St Albans City’s six match unbeaten home run came to an end on Easter Monday as Maidenhead United ruined City’s 101st anniversary by completing a Blue Square South double over the Saints with a fully deserved 2-1 victory at Clarence Park.
United’s fifth win in their last six visits to St Albans appeared unlikely at half time after City had wiped out an early deficit and with a series of fine passing moves looked capable of going on to collect all three points.
But then, in the words of Saints manager Steve Castle, ‘we just didn’t turn up in the second half.’ Castle’s observations are certainly backed up the statistics as Johnson Hippolyte’s Magpies had ten attempts on goal during the second period compared to just three for the home side.
St Albans made two changes from the side that gained a creditable draw at Chelmsford City on Good Friday with Scott Cousins resuming at left-back and Paul Hakim starting in attack in place of Simon Martin. James Fisher was left out after damaging his hand at Chelmsford and is thought to be unlikely to be fit in time for Saturday’s visit to Clarence Park by Braintree Town.
Saints keeper Paul Bastock was given an early opportunity to stretch his legs as he raced from his penalty area to make a headed clearance within nine seconds of the kick off. A header at the opposite end by Adam Everitt, following a Jonathan Hunt cross, almost gave City an early lead but the ball crashed against the outside of the post.
United went into the match on the back of some good form having been unbeaten for five games and situated inside the top six for all but one game since the turn of the year. The longer the game went on the more they played with the confidence that goes with such consistency.
Richard Pacquette – a veteran of one game for the Saints four years ago – sent a teasing dipping half volley over Bastock’s goal before the Magpies took the lead on 16 minutes.
Everitt conceded a corner from which Steve Barnes’ cross was eased out of the penalty area only for Jack Bradshaw, who had an excellent game, to send a powerful drive from 25 yards through a crowded penalty area and with the aid of a deflection inside Bastock’s right hand upright.
Bastock claimed he was stopped from getting across his goal due to having his shirt pulled by Jamal Fyfield, the City keeper collected his second yellow card of the season for suggesting as much to referee Ian Bentley. Fyfield, if anything, appeared to be offside as the ball entered the net.
City could hardly have responded in better fashion and took the game to the Magpies with the best football of the whole match. Hakim had a well-flighted free kick smartly tipped over by United keeper Shane Gore, who, in October 2003, was another United player to make a solitary appearance for the Saints.
As pressure mounted on the York Road goal Everitt headed the ball downwards from a Hunt corner and Gore made a spectacular save high to his right as the ball bounced upwards towards the top corner.
But the pressure finally told on 19 minutes when City’s third corner in quick succession led to the equaliser. Hunt crossed from the City left but the chance seemed to have been lost when a couple of miscues saw the ball moving further away from the goal.
Fortunately for City, Hakim’s miskick went straight to Hunt who drilled a perfectly placed low shot across Gore and inside the keeper’s left hand post for his eighth goal of the season.
Maidenhead were being stretched as City spread the ball across the full width of the park with a spell of accurate passing. Hunt was spraying deadly passes all around the ground while Hassan Sulaiman, playing at right back, was causing problems with frequent attacking forays.
But as well as the midfield and defence moved the ball around City were lacking a cutting edge and United’s solid and rugged defence, led with the usual forceful presence of Nevin Saroya, was blunting the Saints attack. Cohen certainly felt the full force of Saroya’s determination as the City forward crashed to ground following a suspected use of the forearm by the United defender.
As Cohen and Hakim struggled to find a path to goal it was midfielder Everitt who repeatedly came closest to finding a way through.
On 23 minutes a throw-in by Everitt was laid off to Hunt whose shot from 18 yards looked destined for the top corner before Gore once again leapt high to right to palm the ball away for another corner.
Gradually City found chances harder to come by and the Saints had a let off when a back pass by Quilter looked to have put the impressive Mustafa Tiryaki clear only for a mysterious offside flag to save Quilter’s embarrassment.
On the half hour Maidenhead went close when a headed clearance by Ryan Frater went to Ashley Nicholls whose fine half volley ricocheted off team-mate Tiryaki and bounced just wide of the goal.
City rallied again late in the half with Everitt slashing a wild effort well off target and the midfielder also just failed to get any power onto a header as the ball zipped across the face of the goal, while a low shot from Hakim was taken easily by Gore.
United made one change at half time with right-back Bobby Behzadi going off to be replaced by Aryan Tajbakhsh who gave a highly polished performance in midfield as Bradshaw dropped to right-back with good effect.
City, on the other hand, lost their way somewhat after the interval. The neat passing game disappeared with the ball spending too long being used for head tennis. And it was from a header on 48 minutes that Cohen should have put City ahead but his misdirected effort from Hunt’s cross went comfortably wide despite the striker being but a handful of paces from the goal.
The solid figure of Frater is seldom noted for its dribbling skills and going on one such run led to the central defender losing possession to Nicholls. With a swift forward pass Nicholls sent Pacquette to the edge of the penalty area where the fully extended Bastock superbly blocked his attempted lob.
As City faded as an attacking entity Bastock’s workload, and that of his four defenders, grew. Bradshaw found space down the Magpies right to clip a good ball towards the near post that Bastock did well to clear with his feet as Nicholls went in, Tajbakhsh blazed the rebound out of the ground.
The veteran keeper, 39 in May, demonstrated his excellent fitness with two further saves from Pacquette. Twice during the second half Simon Martin just failed to apply the necessary touch in front of goal following inviting crosses into the goalmouth from Scott Cousins and Hakim.
The latter scare for United came during one of City’s brighter second half spells and it was out of the blue when Maidenhead sealed victory on 74 minutes.
What appeared to be harmless ball in from the Magpies left became a killer pass as Tiryaki smartly peeled away from Frater and with an exquisite flick nudged the ball to the right of the diving keeper for his fifth goal in three games.
In a desperate attempted to salvage a point City threw Ben Martin, again the Saints best player, into the attack and pulled Quilter into back four. With Martin absent Tajbakhsh found space to hammer in a shot that pulled a wonderful save out of Bastock with the rebound coming to nothing as Aiteouakrim has strayed into an offside position.
Just seconds before the final whistle there was frantic action in the visitor’s goalmouth as the combined challenge of Everitt and Simon Martin forced Gore to drop a Hunt free kick. The ball fell to Ben Martin but in stretching to reach the sphere the City captain skied his effort high and wide of the goal with Fyfield completing the clearance.
Prior to the kick off a minute’s silence was held in memory of Jimmy Neighbour, the former Tottenham Hotspur player and St Albans City manager who died at the weekend.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, J.Hunt, S.Cousins, A.Everitt, B.Martin, R.Frater, H.Sulaiman (A.Bailey 60), J.Quilter, G.Cohen (S.Martin 70), P.Hakim, H.Mackie (C.Mortimer 80), subs; I.Effiong.
Maidenhead United: S.Gore, B.Behzadi (A.Tajbakhsh 46), J.Fyfield, B.Surey N.Saroya, M.Nisbet, J.Bradshaw, A.Nicholls, R.Pacquette, M.Tiryaki (A.Smith 80), S.Barnes (B.Aiteouakrim 60), subs; D.Clarke, W.Carter.
Goals: 0-1 Nicholls 16, 1-1 Hunt 19, 1-2 Tiryaki 74.
Booked: Bastock, Hunt, Quilter, Saroya.
Referee: Ian Bentley (West Wickham).