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Crusaders repelled as St Albans City gain first win
St Albans City delivered an anxious, indeed frantic, opening 30 minutes for their first home Southern League game of the season on Monday evening before securing an ultimately comfortable 2-0 victory at Clarence Park over Premier Division new boys Hungerford Town.
Determined to erase from the memory Saturday’s abysmal showing at Poole, City displayed a far greater work-rate and determination against Hungerford who matched the Saints for much of a tedious first half before disappearing completely after the interval as St Albans took control.
For 30 minutes or more the ball was battered from end to end by two sides striving for the first goal but lacking the confidence to play a more patient passing game.
Boosted by Chris O’Leary headed goal on 32 minutes City bossed the second half and did so with a style more pleasing to the eye and with their first points now in the bag hopefully the Saints will have the confidence to venture down this road in future games.
City’s joint management team of Graham Golds and Jimmy Gray made four changes from the XI that started at Poole.
Ben Martin returned from suspension to skipper the side, Howard Hall came in at right back and Aryan Tajbakhsh started on the right flank after completing his move from Banbury United.
Aston Goss was recalled after illness to play on the left wing and crowned City’s improved second half showing with an excellent goal that put to bed any thoughts of Hungerford avoiding defeat.
The opening exchanges were not only frantic but also tetchy, although fortunately commonsense prevailed and referee Lee Forrester settled on taking just four names.
The Crusaders from Berkshire ought to have taken an early lead when Chris Taylor had a shot charged down with Stefan Brown wastefully blasting the rebound over the home goal.
Hungerford’s continued early promise saw Taylor fire wide while City keeper Paul Bastock did well to get down and block a firm drive by James Clark.
The visitors repelled City in some comfort early on but matters improved for the Saints when John Frendo went wide of keeper Paul Strudley only to lose his footing and resort to chipping a cross into the goalmouth that was cleared easily.
Some of City’s brightest moments before the interval were provided by positive runs down the right by Tajbakhsh.
After having one shot blocked the winger sailed past Town defender Nick Stanley before sliding a good ball into Frendo whose shot was diverted out for a corner by Jon Boardman.
From the ensuing corner, swung in right-footed by Goss on the City left on 32 minutes, O’Leary rose to head to the right of the flat-footed Strudley to put the Saints ahead with his first goal for the club.
Three minutes before the break Tajbakhsh whipped over a good cross that went just too high for Goss but eventually came to Lee Chappell’s whose shot from 18 yards was pushed away for a corner by the diving Strudley.
Playing up the Clarence Park slope after the interval St Albans quickly assumed control and although the floodgates seldom looked like opening City never appeared in any real danger of banking anything less than all three points, as Hungerford’s attacking intent waned considerably.
Frendo, after cutting in from the right, was denied his first league goal of the season when his powerful drive was superbly tipped over by Strudley.
Hungerford rallied briefly with a header by Brown deflecting wide off Martin following a good cross from Gary Horgan but on 63 minutes the game moved well out of the reach of Bobby Wilkinson’s side.
James Comley, midway inside the City half, did well to win the ball from the Town pair of Horgan and Scott Rees and touch it to O’Leary.
The former Wealdstone player laid a short pass out to the left to Goss. From just inside the Hungerford half, Goss darted wide before shimmying inside and, from around 20 yards, unleashing a right-footed angled drive that bounced over the arms of the diving Strudley and just inside the keeper’s left hand upright for a spectacular goal.
Strudley was quickly back in action to deny City a third goal when doing well to keep out a cracking drive by O’Leary from close on 30 yards to concede a corner.
Whilst Bastock’s second half contribution consisted of dealing with little more than crosses, Strudley was relieved to see a Chappell free kick drift just wide of the target.
Overall City’s performance was far from what is likely to be the best they can offer this season but it was a marked improvement on what was served up two days earlier and will put the Saints in good spirits for the visit of Banbury United to Clarence Park this coming Saturday, 24 August.
Kick off is at 3pm.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, C.O’Leary, B.Martin, D.Locke, A.Tajbakhsh (D.Keenleyside 85), J.Comley, J.Frendo (G.Ngoyi 79), R.Ashe, A.Goss (C.Henry 73), subs; R.Wharton, R.Graham.
Booked: Comley, Ashe.
Hungerford Town: P.Strudley, G.Horgan, N.Stanley, J.Boardman, M.Day, S.Rees, J.Clark (A.O’Brien 59), C.Taylor, S.Brown, J.Grace-Parsons 71(H.Goodger 71), I.Herring (R.Crockford 82), subs; M.Draycott, D.Stow.
Booked: Herring, Stanley.
Referee: Lee Forrester (Luton).
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