St Albans City fightback to earn point at Eastbourne

Rhys Murrell-Williamson drives forward. Picture: BOB WALKLEY

Rhys Murrell-Williamson drives forward. Picture: BOB WALKLEY - Credit: Archant

A deflected Rhys Murrell-Williamson strike ensured that St Albans City returned from East Sussex with a point and a 1-1 draw.

The Saints were again without Sam Merson, who was ruled out after picking up an illness during mid-week, while Tom Gardiner dropped to the bench in place of Harold Joseph.

Joseph, however, suffered a horror start to the game with just two minutes on the clock. A cross in from the left of the Eastbourne midfield was misjudged by the City defender, allowing Kane Wills to ghost in, out-muscle Tom Bender and calmly find the bottom corner of the net.

The hosts almost doubled their lead eight minutes later when Ian Simpemba met a Sergio Torres cross.

However, the Eastbourne man sent his header inches over at the back post.

St Albans almost found an equaliser through an unlikely source in the 13th minute. Bender received the ball on the left and drove towards the edge of the Eastbourne area before hitting a powerful drive that goalkeeper Mark Smith tipped away.

That opening set the tone for much of the rest of the first half, with the hosts seemingly content with their lead and happy to sit back and soak up the City pressure.

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Charlie Walker, drafted in for the ill Merson, was convinced that he had levelled things up in the 34th minute when he met a fierce Murrell-Williamson cross from the right with a diving header. However, Smith, who was behind his own goal line, managed to parry the effort down and onto the line before an Eastbourne defender cleared.

Smith was called into action again just five minutes later when he had to dive high to his left to deny Murrell-Williamson’s ambitious effort from a tight angle, and that save ensured that the home side went into the interval with the lead.

However, the equaliser came just eight minutes into second half.

Murrell-Williamson, who was at the heart of the majority of City’s attacks during the first 45 minutes, linked well with Herd down the right before cutting in towards the edge of the area and striking a relatively tame effort that took a deflection off of the out-stretched boot of Torres and spun wickedly past the stranded Smith into the far corner.

Bender was again at the heart of the action three minutes later when he headed a Murrell-Williamson corner across goal at the back post, but the defender could only watch on as he saw Eastbourne’s McCallum react quickest and clear the ball off of the line.

Ian Allinson introduced Zane Banton from the bench, replacing Shaun Lucien in the 59th minute, but it was the hosts who suddenly found a foothold in the game.

Eastbourne’s Lloyd Dawes had two excellent opportunities to restore his side’s lead, the first of which came after the former Worthing man exchanged passes with Okojie and hit a low effort that Moore-Azille blocked.

Dawes found himself in a similar position less than 90 seconds later, although again failed to hit the target as he sent a drilled effort wide of Snedker’s left hand post.

City’s final two substitutions came with 20 minutes on the clock. Harvey Bradbury came on for David Noble, while Murrell-Williamson was replaced by Layne Eadie, who almost made an immediate impact with his set-piece delivery.

Charlie Walker was bundled over on the near touch line by Haran, a challenge which earned the defender a booking. Eadie whipped the resulting free-kick towards the far post where Bender was waiting, but the defender could only find the grateful arms of Smith with his attempt.

That effort proved to be the final goal-mouth action of the game, although there was plenty of late drama to come.

As the match entered the last minute of regular time, Bradbury lunged into a challenge on Torres by the near touch line, causing a flash point involving a number of players from both sides. Haran, booked earlier for his foul on Walker, charged over and appeared to stick his head into Bradbury’s, causing the City man to go down.

Following several minutes of deliberation from the officials, Haran was shown a second yellow and given his marching orders for the incident with the City forward.

Bradbury was then himself shown two yellow’s, the first for the tackle on Torres, and the second for the incident with Haran, and the Watford loanee was soon heading down the tunnel himself.

Having found themselves a goal down inside two minutes, the Saints will be pleased to have come back and secured a point. However, Ian Allinson will feel that his side had the openings to pick up maximum points at Priory Lane.

The Saints are back in action next Saturday when they host East Thurrock at Clarence Park, 3pm kick-off.

Eastbourne Borough: Smith; Hendon; McCallum; Haran; Simpemba; Khinda-John; Wills; Torres; Okojie; Dawes (Odubade 82); Ransom.

Unused Substitutes: Johnson; Pearson; Plummer; Briggs.

Goal: Wills 2

St Albans City: Snedker; Herd; Bender; Noble (Bradbury 70); Moore-Azille; Joseph; Lucien (Banton 59); Sambou; Walker; Monlouis; Murrell-Williamson (Eadie 70).

Unused Substitutes: Kiangebeni; Gardiner.

Goal: Murrell-Williamson 53’

HT: Eastbourne Borough 1 St Albans City 0

Attendance: 420

Referee: Aji Ajibola