Our report card on a season to forget for St Albans City
- Credit: Archant
The National League eventually decided to call a halt to the season in each of their three divisions and even though the decision as to how to end it is still to be determined, it means Herts Advertiser sports reporter Neil Metcalfe can review the campaign for St Albans City. Here’s his end-of-year report.
Team name: St Albans City
Division: National League South
Final position: 19th (35 of 42 games played)
FA Cup: Third round qualifying (lost 4-1 at Weymouth)
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FA Trophy: Third round qualifying (lost 3-1 at Welling United)
Season grade overall: D-
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An awful campaign on and off the pitch. Anger at an increase in ticket prices threatened to split the fanbase in two before the season had even begun and there are still divisions between some supporters and the club.
It left a very flat atmosphere during most home games and even the hope that a positive campaign would ease the grumbles soon disapated as it took seven games for the first victory to arrive.
The poor form took some by surprise. A lot of the players had been excited by the squad assembled and with the efforts in pre-season but it needed a gritty and determined set of performances in the final few weeks before coronavirus brought the division to a shuddering end to lift them out of the bottom two.
That will be seen as a positive in terms of the campaign as a whole but it only goes to underline just how bad the season was.
Cups proved hugely disappointing too with a couple of early exits. The fact that step four Halesowen Town made the FA Trophy semi-final proved that this was a big missed opportunity for Saints.
Game of the season: Weymouth (away) December 22
Considering the overall quality of the season there were actually a couple of contenders for this award.
All came away from home and all came against sides challenging at the top of the table.
The 3-0 thumping against Bath City was the biggest of the year but it came at a time when the Romans were suffering a poor run of form.
The 2-1 win at Havant & Waterlooville was huge and probably the best result although the sending off of Danny Kedwell certainly played its part.
That’s why I plumped for the 1-0 success at Weymouth on the Saturday before Christmas.
Having lost 4-1 in both the league and FA Cup nobody gave Saints a chance at Radipole Lane.
And yet they turned in a complete performance, smothering the hosts in attack and playing with a conviction when it was their turn to get forward.
It left manager Ian Allinson to say “The team have to take full credit for their performance because Chris [Winton] and I can only tell them what we want.
“They are the ones who have to execute it and they did that superbly.”
Most pleasing player: Zane Banton
After his horrendous broken leg at Chippenham Town in March 2019, you would have been forgiven for fearing for Zane Banton’s career. The player himself certainly did.
So what followed next would have delighted everyone.
I spoke to him in March of this year and he admitted that he was constantly expecting a set-back. Yet it never came.
From simply getting back earlier than expected, to getting one of his longer and more settled runs in the side, to even arguably playing some of the best football in his time at Clarence Park, Banton’s season was a true highlight in a dark year for City.
He ended up playing 33 times and scoring seven goals, including a beauty against Hemel Hempstead Town on Boxing Day.
What the fan favourite might be able to do with a full pre-season and an injury-free year could be even better.
Moment of the season:
I included this category basically as a way to include Potters Bar Town’s wonderful FA Cup saga with Barnet when I did their report card.
Saints never really had one moment of the year. Yes, there were a couple of good wins as I’ve mentioned, but nothing else really stood out.
The 1-0 win at Braintree in what turned out to be the final game was big, but its importance was reduced with an early end to the season and no relegation.
I do remember the match against Chelmsford City, though, at Clarence Park, simply because the 1-1 draw in November was probably the only time I left the ground feeling upbeat.
Munashe Sundire grabbed an equaliser and the second-half performance was a breath of fresh air, full of possession, positive intent and hope.
It was the start of a five-match unbeaten run, including the wins at Weymouth and against Hemel on Boxing Day.
It didn’t last long enough, but it was basically the difference between being in a relegation place and not at the season’s end.
Having to repeat this season seems like a cruel joke and something handed down as a punishment for an unstated misdemeanour in a past life.
Yet oddly there is a glimmer of hope.
Those clubs who have been offering big wages are more than likely to be hit harder than Saints because of the lockdown.
It may, just may, level the playing field ever so slightly and make for an even more competitive division.
The small budget isn’t the reason for City’s poor form, but it plays its part as does the difficulty of getting the right player in.
Ian Allinson often said during the year that he knew he needed to make changes to the playing staff but he didn’t want to bring in “like for like”.
There is an arguement, however, that if you are bringing in a similarly talented player but on a lower wage, then that will have a positive spin elsewhere and you may be able to spend a little bit more on that extra bit of quality.
I’ve often said that the lack of a scouting network hinders City. The powers-that-be can’t get out to watch different teams and players and the reports that come back may be skewed.
There is a lot of talent at step three and from watching those divisions regularly, I know they are more than capable of making the step up.
The boss knows fine well where he needs to improve the squad though and he should have a steely determination to put right the troubles of the past 12 months.
Anything approaching a comfortable mid-table position will be welcomed with open arms. Anything approaching a more enjoyable match-day experience at Clarence Park with a bit of excitement, passion and drama wouldn’t go amiss either.
The players proved in certain games that they could turn it on and produce the goods.
Fans and spectators alike will demand more this time.