National League South
St Albans City
Stefan Ilic 65
Another defeat for St Albans City as promotion hopes continue to slip through the fingers
- Credit: DANNY LOO PHOTOGRAPHY
St Albans City's battle for promotion took another blow with another lacklustre performance - this one at home to Braintree Town.
They arrived at Clarence Park with a 5-0 defeat on Tuesday night to Ebbsfleet United still fresh in the mind and with management and supporters, rightly, expecting a response.
They still have 17 games to go this season but their form since that famous FA Cup win over Forest Green Rovers has been distinctly mid-table, with four wins and three draws from those 12 games.
That is now up to 13 games after Stefan Ilic's goal 20 minutes into the second half handed Braintree a 1-0 win but almost as worrying as the run of results is the lack of a real cutting edge in attack.
They failed to muster a single attempt on target throughout the contest and the evening back in November when they cut open the League Two leaders seems a distant memory.
They have also now lost five at home in the league but one problem at a time. The biggest is working out a solution to the malaise.
There were four changes for City from the humbling trip to Kent with Bayley Brown and Avan Jones dropping to the bench and Tom Bender and Romeo Akinola missing out altogether.
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They were replaced by Michael Clark, Liam Sole, Dave Diedhiou and Huw Dawson.
The first half ended goal-less, which was a positive, although the fact that neither side could manage a shot on target was the negative elephant in the room.
In fact a shot in general was something of a rare commodity in the first period.
Saints only managed a couple, both of them coming to Shaun Jeffers.
The first came on 26 minutes when John Goddard's second attempt to find him with a low cross from the right was scooped over the top.
The next one didn't even reach the posts, the Braintree defence getting a vital block in as the top scorer let his shot go.
That did at least come from a quick attack, Mitchell Weiss leading the charge, after a free-kick was cleared, but Saints were not using their pace to their benefit.
There were periods of passing play but they never stretched the Iron who were able to block most routes forward.
The visitors didn't exactly shine on their trips to the City half but they did just about edge the territory stats.
Former City man Khale Da Costa looked determined to make an impact and he got into one good position after a slip by Callum Adebiyi.
His low cross though was easily intercepted by Michael Johnson in the home goal, who had enjoyed a relatively stress free afternoon up to that point.
There was a switch at half-time for the home side, Kyran Wiltshire forced off with an injury and replaced by Brown.
It was a like for like change and it didn't alter the flow of the contest although there was a little bit of pressure from Saints.
It only brought some deep crosses that Braintree dealt with and it proved nothing more than frustrating, doubly so when the Iron took the lead on 65 minutes.
The touch leading to the goal was a thing of beauty, Ilic taking it out of the air and pushing it onto his right foot and away from the defenders.
However, it will be little more than a footnote in the history books as the effort that followed, lacking in power, still managed to slip through Johnson's grasp and roll into the the empty net behind him.
He made up for it with nine minutes to go with a stunning save to deny Williams although even then there very legitimate shouts for a penalty just a second before it.
He also stopped sub Gianni Crichlow from doubling the lead in stoppage time.
City's inability to create efforts on target though remains a major worry.
Their best passage of play opened up Braintree but the ball was smuggled behind.
When they did attack with pace, they looked dangerous, Zane Banton winning a corner with one break.
Goddard was presented with a chance to shoot on 89 minutes but it was neither one thing nor another, curling harmlessly away from goal but away from the incoming support.
The final flourish came from Dawson but his shot landed on the roof of the net.
It never rains but it pours they say.
St Albans City: Michael Johnson, Wiltshire (Brown 46), Clark (A.Jones 76), Sole (Banton 70), Jeffers, Diedhiou, Dawson, Weiss, Adebiyi, Goddard, Green.
Subs (not used): Noble, Lankshear.
Booked: Jeffers 32, Green 43
Braintree Town: W.Johnson, Maloney, Porter, Matthew Johnson, Clements, Pennell, Da Costa (Crichlow 54), Payne, Holness (Noel-Williams 76), Conteh (Williams 79), Ilic.
Subs (not used): J.Jones, Davidson.
Goal: Ilic 65
Booked: Matthew Johnson 32, bench 81
HT: St Albans City 0 Braintree Town 0
Referee: Stephen Parkinson (Watford)