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Bastock saves City as Frendo opens account at Hitchin
As St Albans City stuttered unconvincingly towards another Southern League Premier Division point with a 1-1 draw with Hitchin Town at Top Field on Monday, the accolades flowed for City keeper Paul Bastock whose brilliance saved the Saints from a heavy defeat.
Bastock has been the one shining light through six thoroughly uninspiring performances by City this season and but for his agility and bravery the Saints points total to date would be closer to three than the flattering ten at which it currently stands.
But Bastock, making light of his 43-years, was not supposed to take centre stage in this Hertfordshire derby. No, the former Hitchin striker John Frendo is the player who should have been grabbing the headlines from this match.
Frendo was due, at half time, to collect the Golden Boot award for being the top goal scorer in the Southern League last season when he was with Hitchin. The script also said something about him ending his goal drought with his first league strike for the Saints.
With a fine finish from a tight angle on 16 minutes, Frendo, in part, kept to his segment of the script but his team-mates were at a different show altogether.
At times, and it was only very briefly, City played the ball around confidently, but all too often their passing was wayward and the threat on the home goal minimal.
Hitchin, on the other hand, were a delight. Maybe St Albans underestimated their North Herts rivals but the Canaries passed better than their guests, attacked with greater invention, and generally appeared a more cohesive unit.
City welcomed back Darren Locke in place of James Kaloczi while Chris Henry gained a deserved place in the starting line-up for the first time this season, after a couple of match-winning performances as a substitute.
However, and this seemed almost inevitable, Henry was himself substituted late in the second half after a disappointingly ineffective display.
St Albans began in encouraging form with Lee Chappell, frequently looking to get forward down the left flank, exchanging passes with Frendo and then testing Tahj Bell with a low shot that the keeper fumbled out for a corner.
Thereafter, the Bermudan international displayed excellent handling of the ball.
Hitchin were soon into their stride and, not for the first time this season, the City midfield was second best on the day.
Former Saint Simon Martin drove a low cross in front of the City goal that the on loan Barnet player Jamal Lowe rolled back for Matt Lench to send a curling effort just wide from 25 yards.
As Hitchin began to apply some pressure Bastock punched a cross away but only to Michael Noone whose powerful goal-bound drive thudded into City defender Ryan Wharton.
But on 16 minutes City took the lead with a well-executed goal.
Chappell superbly skipped past Lewis Rolfe down the Hitchin right and when his cross into the goalmouth was sliced high by Alasan Ann, Frendo was swiftly onto the loose ball and with a well judged right-footed shot from a narrow angle claimed his first league goal of the campaign.
Bastock protected City’s slender advantage with a flying save to his left to deny Lowe and when Robbie Burns closed in to knock the rebound into the ground, and seemingly into the goal, Bastock pulled off a staggering double-save to push the ball just over the crossbar.
But there was nothing Bastock could do to deny the Canaries on 29 minutes when Noone latched onto a loose ball some 35 yards from goal, and with a generous deflection hammered a shot to right of Bastock and into the Bedford Road net.
Burns was out of luck with a low angled drive that refused to curl inside the far post, although Bastock also appeared to have shot covered.
Saints right-sided midfielder Aryan Tajbakhsh was possibly fortunate to receive just a yellow card when a mild tussle with Callum Donnelly became more serious when the City player appeared to strike the Town captain in the throat as the duo fell to the ground.
Four minutes later City, wisely, replaced Tajbakhsh with Ryan Ashe, although he too became embroiled in a row with Donnelly following an alleged high challenge.
The home side had ambitious penalty appeals rejected when a shot by Noone struck the outstretched arm of Richard Graham.
Hitchin may have ended the first half in the ascendancy but inside the opening minute of the second period Frendo broke clear only to shoot tamely through to Bell, while a long run by Henry ended with a shot well wide of the mark.
These were timely reminder as to why these two sides are the lowest scoring clubs in the top half of the Premier Division.
The remainder of the game was more disjointed than the earlier stages but it was still Mark Burke’s side that posed the greater threat.
Bastock saved from Donnelly while substitute Gary Wharton, with his first touch, stretched to loop a shot over both the keeper and the goal.
Just before almost five minutes of added time City had one final let-off which saw Hitchin go so close to snatching a deserved victory.
Bell, after catching a long throw-in by Chappell, threw the ball out to Lowe. After beating City right back Howard Hall with ease, Lowe darted towards the penalty area and slipped a pass through to Burns.
After being forced wide by the City keeper, Burns twisted quickly and from virtually on the goalline, sent a shot against the outside of the near post.
And in the very final minute Donnelly had a shot deflected out for a corner, from which Stuart Pearson headed wide when the central defender had a clear sight of the goal.
City’s joy at collecting their first away point of the season will surely be muted as the search goes on to find the form required to live up to the pre-season hype of this being a side capable of challenging for a play-off place, let alone the championship.
Hitchin Town: T.Bell, L.Rolfe, J.Bickerstaff, M.Noone, M.Lench, S.Pearson, A.Ann, C.Donnelly, S.Martin (G.Wharton 82), R.Burns, J.Lowe, subs; S.Barker, M.King, N.Burtenshaw, J.Gregson.
Booked: Lowe, Bickerstaff.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, J.Gray, R.Wharton, D.Locke, A.Tajbakhsh (R.Ashe 38), J.Comley, J.Frendo, R.Graham, C.Henry (A.Goss 77), subs; E.Bailey, J.Kaloczi, L.Eadie.
Booked: Gray, Tajbakhsh, Wharton, Frendo, Locke.
Goals: 16 0-1 Frendo, 29 1-1 Noone.
Referee: Neil Smith.
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