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Glassboys shattered as City's Diarra sparkles
The Fat Lady was ushered off the stage one more time on Tuesday as St Albans City rekindled their aspirations of promotion from the Southern League with a gripping 2-1 victory over fellow play-off hopefuls Stourbridge at Clarence Park.
Stourbridge were not only one of the best visiting sides seen at the Park this season but also probably the best side on the night but Gary Hackett’s side had no answer to the Saints debut making French defender Moussa Diarra.
Stepping in for City skipper James Gray who was sidelined with a back injury, 22-year-old Diarra formed a formidable partnership with fellow countryman Cedric Ngakam and moved forward to score the first goal and then played a leading role in Howard Newton’s outstanding match winning strike.
St Albans victory denied Stourbridge the chance to move up to the third in the Premier Division table while the Saints are now just two points behind the Glassboys and four points away from the final play-off position.
After arriving at the ground with just 25 minutes to spare Stourbridge were quickly into their stride and inside four minutes Paul McCone was most unfortunate to see his shot from Nathan Bennett’s knock down ricochet wide off teammate Marcus Palmer.
City stood firm in the face of the Glassboys impressive start and hit-back to take the lead on ten minutes.
The inspirational David Ijaha won City’s second corner of the night, Sean Shields hit the ball deep beyond the back post where Ngakam headed square to Diarra who neatly swept home the opening goal with his left foot from eight yards.
Stourbridge threatened a swift equaliser when Nick Jupp did well to beat away a McCone cross with Sean Geddes, from 18 yards, drilling the loose ball narrowly wide.
Jupp then did well to catch a dropping Geddes free kick that just eluded the heads of two players in front of him and the City keeper thwarted another attack when diving at the feet of Palmer.
Stourbridge worked impressively as a complete unit but City were not without their moments and when able to play their own passing game caused problems in front of the Hatfield Road.
Sakho Bakare was permitted few openings by the visitors but with a slick shot on the turn City’s leading marksman was not far away from his 16th goal of the season.
Simon Martin was given a physical battering by Sam Smith and on another day could have won at least two penalties given the ridiculous manner in which the Glassboys defender clamoured all over the him.
And Smith was also most fortunate not to be penalised by the frustratingly inconsistent referee Dave Bushell when chopping down Shields inside the penalty area.
Led extremely well by stand-in captain Micah Hyde the Saints, having had just two first half attempts on goal compared the visitors seven, possessed more of an attacking threat after the break but just nine minutes after the restart Stourbridge grabbed an excellent equaliser.
Ben Billingham skated past Ryan Watts down the Glassboys right and cut the ball perfectly into the path of Bennett who beat the diving Jupp with a cleanly struck and well placed right-footed effort from 12 yards.
City now looked to be in serious trouble as a minute later a wonderful move involving Geddes, Billingham and Sam Rock ended with Billingham’s second involvement in the move being a fine shot that Jupp did well to claw around his near post for a corner.
City winger Shields had been well shackled during the opening 45 minutes but after the break he sent over several enticing crosses, from the first of which Bakare headed a yard wide.
A spell of Stourbridge pressure was curtailed when City scored a stunning second goal on 63 minutes.
A City attack looked to be breaking down until Diarra won the ball inside the centre circle in the City half. The gangly central defender soared past two visiting players and fed Bakare who in turn slipped the ball diagonally into the box to Martin.
The City striker, playing his 280th game for the club, arrowed a superb pass wide of the advancing keeper, Lewis Solly, for Howard Newton to strike his third important goal for the club in his last four appearances.
Whilst Jupp remained busy in the City during the latter stages most of his work involved dealing with cross as Stourbridge were denied a clear sight of the Hatfield Road goal.
During a tense final ten minutes, plus more than five minutes of added time, City twice struck the woodwork.
Firstly Bakare danced his way across the edge of the penalty before seeing his right-footed effort bounce off a divot and over the diving Solly to hit the upright with the keeper doing well to recover and block Danny McGonigle’s follow up.
And after Shields, the match sponsors man of the match, had shot powerfully into the side-netting substitute Chris Henry sent a wonderful effort from out on the right against the bar with Solly well beaten.
City may have ridden their luck at times but in stretching their unbeaten run to a ninth match – their best run in six years – the Saints are heaping pressure on the clubs just above them vying for a crucial play-off place.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, J.Comley, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, M.Diarra, C.Ngakam, Se. Shields (C.Henry 88), M.Hyde, S.Bakare (A.Lansiquot 90), S.Martin (D.McGonigle 80), H.Newton, subs; R.Orlu, S.Bonnett-Johnson.
Booked: Watts, Ijaha.
Stourbridge: L.Solly, J.Oliver (S.Evans 72), A.Griffiths. P.McCone (D.Canavan 80), S.Geddes, N.Bennett, S.Smith, L.Broadhurst (D.McDermott 66), M.Palmer, B.Billingham, S.Rock, subs; J.Dyson, P.Lloyd.
Goals: 10 1-0 Diarra, 54 1-1 Bennett, 63 2-1 Newton.
Referee: Dave Bushell (Tottenham).