Get involved: send your pictures, video, news & views by texting st albans to 80360, or email us
City denied in thriller by last gasp Diarra
A gripping local derby at Clarence Park on Monday ended all square at 2-2 and with a cruel final twist, at least as far as St Albans City are concerned, as Frenchman Moussa Diarra returned to his former stomping ground to salvage an added time equaliser for Southern League leaders Hemel Hempstead Town.
Diarra’s dramatic late headed goal could not carry the Tudors to an 11th consecutive Premier Division victory but, given that Dean Brennan’s side was down to ten men for the final 20 minutes, it was a draw that the highly-fancied Tudors will be more than happy with.
The two sides went into the match in excellent form, in fact Hemel’s run has been exceptional, and for the opening 20 minutes it seemed that a high scoring and incident packed 90 minutes were in store.
By the final whistle there had indeed been no lack of thrills although the football during the latter stages became scrappier than it had been earlier during a ridiculously warm late October evening.
For the opening ten minutes Hemel drove hard at a City defence in which Ryan Wharton partnered Darren Locke, as a hamstring injury ruled out skipper Ben Martin.
City also had a change in goal as Paul Bastock returned while James Comley replaced Matt Taylor in midfield.
Within the opening minute Ben Mackey had a shot blocked and Ollie Thorne fired over after Bastock punched away a corner. Moments later Danny Talbot curled a left-footed corner right across the face of the home goal and just beyond the back post.
Former Saint Lewis Toomey sent a dangerous cross into the goalmouth that Bastock stretched to claw away and was relieved to see Dave Pearce’s follow up deflected out for a corner.
But having withstood Hemel’s early barrage City hit back impressively to take the lead on ten minutes after Lee Chappell’s deflected cross won a corner.
Richard Graham’s dead ball kick into the centre of the six yard box was met by Howard Hall only for Hemel keeper Lawrie Walker to pull off a quite magnificent point blank save.
John Frendo’s volleyed follow up smashed into Danny May. The ball flew across the penalty area to Darren Locke who threaded a fine pass through to Mark Nwokeji.
A quick spin by the City striker took him away from Talbot before turning to drill a powerful left-footed shot under Walker from seven yards out. It was Nwokeji’s eighth goal in just nine appearances this season.
The roar from City’s best gate since April 2010 was a throwback to bygone days in City’s history, sleepy Clarence Park was rocking.
And three minutes later the old ground was vibrating once more when City thought they had scored for a second time.
Hemel squandered a chance to clear their lines following a City corner and with a sliding tackle Ram Marwa regaining possession for the Saints.
The ball ran to Frendo won in turn touched it short to David Keenleyside. The midfielder chipped an exquisite ball towards the back post where Locke lunged in to crack home a perfect half-volley.
But before he could celebrate Locke was shattered to see the raised flag of linesman Alex Fisher for the tightest of offside decisions.
Former Saint David Hutton had a couple of attempts on goal as Hemel sought to find a way back into the contest but most of the action was centred on the visitors goal as Frendo, on no less than four occasions, went close to extending the Saints advantage.
Just when it appeared that City would head off at the interval in front the Tudors bit back.
Hutton got the better of Comley but was impeded by young Harrison Georgiou out on the Hemel left.
City simply nodded off as Hutton arrowed the free kick towards the back post and both Diarra and Toomey moved in for the kill with the unmarked Toomey heading the Tudors level against his former buddies.
It was the Tudors first on target effort of the evening.
By the time of that goal Comley, having started in midfield, had switched to right back after Hall had departed with a leg injury.
Losing Comley from the midfield was a severe blow to St Albans, as he had been an influential figure in City’s early attacks. But even from the back he still peppered the Hemel goal with four efforts after the interval, one of which called Walker to dive full length to save.
Hemel began the second 45 minutes as they had the first in forcing City to defend but a flashed effort narrowly wide by Mackey was the only serious threat on the home goal.
Comley then began his personal siege on the Hemel goal, while a dangerous dipping effort from Chappell also had to be watched carefully by Walker as he smothered the ball close to his goal.
Diarra, with a header from a Talbot free kick, and Toomey, with a snapshot on the break, both went close to finding the target before May was dismissed on 71 minutes for a high tackle on Graham.
In fairness to May it did look like he inadvertently caught Graham after clipping the top of the ball rather than going in with any preconceived malice.
The omens did now suggest that City could add a league victory to their pre-season Herts Charity Cup win over their close rivals.
In a quick reshuffle, Brennan sacrificed striker Toomey and sent on midfielder Jake Gilbert.
Hemel’s problems seemed to be growing as Kieran Murphy was booked for dissent and three minutes later, the 78th, St Albans looked to have taken a stranglehold on proceedings with Frendo’s 12th goal in his last 11 games.
Chris Henry, on for Keenleyside, chased Murphy down the City left flank and seized possession when the central defender got the ball stuck between his legs.
Henry drove the ball towards the near post where the diving Walker, under pressure from Nwokeji, spilled the ball and could only look on as Frendo, at the back post put a simple finish into the York Road net for a rare goal with his right foot.
Hemel’s last chances of averting defeat appeared to have slipped away when Thorne cut the ball back to Gilbert whose angled drive went wide of Bastock’s goal, and soon after Mackey just failed to reach Murphy’s header in front of the home goal.
But the Tudors, in the first minute of added time, were handed one last lifeline that they grabbed with both hands as Marwa conceded a free kick just outside the Hatfield Road penalty area.
After a slight delay while referee Mark Lucie, who controlled a potentially difficult match in a more than acceptable fashion, marked out the ten yards, Talbot floated the ball to the back post.
Tragically for City’s promotion ambitions, they were again caught napping as an unmarked Charlie Mpi headed the ball into the goalmouth.
Locke headed the ball high and as Bastock prepared to jump for the falling ball he was out-jumped by Gilbert and Thorne with the latter heading across goal for the also unmarked Diarra to softly nod in his sensational equaliser.
The goal sparked a mini pitch invasion as a number of Hemel’s good support celebrated with the players while the match restarted to the backdrop of red smoke after a flare was thrown onto the pitch.
Gripping stuff and City, despite dropping two points at the death, will take heart in having stopped Hemel’s wonderful winning run whilst stretching their own unbeaten run to a seventh game.
John Frendo picked up his fifth booking of the season and will now miss City's Herts Senior Cup tie at Royston Town in two week's time.
Next up for the Saints is a trip to Chatham Town on Saturday for a 4th Round Qualifying FA Cup tie. Kick off at Maidstone Road is at 3pm.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall (H.Georgiou 30), L.Chappell, R.Marwa, R.Wharton, D.Locke, D.Keenleyside (C.Henry 64), J.Comley, J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji (E.Bailey 87), R.Graham, subs; J.Kaloczi, T.Coulton.
Booked: Wharton, Frendo, Chappell.
Hemel Hempstead Town: L.Walker, D.May, K.Connolly, O.Thorne, K.Murphy, M.Diarra, D.Talbot, D.Hutton (C.Mpi 60), D.Pearce (J.Parkes 65), B.Mackey, L.Toomey (J.Gilbert 72), subs; R.Parsons, O.Hawkins.
Booked: Hutton, Murphy, Mackey.
Goals: 10 1-0 Nwokeji, 44 1-1 Toomey, 78 2-1 Frendo, 90 2-2 Diarra.
Referee: Mark Lucie (Southsea).
Comments are closed on this article.