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Ten-man Saints falter as Cambridge move upwards
Controversy was in ample supply at Clarence Park on Monday night as Cambridge City ended St Albans City’s unbeaten home start to the Southern League Premier Division season with a 1-0 victory courtesy of Adam Marriott’s superbly placed first half free kick.
St Albans complained that the Lilywhites should not have been awarded the free kick that led to Marriott’s excellent goal.
But Saints defender Ryan Wharton did appear to push Marriott to stop the Cambridge striker from getting to the ball and the free kick, just 20 yards from goal, did look a reasonable decision. That said, booking Wharton for the offence seemed harsh in the extreme.
There were two other contentious moments before the interval with the defending side getting the benefit of the doubt each time.
St Albans were first to breathe a sigh of relief after a thunderous effort from fully 30-yards by Cambridge left-back James Brighton brushed the fingertips of City keeper Paul Bastock before crashing into the underside of the crossbar.
As the ball fell towards the ground Chris Bacon stood appealing for a goal but, before the ball could bounce on the goalline for a third time, Saints captain Ben Martin raced back to hack it clear.
Bastock is thought to have suffered concussion in that incident as he hit his head against the upright when attempting to save the original shot.
Fortune switched to favour the visitors just before the interval when City striker John Frendo looked, quite clearly, to have been brought down by Cambridge defender Will Lawton.
But referee Andy Aylott came to Lawton’s rescue and handed St Albans nothing more useful that a corner that came to nothing.
The controversy continued after the break when, on 66 minutes, Wharton was punished for allegedly striking Bacon with a forearm to the back of the head as the duo challenged for a header. Again Mr Aylott felt the offence worthy of a yellow card and duly sent the Saints defender packing.
St Albans may feel that, overall, they were on the wrong end of too many of the big decisions but over the 90 minutes, although more especially on their first half display, Cambridge were worthy winners.
With better finishing the Lilywhites may even have won by a larger margin although that would have been a tad unjust on the home side.
Both sides were unchanged from big wins in the FA Cup at the weekend.
Cambridge, managed by former City striker and boss Gary Roberts, settled the better of the two sides on the first chilly night of the season.
St Albans front men received poor supply from the two flanks while in the middle of the park Cambridge did a superb job in shutting down James Comley and Richard Graham, thereby cutting off the main supply to the wings and strikers Frendo and Mark Nwokeji.
Frendo did at least manage one shot on target – that was easily gathered by Zac Barrett - and another that was within a whisker of going into the York Road goal while he also put a couple of headers well off the mark.
Nwokeji, on the other hand, was shut out completely by the Cambridge defence as Saturday’s hat-trick hero became a peripheral figure.
In fact, St Albans only forced Barrett to make one other save and that came deep into added time when the giant Martin was thrown forward to bolster a struggling attack.
Frendo played a short pass to substitute Matt Taylor who in turn fed Martin. With a quick swivel and crisp right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area, Martin looked to have equalised only for Barrett to pull off a fine save diving to his left.
Those moments aside City really did struggle to apply sustained pressure on the visitor’s goal.
The late flurry that St Albans enjoyed owed in part to a surprisingly negative move by Cambridge who made three quick substitutions, all with a view to tightening their defensive stranglehold.
Given that St Albans did muster just one shot on target during the closing stages it could be said that Cambridge’s tactics paid off, but the manner in which the Lilywhites surrendered territorial advantage in large areas was a risky move that did not appear totally necessary.
Cambridge, though, should have built a stronger base for themselves before the break. Within the opening six minutes Bastock had saved well from a Marriott free kick and Brighton’s brilliant shot had thudded into the woodwork.
When Marriott did score the deciding goal on 15 minutes, with a perfectly flighted effort beyond the Saints six-man defensive wall, Bastock was relatively static and may well have still been feeling the effects of his collision with the woodwork.
But the Saints keeper did enough to put off the advancing Bacon in a one-on-one situation that resulted in the Cambridge striker carelessly toe-poking his shot wide.
Ten minutes after the restart Josh Dawkin headed wide with the goal at his mercy following an Ieuan Lewis cross, while the home side went close with a snap shot by Graham after the debut making Victor Osobu cut the ball back from the goalline.
Josh Beech squandered the clearest opening of the night when sending a close range volley into an upright following a Jackson Ramm cross, Beech also headed over when well placed.
Following Wharton’s dismissal midway through the half Cambridge almost increased their advantage when Brighton’s cracking drive from the ensuing free kick flew just over Bastock’s goal.
St Albans increasingly active dug-out saw its number reduced by one when coach Harry Wheeler was despatched to the stands following an unwise choice of words towards linesman John Wynne.
Bastock had his condition tested again during the closing stages when he raced forward to whack the ball away but only sent it to Cambridge right-back Ramm. His clean strike from 30 yards was on target but went straight at Bastock who held on to the ball cleanly.
In a desperate attempt to stop the Lilywhites from leapfrogging the Saints, the home side sent Martin forward for the final few minutes but Cambridge hung on to preserve their unbeaten away record this season and end City’s run of six consecutive home wins.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, B.Martin, R.Wharton, R.Graham (M.Taylor 63), C.Watters (V.Osobu 46), J.Comley, J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji, A.Goss (C.Henry 76), subs; E.Bailey, J.Kaloczi.
Dismissed: Wharton (two bookings).
Cambridge City: Z.Barrett, J.Ramm, J.Brighton, W.Lawton, L.Chaffey, B.Farrell (N.Beasant 83), I.Lewis, J.Beech, A.Marriott (D.Prada 78), C.Bacon, J.Dawkin (A.Allen 82), subs; J.Abbs, N.Midgley.
Goal: 15 0-1 Marriott.
Referee: Andy Aylott (Kempston).