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Billericay brushed aside as Saints march on in the FA Cup
A goal apiece for St Albans City’s leading strike duo of John Frendo and Mark Nwokeji carried the Saints through to the 3rd Round Qualifying of the FA Cup on Saturday as Isthmian League side Billericay Town went down 2-0 in a lively encounter at Clarence Park.
After a well-contested opening 45 minutes, during which City gained the upper hand with Nwokeji’s fourth FA Cup goal of the season, St Albans, boosted by a classic Frendo goal from a free kick, controlled the second period to collect their £4,500 share of the prize fund with plenty to spare.
The opening exchanges, however, suggested that this would be a far from straightforward afternoon for the Saints as Craig Edwards’s side moved forward at speed and with no lack of threat.
But City, once again superbly led by skipper Ben Martin, were in determined mood at the back and restricted the Essex outfit to just two on-target efforts.
St Albans have been criticised in recent weeks for a seeming reluctance to shoot from distance but within the opening minute on Saturday left-back Lee Chappell sought to rectify that issue with a fine effort from 25 yards that dipped just over Billy Lumley’s crossbar.
A minute later and Chappell was called into action at the opposition end of the pitch as he blocked a Joe Benjamin shot following a low cross by Sean Bonnett-Johnson.
City keeper Paul Bastock enjoyed one of his quietest afternoons of the season but, on 15 minutes, made his first save of the day to catch a soft header by the muscular Ricky Sappleton.
Former Jamaican Under-20 international Sappleton gave his all but in Martin he more than met his match.
Sappleton won a free kick, having been fouled by Ryan Wharton, from which Glenn Poole went close but on 17 minutes it was the home side that moved a step closer to national glory with a well-crafted and executed goal.
Victor Osobu had already lost possession far too easily on three occasions during the early stages but he got it right as City closed in on avenging Billericay’s victory in the only previous FA Cup meeting between the two sides in 2001.
After playing a pass inside to Nwokeji, the former Hemel Hempstead winger raced down the right touchline to collect the return pass.
Continuing his run to the goalline Osobu slid a perfect pass into Nwokeji’s path and the striker duly hammered a right-footed drive to the right of Lumley.
To their credit the Blues responded positively to this set-back and enjoyed a healthy spell of possession in the City half but with five of their seven first half shots charged down Billericay failed to cause Bastock any anxious moments.
Indeed it was City that ended the half on the attack. Nwokeji almost punished hesitancy in the Town defence but after nipping behind a static backline had his attempted lob over Lumley beaten down by the advancing keeper.
Two minutes from the interval Chris Watters won City’s first corner of the game.
Watters took the corner himself and looked on as Martin rose well to head the ball against the crossbar before reacting fastest to the rebound only, under pressure from Richard Halle, to head just over with his second attempt.
Seconds later Osobu was denied a possible goal by George Beaven’s fine sliding block.
The second period began in feisty mood with referee Ian Fissenden called upon to book five players in the space of 22 minutes starting with giving Frendo, following a dive, his fourth caution of the season.
Frendo’s booking followed a non-existent challenge by Halle but there was no doubting the crudeness of a tackle by the Town skipper on Frendo on 52 minutes that saw his name also enter the referee’s notebook.
Frendo added to Halle’s hurt when, from 25 yards, the ace marksman curled his left-footed free kick over the a five-man defensive wall and into the York Road net off Lumley’s fully extended fingertips.
With that goal Billericay’s spirit wilted appreciably and there was little doubt now that City would be securing their second FA Cup win of the season and thereby equally their best run in the competition for the past ten years.
Chappell tested Lumley with another decent effort from outside the penalty area and then set up Nwokeji for a shot that Paul Rodgers did well to get across and take the sting out of.
Moments after Nwokeji sent a powerful effort over the target City replaced Osobu with Leyton Orient midfielder Harrison Georgiou.
The 18-year-old made an excellent impression during his time on the pitch with his boundless energy and exceptional speed causing Billericay numerous problems. What Georgiou may lack in height he amply compensates for with a fine football brain.
A good run down the right by Georgiou ended with the teenager playing a good ball in to Frendo whose first time shot was smartly caught by Lumley.
Billericay’s challenge looked to have long since faded when a Poole free kick from the left clipped the head of James Comley and fell invitingly to Evans Kouassi only for the Town substitute to slash his shot well wide.
In the closing stages City went close four times to adding a third goal.
Watters, teed up by Frendo, had a low shot kicked off the goal line by Rodgers, and when the ball was returned back into the penalty area, by Georgiou, Elliot Bailey stabbed a shot wide.
As the seconds ticked away Lumley did well when diving to his left to scoop away an effort by Frendo and in the dying moments Georgiou fed Bailey once more for a shot that thudded into the advertising boards.
City welcomed back into their midfield Ram Marwa for his first game in the Saints colours for six years. The 33-year-old has been with Ebbsfleet United for the past three years but this was his first senior game for eight months as he recovers from a broken kneecap injury.
He is the fourth member of the City side that played in the Conference National during 2006-07 to return to Clarence Park this season.
The draw for the 3rd Round Qualifying of the FA Cup takes place on Monday morning with the ties being staged on 12th October. The prize money for the winning teams in that Round is £7,500.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, R.Wharton, B.Martin, V.Osobu (H.Georgiou 66), J.Comley, J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji (E.Bailey 75), C.Watters (C.Henry 85), subs; R.Graham, J.Kaloczi, M.Taylor, T.Coulton.
Booked: Wharton, Frendo, Martin.
Billericay Town: B.Lumley, J.Imudia (C.Webber 86), G.Beavan, C.Dunne, R.Halle, P.Rodgers, J.Benjamin (J.Luke 70), G.Poole, R.Sappleton, S.Bonnett-Johnson (E.Kouassi 75), J.Robinson, subs; R.Scott, R.Mann, M.Lette-Jallow, A.Retkoceri.
Booked: Halle, Robinson, Sappleton.
Goals: 17 1-0 Nwokeji, 52 2-0 Frendo.
Referee: Ian Fissenden (Gillingham).
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