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Victory at Redditch is no easy ride for Saints
St Albans City overcame a day of drama even before arriving at the Valley Stadium on Saturday and going on to clinch a sixth successive Southern League win with a hard-earned victory, 3-1, over a spirited Redditch United.
City’s day hardly got off to the ideal start with the player’s coach breaking down on the M1 close to Milton Keynes.
Three minibuses were despatched to ferry the players the rest of the journey to Redditch, but one of these also gave up the ghost two miles from the ground, with another S.O.S signal sent out to rescue the stranded players.
New signing Nathan Ferguson, who joined the Saints on a one-month loan from Dagenham & Redbridge on Friday, must have wondered just what he has let himself in for. But the manner in which City started the game suggested that he could have made a worse move.
With Ram Marwa absent for the first of five games, James Kaloczi took on the defensive midfield role. Standing in for the influential Marwa is a tall order but Kaloczi did a decent job and capped his performance with the crucial second goal just two minutes from time.
Mark Nwokeji returned to the starting line up to partner John Frendo, which led to Jamal Lowe moving to the left of midfield.
City made light of the problems encountered on their way to Worcestershire and dominated the early stages.
Inside the opening sixteen minutes the Saints had nine attempts on the home but that none of these resulted in a goal was almost punished during the second half when Redditch called the tune.
Frendo, Nwokeji and James Comley all tried their luck early but it was a clever shot on the turn by Frendo, following a pass by Comley, which came closest to beating Sam Hornby in the United goal.
Six minutes later Frendo thudded a header against the crossbar following a cross from Lowe, a City goal appeared increasingly likely at this time but Redditch withstood the pressure and began to create a few chances of their own.
Just after the half hour City keeper Paul Bastock made his first save when diving low to his right to push away a deflected shot from Redditch skipper Ashley Sammons.
Four minutes from the interval City moved closer to completing a fifth win in all five meetings between the two clubs.
Sam Youngs tripped Comley just wide of the penalty area and from the free kick Comley deceived the home defence by cutting a short pass to Lee Chappell.
The left-back’s crisply struck drive, right-footed, from the edge of the penalty grazed the chest of Frendo just sufficiently to deflect it wide of the diving Hornby for his 22nd goal of the season.
A fine save by Hornby from Comley ensured that City’s interval lead was just a single goal.
Redditch brought on substitute Leavi Oshungbure for Umit Eminoglu at half time but it was the switching of Jermaine Hylton from the left flank to the right that almost proved to be the Reds trump card.
Hylton gave an outstanding second half display with City right-back Howard Hall frequently able to do little more than look at the back of the Redditch players shirt after seeing him go flying past him for the umpteenth time.
Less than a minute after the restart Redditch pulled level when top scorer Harvey Headley fired low past Bastock from 15 yards after being sent clear by Hylton.
Having equalised Redditch now pushed forward with some confidence and caused several anxious moments for a City defence that had kept five clean sheets in its previous six matches.
Omari Sterling-James shot straight at Bastock while Hylton went close from 25 yards and Sammons curled a free kick just wide.
City’s normally solid backline appeared uneasy as Redditch maintained the pressure with Hylton receiving good support from the midfield duo of Sammons and Youngs.
The debut-making Ferguson blocked Callum Flanagan right on the City goalline as the Redditch player tried to force home a corner; City were hanging on but only just.
The introduction of Danny Green for the injured Comley added some new life to the Saints midfield but a moment’s indecision between Hall and Tom Ward almost let in Youngs, whose shot deflected off the outstretched leg of Ward and looped across the City goal before dropping just beyond the back post.
Hylton, faced by David Keenleyside, squared a pass inside to Youngs who side-steeped Green before unleashing a shot that Bastock pushed away for a corner acrobatically.
Ferguson gave notice as to his capability with a cracking shot from well outside of the penalty area that only just went wide.
But City had a let off when Hylton gave chase to a long ball and charged down Bastock’s attempted clearance with the ball ricocheting close to the visitor’s goal.
Having dominated the play early on, City were possibly fortunate to still be in the hunt as the game moved towards its conclusion.
And in those final few moments the Saints launched two decisive and deadly raids.
Chappell fed Lowe from a kick but when his path to goal became blocked he laid the ball out to Green who in turn fed Chappell.
This time Chappell lifted the ball into the six-yard box where Ben Martin out-jumped Hornby. Before a defender could clear, Kaloczi cleverly flicked the falling ball inside the keeper’s right hand post with the outside of his right boot.
The result was put beyond doubt in the 90th minute when Lowe moved in from the left wing at some pace before sliding a pass between two defenders to give Frendo a clear sight of goal.
The next part was predictable as the London cabbie carefully placed a left-footed shot to the left of Hornby to move the Saints to within two points of fifth placed Poole Town.
City will be looking to move into the play-off places on Boxing Day when second placed Chesham United are the visitors for a Premier Division fixture. Kick off at Clarence Park is at 1.30pm.
Central defender Tom Ward, released by Gainsborough Trinity, has committed his future to the Saints by signing a contract that runs through to the end of next season.
Ward celebrated by picking up a foot injury, but is expected to be fit to face Chesham on Thursday.
Fellow defender Ryan Wharton has left Clarence Park by returning to his former club, Isthmian League side Hendon. St Albans retain Wharton’s Southern League registration.
Redditch United: S.Hornby, T.Willliams, J.Ballinger, A.Sammons, J.Mutton, C.Flanagan, O.Sterling-James, S.Youngs, H.Headley, U.Eminoglu (L.Oshungbure 46), J.Hylton, subs; D.Bridgwater, J.Caines, N.Jackson, B.Callow.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, J.Kaloczi, B.Martin, T.Ward, J.Lowe, J.Comley (D.Green 62), J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji (D.Keenleyside 66), C.Watters (N.Ferguson 54), subs; C.Henry, D.Locke.
Goals: 41 0-1 Frendo, 46 1-1 Headley, 88 1-2 Kaloczi, 90 1-3 Frendo.
Referee: John Law (Worcester).
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