Fan's column: St Albans City's promotion hopes at pivotal point of the season
- Credit: NIGEL FRENCH/PA
It feels as if this is a crucial point in the season for St Albans City.
Fifteen games remain and the Saints are lingering in the final National League South play-off spot, with just one point separating them from eighth-place Eastbourne Borough.
It should be noted that they have two games in hand on most of the teams around them, but as second from bottom Braintree Town ruthlessly proved earlier this month, three points (or even one) are never assured in this league.
The embarrassing defeat which closely followed a 5-0 drubbing at Ebbsfleet Borough totally contradicted supporters’ aspirations from the start of the season.
“I think given the experience that Ian [Allinson] brings to the table, the quality of players we had and the fact that we finished so well towards the latter end of the previous season, getting into the play-offs was the bare minimum fans expected,” explained long-time City fan Lee Wood.
Last season was declared null and void on February 18 with St Albans sitting fifth, and only current league leaders Dorking Wanderers had a better points-per-game tally – 2.17 versus 2.13.
There was tangible disappointment about the cancellation but also a reluctant acceptance that the authorities had little choice given the circumstances.
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But importantly the board recognised that the momentum needed to be maintained and players in key positions were retained for this campaign.
And the value of Michael Johnson and Shaun Jeffers was underlined at Vauxhall Road on Tuesday night, with the keeper’s clean sheet just as vital as the league’s top scorer’s stunning brace.
The team seemed hell-bent on avenging the painful 3-1 defeat in the reverse fixture at the start of 2022, the beginning of a conspicuously inconsistent run of form that looked inconceivable in mid-November.
Back then the Saints were about to host fellow playoff hopefuls Dulwich Hamlet and there was much cause for optimism.
Allinson’s men were second in the table and on a 15-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, their last defeat coming away at a formidable Dorking side in August – a game in which City were leading 2-1 until the 80th minute.
And just nine days prior to welcoming the Hamlet, the Saints had pulled off the unthinkable against League Two leaders Forest Green Rovers in the first round of the FA Cup.
“I’ve been supporting the side now for well over 30 years,” Wood said. “I’d never seen us in a better light in how we conducted ourselves.
“The players were fantastic. The fans were superb. Clarence Park under the floodlights, she absolutely glistened.
“The Forest Green game will live long in the memory and as well it should.
“However, that shouldn’t mean the players, the club and the performances rest on that laurel.”
No one can accuse the club of being complacent after such a historic night, although Saints did fail to win their next three league matches including a frantic 4-3 against Dulwich.
But since the turn of the year the drop in both results and performance is undeniable.
The benchmark for seventh place over the last six un-voided seasons is on average 62 points or 1.55ppg.
Before 2 January St Albans were on course for 74 points at a rate of 1.86ppg.
For the 11 league matches played in 2022, however, this has slowed to 1.36ppg.
If this calendar year’s rate continues, City will finish on 61 points and would most likely have to rely on rivals faltering to be sure of a quarter-final playoff spot.
And the remaining fixtures are not exactly favourable either, with the Saints facing six of the top eight - including Oxford City twice - from now until the final game at home to Tonbridge Angels in May.
Which is why this feels like a crucial point in the season for St Albans City, with a must-win game at Clarence Park against a struggling Bath.
Allinson offered a boost to supporters post-Hemel on Tuesday, promising the return of Tom Bender and Callum Adebiyi by Saturday, with Joy Mukena not far away either.
New-signing Joe Neal has impressed alongside Jeffers too, with the forward’s slight build concealing a surprising physicality and dynamism.
No doubt Clarence Park will be packed for the seven remaining home games, as it has been all season.
And with a basis of consistency under construction after a hard-fought point on the road at Dulwich and an electric win at Hemel, hopefully fans will have even more reason to celebrate come 7 May.