A first ever visit to lowly Bideford failed to arrest St Albans City’s early winter slump as an unfortunate Danny Gordon own goal sent the Saints spinning to a 1-0 Southern League defeat on the North Devon coast on Saturday.
Having seen his side muster just a single on-target shot against a side two places off the foot of the Premier Division table, City manager David Howell accepted that he could not complain as the poor run extended to just two wins in the last ten games.
Frustratingly for the small band of supporters that made the 450 mile round trip City’s performance bore many similarities to the midweek draw with Bedford in that it was only in the closing stages that they upped the tempo, took control of proceedings, and applied sustained pressure to the home goal.
But, by then, the damage had been done and Bideford clung on to secure their first clean sheet of the season.
The opening exchanges were muted as both sides conceded possession all too easily and opted for the wasteful and boring use of wild long ball clearances; there was more interest and creativity to be found in the skies as several flocks of birds circled and swirled high about the Kingsley Road ground.
After Nick Barker and Aaron Harper-Penman put the ball over the visitor’s goal City enjoyed a flurry of activity at the opposite end of the pitch that resulted in three corners being won, all of which Sean Shields swung over without Robins keeper Paul Hilder being troubled.
Nick Jupp was called upon to make the first save of the game following a low effort by Sean Downing while a promising move by the home side ended with Kevin Squire heading over from Barker’s cross.
Just after the half hour City thought they had scored following the most enterprising move of the half.
Barry Hayles, with his head bandaged following an aerial clash, spun away from Harper-Penman and darted into the penalty area before sending a perfectly angled pass to the back post for Juan Onieva to back-heel the ball into the net only to be called, correctly, offside by linesman Kevin Knowles.
Just before the interval Hayles won a corner that resulted in City captain James Gray heading well wide from Shields cross while Jupp came to City’s rescue when using his feet well to deny Kevin Squire after the Robins striker had carefully wriggled his way into the visitor’s penalty area.
Soon after the restart Jupp was again in action to move swiftly to whip the ball away from Downing and Matt Hockley went close with an effort from just outside the penalty area.
Having suffered an hour of watching the ball bounce off his strikers with no one able to keep possession, Howell sacrificed Onieva for Simon Martin.
Hayles’s afternoon, at least on the pitch, came to an end on 70 minutes when the 40-year-old made way for 17-year-old Matt Taylor.
Hayles, though, was unable to watch the rest of the game as he was taken to hospital by City vice-chairman Nick Archer to have stitches inserted into his eye would.
Two minutes after the substitution City found themselves in arrears amid mild controversy.
Bideford were awarded a corner despite Jupp seemingly having kept the ball in play. When a second corner, taken by Connor Clifford, followed moments later Gordon, under pressure from Rob Farkins, headed to Jupp’s right for his second own goal of the season.
Farkins’ milked the applause of the 186 spectators but Gordon later confessed that it was his own goal.
Having spent 80 minutes barely able to control the ball, Chris Henry burst into life during the closing stages and was a threat whether running with the ball or sending over crosses.
One good run by Henry ended with him having a shot charged down, and Taylor, too, executed a good run in from the City left and laid a pass off to Shields whose shot was also blocked by the heavily manned Bideford defence.
With a minute remaining, plus added time, City sent on Moussa Diarra for Micah Hyde and pushed Gray into the attack, but it was all to no avail as the Robins bagged three very much needed points.
Bideford: P.Hilder, I.Sampson, C.Clifford, S.Downing, R.Farkins, A.Harper-Penman, M.Hockley, M.Bye (D.Rivens 90), K.Squire (E.Laight 89), N.Barker, M.Andrew (R.Groves 85), subs; M.Richard, I.Vassell.
Booked: Farkins, Squire, Hockley.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, D.Gordon, J.Gray, Se.Shields, M.Hyde (M.Diarra 89), B.Hayles (M.Taylor 70), J.Onieva (S.Martin 61), C.Henry.
Goal: 72 1-0 Own goal (Gordon).
Referee: Ian Roberts (Camborne).