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Inspirational Shields not enough as Saints are Terra-ised
The likelihood of St Albans City mounting a serious push for promotion from the Southern League suffered another body blow on Saturday when Weymouth eased themselves away from the wrong end of the Premier Division table with a gutsy 3-2 victory at Clarence Park.
Saints manager David Howell, whilst admitting it was a poor performance, laid much of the blame for the latest setback on errors that contributed to the visitor’s goals but the problems clearly go much deeper than that.
City are conceding goals at an alarming rate. The clean sheet achieved at Redditch in midweek came during a run of six games in which St Albans have conceded three or more goals five times.
And while the defence is providing rich pickings for opposition sides the City attack is looking lethargic and lacking in creativity.
The one crystal clear exception is Sean Shields. Once again the winger was the only City player with the ability to beat his man and send over a good cross; something he does with either foot.
The 20-year-old created both City goals and won the penalty from which Barry Hayles squandered the opportunity to put St Albans into a potentially match winning 3-2 lead. To say Shields is carrying the side at present may be an exaggeration – but not a gross one.
City showed two changes from the win at Redditch with Chris Seeby restored at right back in place of Danny Gordon, while Spaniard Juan Onieva was given his first start up front with Simon Martin reduced to a seat on the bench.
Onieva should have announced his arrival in style when set up by Micah Hyde in the second minute only to send a weak effort though to Terras keeper Simon Evans.
After that opportunity, the opening quarter of the match was virtually devoid of incident with both attacks easily snuffed out.
Weymouth broke the tedium when a deep Scott Walker free kick was bundled into the goalmouth were Mark Ford hammered his shot high over the home goal.
City responded with, predictably, Shields providing the inspiration.
From a Shields corner City defender Curtis Ujah lifted a back post header over Evans only for Sam Poole to head clear.
Shields followed this with a low cross that Onieva, standing in front of goal, diverted wide of the target.
But what had been little more than gentle sparring burst into open warfare with a spell of three goals in less than five minutes.
Weymouth opened the scoring on 35 minutes when Mark Ford carefully guided a downward header past Nick Jupp following a perfect in-swinging left-footed cross by Walker after his initial corner had been half cleared.
City drew level within two minutes when Shields won a corner on the Saints left and swung the ball into the goalmouth where Ujah, somehow, scooped the ball home via a thigh.
Shields was now in full flight and on 39 minutes cut inside onto his right foot and forced Evans into a low save.
But before the minute was out the Terras had regained the initiative with their second goal as Ujah turned from hero to villain.
What should have been a routine clearance for the muscular defender became a moment of intense embarrassment as his skied kick was seized upon by Ben Joyce who beat Jupp with an exquisite lob from the edge of the penalty area.
St Albans just failed to restore parity by half time when from Seeby’s firm low cross from the right Onieva clipped a touch against the woodwork with Ashley Wells hammering the rebound clear.
Ujah’s misery was made complete when a knock picked up at Redditch led to him being replaced during the interval by Gordon.
Playing down the slope towards the Hatfield Road after the break City certainly enjoyed a large share of the possession but rarely did they look capable winning game, but the outcome was so nearly altered within ten minutes of the restart.
On 51 minutes City scored a second soft goal that, again, owed much to the tenacity of Shields.
Gordon, from just inside the Weymouth half, drove a free kick deep into the Terras penalty area. The ball appeared to be rolling out for a goal kick when Shields gave chase and stretched to lift it high into the six yard box from where Onieva simply could not miss and indeed became the first Spaniard to score for the Saints.
Four minutes later the stuffing should have been knocked out of Weymouth completely when Shields, following an alleged trip by Wells, went down in the penalty area.
Hayles stepped up looking to add to his midweek brace, but saw his soft effort beaten out by Evans who dived to his right and then looked up to see Hayles blast the rebound at some pace out of the ground.
Weymouth spirits were clearly boosted by Evans’ heroics and although they created precious little going forward –they mustered just one shot in the entire 45 minutes - Brendon King’s side defended quite superbly over the remaining 35 minutes and comfortably kept St Albans at arm’s length.
Weymouth did, though, pose a threat on the counter-attack and from one such move secured victory on 84 minutes.
Joyce won possession midway inside the Weymouth half and launched a long ball that Seeby intercepted with a header only for Hyde to lose out under pressure from Stephen Reed as the ball dropped.
The ball rolled forward for Ford to take up the running and neatly side-step the onrushing Jupp before arrowing a fine effort into the York Road net from a tight angle for his 13th goal of the season.
City did get the ball into the Weymouth net for a third time but referee Ben James declared that Ryan Watts had taken the free kick before he had finished marking out ten yards and when the kick was retaken Evans saved from Watts.
And in the third minute of added time Evans denied City once more following a shot by Shields who received a short pass from substitute Tremayne Charles who was making his league debut two days before his 19th birthday.
Prior to the kick off a one minute’s silence was held in honour of Remembrance Weekend.
City are back in action on Tuesday evening, 13th November, when Bedford Town are the visitors to Clarence Park for a Southern League fixture. Kick off is at 7.45pm St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, C.Ujah (D.Gordon 46), J.Gray, Se.Shields, M.Hyde, J.Onieva (S.Martin 73), B.Hayles, C.Henry (T.Charles 78), subs: R.Graham, M.Diarra.
Weymouth: S.Evans, A.Wells (L.Clarke 80), K.Critchell, S.Reed, S.Poole, E.Palmer, C.Duff, D.Clay, B.Joyce, M.Ford (M.Groves 90), S.Walker, subs; L.Clarke, L.Smith, C.Holland, C.Povall.
Goals: 35 0-1 Ford, 37 1-1 Ujah, 39 1-2 Joyce, 51 2-2 Onieva, 84 2-3 Ford.
Referee: Benjamin James (Carterton).