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Angels bow to the Saints in cup upset
An early goal by John Frendo and a late strike by Mark Nwokeji helped St Albans City to claim the scalp of Conference South side Tonbridge Angels, 2-1, in a tense FA Cup 3rd Round Qualifying tie at Clarence Park on Saturday.
In a tie that was tight and highly charged throughout, City displayed many of the qualities that have been missing in their inconsistent league form this season and joint manager Jimmy Gray is looking for his side to use this game as the springboard for a run of improved league results.
Over the 90 minutes Tonbridge, who included three former Saints in their starting XI, enjoyed the greater share of the play but City, particularly on the break, looked to have the sharper cutting edge.
And at the back the Saints were superbly led by Ben Martin, as 20-year-old goalkeeper Tom Coulton was given tremendous cover on his FA Cup debut.
Coulton, whose only other appearance for City was in last season’s Herts Charity Cup final, received a late call up after veteran keeper Paul Bastock failed a fitness test on Friday due to bruised ribs sustained during the midweek draw at Bedford Town.
City were also without Ryan Wharton, the defender is in Crete as a member of the England 5-a-side football squad, while winger Victor Osobu was dropped.
Howard Hall returned at right-back and the experienced Richard Graham came in to strengthen the midfield.
Tonbridge may be struggling in Conference South but the Kent side, on their first visit to St Albans, began confidently only for the Saints to strike on the counter-attack after just eight minutes.
An Angels attack broke down when a Nathan Green header into the home penalty area was hacked clear by the dependable Darren Locke.
As the ball fell just inside the Tonbridge half Nwokeji headed it past Ryan Watts then sprinted clear of the former City left-back.
Once inside the penalty area Nwokeji calmly, and unselfishly, squared the ball to Frendo who neatly stepped inside Henry Muggeridge and fired to the left of keeper Clark Masters for his 10th goal of the season.
City had to dig deep to protect their lead but it was something they did to great effect with Tonbridge being afforded precious few attempts on the home goal.
Also, facing a side that has scored at just a goal a game so far this season suggested that the Saints could be on the path to a cup upset.
Another quick break almost led to a second goal. James Comley won the ball in the City half and pushed forward until lifting it into the path of Frendo. Masters came out to intercept but misjudged the bounce.
Frendo ran wide to retrieve the ball and, cheekily, tried to beat Masters inside his near post only for the ball to strike the outside of the upright and head out for a goal kick.
Locke glanced a header wide from a Comley free kick before another excellent quick break saw Graham, at the back post, stretch to poke his shot high over the top following a fine cross by Nwokeji and good work by Frendo and Comley.
But despite these anxious moments for the Tonbridge supporters in City’s biggest home crowd since New Year’s Day, it was the visitors who continued to hold the balance of the play.
Four minutes from the break Tonbridge finally mustered an effort on target and drew level.
Green swept the ball out to the left to Watts who held off Ram Marwa before surging towards the penalty area.
With a precise cross Watts picked out Mark Lovell who, somehow, found space between Martin and Lee Chappell, to despatch a powerful header high to the left of Coulton for the equaliser.
The match looked to be shifting in favour of the visitors and from a Lee Browning free kick ex-City defender Gary Elphick out-jumped Coulton but headed the ball high into the Hatfield Road terrace.
For Elphick, the Angels captain, this was only his third match back after around six weeks on the injury list and he looked in commanding form.
City could have regained the lead before the interval when a Comley free kick into the penalty area went via Locke, Frendo and Nwokeji to Martin whose hurried shot sailed over the target.
Coulton began the second half positively when cleanly gathering an in-swinging Browning free kick.
A spell of Tonbridge pressure ended when Browning, stretching to reach a pass from Watts, had the ball whipped away from him by Nwokeji who raced clear following a slick return pass by Frendo.
The City striker struck his shot cleanly but Masters stood his ground and the ball thudded into his chest. The ball ran wide, Nwokeji regained possession but his low cross was cleared by Appiah.
Next it was Tonbridge’s turn to threaten when a Locke clearance struck referee Antony Coggins and rebounded to Green whose effort from 25 yards was saved by the knees of Coulton.
Locke’s next clearance, on 73 minutes, was more successive as it set in motion the move that was to secure City’s passage through to the final qualifying round.
A long Tonbridge clearance by Appiah was headed away by Locke to Marwa who cleverly hooked the ball down the City left to Chappell.
Coming inside, Chappell fed Graham who delayed his pass to evade Elphick’s challenge and set up Nwokeji.
His first touch was less than perfect but Nwokeji still drove his right-footed shot low past Masters and the retreating Watts to restore the Saints advantage.
The outcome came within the width of the woodwork of being settled when Matt Taylor headed the ball to Frendo who then played a deadly one-two with Nwokeji.
Making space for himself some 25 yards from goal Frendo beat Masters with a stunning half volley that ricocheted back into play off the face of the crossbar.
During the closing stages City did a good job of killing time when winning a succession of throw-in’s deep in the Angels half but substitute Nathan Pinney almost salvaged a replay for the visitors.
After beating Chappell and Graham, Pinney laid the ball back to Green whose shot from 18 yards was glanced just wide by the head of team-mate Luke Blewden.
City’s victory was seen by distinguished guests in the form of the Mayor of St Albans, cllr Annie Brewster JP, and the former England and Arsenal striker Alan Smith.
The draw for the final qualifying round takes place at 11.30am on Monday, 14 October.
St Albans are back in action on Wednesday, 16 October, with a 1st Round League Cup tie at Leighton Town. Kick off at Lake Street is at 7.45pm.
St Albans City: T.Coulton, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, B.Martin, D.Locke, R.Graham, J.Comley (C.Henry 70), J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji, C.Watters (M.Taylor 27, J.Kaloczi 83)), subs; E.Bailey, H.Georgiou, D.Keenleyside, G.Ngoyi.
Booked: Chappell, Comley, Nwokeji.
Tonbridge Angels: C.Masters, H.Muggeridge, R.Watts, M.Lovell (M.Suarez 83), G.Elphick, S.Mills, P.Appiah, D.Ijaha, L.Blewden, L.Browning (N.Pinney 76), N.Green, subs; J.Heath, G.Borrowdale, C.Piper, L.Olly, S.Chalmers-Stevens.
Booked: Ijaha, Watts, Appiah.
Goals: 8 1-0 Frendo, 41 1-1 Lovell, 73 2-1 Nwokeji.
Referee: Antony Coggins (Bicester).
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