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Frendo supplies the fireworks but City struggle to sparkle
Ten games unbeaten and the probable goal of the season should have been the talking points of St Albans City’s FA Trophy 2nd Round Qualifying tie with Billericay Town at a windy Clarence Park on Saturday, but defensive lapses allowed the attack-minded visitors from Essex to grab a late 3-3 draw.
The Saints defence will be blushing as the management team of James Gray and Graham Golds examine the blunders that contributed to all three Billericay goals.
But had Craig Edwards’ side taken advantage of the number of times that they exposed City down the flanks then the Saints would have lost their first of eight cup ties played already this season.
In fact, it is difficult to decide whether City should laugh or cry in a match which saw Mark Nwokeji take his seasons tally of goals to ten, of which eight have come in just six cup matches, and lose skipper Ben Martin to a hamstring injury.
But it was John Frendo’s 16th goal of the season that had a disappointing attendance of 313 revelling in seeing a master craftsman at work.
With the sides level at two apiece, David Keenleyside arrowed a tempting ball across the Town penalty area from the City right and Frendo leaned back before unleashing a sumptuous left-footed volley from 18 yards that rifled past the diving Town keeper Billy Lumley and into the back of the Hatfield Road net.
Keenleyside threw back his head and raised his arms to the skies as he savoured the part he had just played as Frendo took his place alongside the City greats.
The day, however, had hardly got off to such a glorious start for the Saints as Billericay grabbed an early lead.
The lively and muscular Joe Benjamin dispossessed Martin only to be brought down in the penalty area by Ryan Wharton, who was probably more than a little relieved not to be shown a card of any colour.
Glenn Poole fired the resulting penalty low to Paul Bastock’s right to give the Isthmian League side a tenth minute lead.
That incident proved to be the end of Martin’s afternoon as a slight hamstring pull led to his early departure.
Having played for just 26 minutes of City’s past six matches there must be some doubt as to the City skipper being available for next Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Mansfield Town.
Billericay came desperately close to taking control of the game when Benjamin - with Bastock diving at his feet - cut the ball back to Poole some 23 yards out.
With a first time rising drive Poole looked to have scored again only for Bastock, still racing back into his goal, to pull off an astounding save high to his right.
Junior Luke just failed to turn in a glancing header by Ricky Sappleton to the subsequent corner as Billericay searched for that second goal.
Other than for a Frendo header wide from a Lee Chappell cross, City had posed little threat early on but all that changed on 16 minutes.
Ram Marwa, receiving a short pass from Richard Graham, floated a right-footed cross from the City left into the penalty area.
Town defender Paul Rodgers got a slight touch with his head but that only helped divert the ball into the path of Nwokeji who cleverly flicked it to the right of the irate Lumley for City’s first goal.
An unkind bounce over the foot of the well-placed Sappleton from Luke’s cross saved City before a wonderful move at the opposite end, in which Chappell headed the ball to Frendo who in turn flicked it over a defender, finished with Lumley denying Chappell at close range.
As City began to get the upper hand Frendo muscled and manoeuvred his way past three defenders before his goal-bound shot was blocked by the lunge of George Beavan.
A poor punch by Lumley at a James Comley free kick preceded a penalty area scramble in which Graham had a point-blank effort blocked by Imudia and Wharton was unsuccessful with an attempted overhead kick.
Another chance went begging for Billericay when Benjamin raced away only to cut the ball back behind the waiting Luke and Chris Webber.
Billericay, whose threat down the wings by Benjamin and Luke was never curtailed by the Saints, regained the lead on 50 minutes when Bastock, shut out by a cluster of players in front of him, failed to reach a Poole corner.
As the ball dropped Luke got a touch with his head and as the ball rose back off the turf Graham, standing on the goalline, could only head it up into the roof of the net.
It was a lead that Billericay held for just 11 minutes before City struck for a second time.
As a Billericay attack broke down, Howard Hall played the ball through the middle of the pitch to Frendo.
With a sublime first time pass, City’s leading scorer helped the ball on its way through the Town defence.
As Nwokeji gave chase he was forced a little wide by Rodgers who stretched to try to clear, but the Saints striker was quickly onto the ball and drove a low right-footed angled shot through Lumley’s legs.
City now took control of the game and Billericay looked to be heading for the exit, just as they did when visiting Clarence Park in the FA Cup back in September.
Even so, a counter-attack should have produced a third goal for the visitors but somehow Sappleton missed Benjamin’s low cross after he had got the better of Martin’s replacement James Kaloczi.
Then, on 74 minutes, came Frendo’s masterpiece as the London cabbie looked to have booked City’s place in the final qualifying round.
A wonderful move involving Elliot Bailey, Frendo and Nwokeji, almost secured a fourth goal only for Rodgers to make a crucial tackle on Frendo close to goal.
Frendo also missed out when Keenleyside clipped another killer ball through the middle of the away defence that ended with Frendo lifting it into Lumley’s grateful arms, as he tried to control the ball.
With just over one minute remaining Billericay took full advantage of a slip by Wharton wide on the City left.
Substitute James Robinson charged down the wing before driving a low ball across the edge of the penalty area that Benjamin audaciously stepped over. This allowed Poole to beat Bastock with a fine left-footed effort that went to the left of the static City keeper.
The final moments of the match were marred by a potentially serious injury to Billericay right back Imudia.
Challenging for a header he landed badly and appeared to damage his pelvis.
An ambulance was called when he told the City physio Zac Chandler that he had lost all feeling in his legs.
Due to Imudia’s injury the final whistle was delayed by almost 14 minutes but, fortunately, he did regain feeling in his legs. Nonetheless, he was taken to hospital for examination.
The two sides meet again for the replay at Billericay on Tuesday 5 November, kick off 7.45pm.
City will be without the suspended Frendo for their first visit to New Lodge for ten years. Fellow striker Greg Ngoyi will also be absent as he sits out the second of his three match ban.
Central defender Darren Locke, however, is hopeful of returning after missing Saturday’s match through injury.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall (E.Bailey 64), L.Chappell, R.Marwa, B.Martin (J.Kaloczi 10), R.Wharton, R.Graham (D.Keenleyside 60), J.Comley, J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji, C.Watters, subs; C.Henry, D.Green.
Billericay Town: B.Lumley, J.Imudia, G.Beavan, C.Dunne, R.Halle, P.Rodgers, J.Luke (E.Kouassi 85), G.Poole, R.Sappleton (J.Robinson 73), J.Benjamin, C.Webber (I.Layne 79), subs; R.Scott, S.Bonnett-Johnson.
Goals: 9 0-1 Poole (p), 16 1-1 Nwokeji, 50 1-2 Luke, 61 2-2 Nwokeji, 74 3-2 Frendo, 89 3-3 Poole.
Referee: Dave Bushell (Tottenham).
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