Saints leave it late to ground Eagles

St Albans City’s resilience was put to the test once more on Tuesday night before David Howell’s out of form side salvaged a Southern League point with a 2-2 draw and denied visitors Bedford Town the opportunity to leapfrog their hosts at Clarence Park.

The 90 minutes spent at the Park on a welcome mild evening had been, on the whole, amongst some of the least enjoyable this season yet there were flashes during which City suggested that they may soon be awakening from their early winter slumber.

Once such spell came around the hour mark when Chris Henry for once kept his shot inside the stadium to claim the first City goal, and a second coincided with substitute Barry Hayles grabbing a dramatic second equaliser on 88 minutes.

Both goals game at a time when City, as Howell himself admitted, played at a faster tempo than during the rest of the game, which left one wondering why so much of an instantly forgettable encounter was, at best, half-paced.

Bedford were equally laid back in their approach but despite being seemingly comfortably placed for long stretches will know that this is a match that they could so easily have lost.

Howell made three changes from the side that lost to Weymouth at the weekend. Injury ruled out central defender Curtis Ujah while Hayles and Juan Onieva were relegated to the substitutes bench.

Danny Gordon was recalled to the middle of the defence while Simon Martin joined Henry in attack and 19-year-old former City Youth player Tremayne Charles started a league game for the first time.

From early on the game struggled to flow but City almost made a quick breakthrough when a long punt by keeper Nick Jupp paved the way for Henry to get behind the Eagles defence only to see his scuffed shot go across Ian Brown’s goal and wide of the target.

Bedford responded on 14 minutes with what was the only on-target effort during the first hour of play – and even then it took an element of good fortune to direct the ball towards goal.

Eagles midfielder Eugene Libertucci fired towards the Hatfield Road goal from well outside the penalty area but the shot was going wide until team-mate Callum Lewis diverted it past the now wrong-footed Jupp for the opening goal.

The goal appeared to dent City’s confidence and a couple of misunderstandings between the keeper and his back four suggested that the Saints were in for a difficult night and with a curling free kick onto the roof of Jupp’s net Bedford added to City’s discomfort.

Charles can be content with his contribution overall. He may have misdirected a couple of crosses but from one well placed effort Henry headed over.

Henry posed the biggest threat to Bedford’s lead but the former Tonbridge Angels striker continues to get too few of his openings on target.

Little changed after the interval until the hour mark when the game came alive with City finally producing a shot to call Brown into action.

A quick break ended with David Ijaha putting the ball out to Charles who came inside onto his left foot only to shoot meekly through to the keeper.

But two minutes later City did draw level.

Simon Martin flicked on a Chris Seeby throw-in to Sean Shields and, after an unusually quiet game thus far, Shields laid the ball into the path of Henry who took four paces across the penalty area before unleashing a wonderful left-footed effort from 21-yards that Brown watched flash by him as Henry scored his first goal on home soil since April.

City now looked to be in the ascendancy with a rising shot from Shields just clearing the crossbar. The excitement was clearly too much for the floodlights that flickered off briefly while fireworks being set off outside of the stadium were now starting to be matched by deeds on the pitch.

But, to their credit, Bedford took the wind out of City’s sails by regaining the lead on 75 minutes.

An Eagles attack looked to fizzing out when Ryan Watts blocked a shot by the off-balance Michael Built but the ball fell perfectly for Lewis to beat Jupp with a precisely placed right-footed shot high to the keeper’s left from the edge of the penalty area.

During the next ten minutes Bedford looked to secure the points with Ashley Fuller putting a couple of teasing balls into the home goalmouth.

But City were not quite finished and Ijaha gave the visitor’s warning of what was to come when heading against the woodwork from a Shields cross.

Some may call it wild desperation but Howell can claim to have made an inspired triple substitution on 86 minutes that saw Micah Hyde, Martin and Charles depart with Hayles, Onieva and Matt Taylor called into action.

In less than 90 seconds City were celebrating.

Shields, hindered by tight calf muscles for much of game, crossed from the City left. Hayles and skipper James Gray challenged Steve Kinnibugh for the ball and as it dropped Hayles sent a bouncing left-footed shot from 12 yards to Brown’s left and into the Hatfield Road goal via the inside of an upright.

City could have even snatched victory but failed to capitalise with a break of five players against three defenders while Henry sent another long range effort sailing into the night sky.

St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, D.Gordon, J.Gray, Se.Shields, M.Hyde (M.Taylor 86), S.Martin (B.Hayles 86), C.Henry, T.Charles (J.Onieva 86), subs: M.Diarra, R.Graham.

Bedford Town: I.Brown, O.Wilkinson, S.Kinniburgh, M.Built (P.Cooper 87), T.Guiney, J.Grimes, E.Liebertucci, C.Lewis, J.Ivy, N.Beasant, A.Fuller, subs; M.Bell, G.Pinney, J.Beech.

Goals: 14 0-1 Lewis, 62 1-1 Henry, 75 1-2 Lewis, 88 2-2 Hayles.

Referee: John Scott (Buckingham).

Att: 293.

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