Gray in his post-match interview after City’s 5-2 win over Burnham on Saturday.

“Probably more so for Hemel since Chesham keep winning.”

He added: “With local bragging rights up for grabs there will be a big crowd - it should be a cracking atmosphere.

“We’re going to have to put on a show because it’ll be a tough game as Hemel have bossed things.”

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Regardless of Saturday’s result, Gray believes Hemel will still lift the title and earn promotion.

“I think they’ll win it but we’ll try to spoil their party and enhance ourselves in the play-offs and gurantee a home draw in the final, should we get there,” he said.

“We count no chickens, though. I still feel we can go there and win, and win every game we have left. We’re looking forward to it. We’ll have a good couple of sessions and be firing on all cylinders going into the game.”

The last time the teams met the Tudors won 4-3 in the quarter-final of the Herts Senior Cup on January 21.

The game was fraught with controversy as David Keenleyside suffered an ankle injury that has since kept him out of the side and Gray was sent to the stands after remonstrating with the referee following Hemel’s second goal. John Frendo, who is banned for Saturday’s game along with Paul Bastock, scored a brace, including a penalty, but the comeback fell a goal short of forcing extra-time.

Since the loss at Vauxhall Road, St Albans have lost as many games, four, as they did in the first five months of the season.

However, Saturday’s win over Burnham (match report and reaction online) was, seemingly, the end of City’s poor run of form. The result boosted Saints’ third-place credentials and put them six points ahead of Stourbridge, who beat Frome Town.

Gray now wants his side to build up a head of steam and hit the play-offs as the team to beat.

“We don’t want to slip up; we want to go into the play-offs full of confidence,” he said.

“We have got a chance in the week to work on things on the training ground. Things have worked for us that we focussed on during the week and we have another week where we can work on things.

“I’m pleased with performance, to score five goals in front of home fans and get three points. This was the last of three games from which we targeted nine points and we’ve done that; it’s all happy in the camp at the moment.”