Hungerford end 'complacent' Saints record run

After several months of suggesting that a return to the glory days was on the cards, St Albans City signed off the year with barely a whimper on Saturday as Hungerford Town gained a comfortable 3-1 Southern League victory at Bulpit Lane.

At two-goals in arrears City launched a late rally on the home goal but can really have no complaints as a very direct Hungerford side chalked up their first win in five meetings between the two clubs.

The reversal ends City’s run of 16 away games undefeated in all competitions and ten league games without defeat.

Joint City manager James Gray, speaking after the game, said that he had seen this poor performance coming.

‘I’d seen a bit of complacency (in recent games) and today we were nowhere near where we need to be.’

St Albans made three changes from the Boxing Day draw with Chesham. Darren Locke replaced the suspended Ben Martin while Howard Hall and David Keenleyside made way for Chris Watters and Mark Nwokeji, as City went for a 4-3-3 formation.

City were given an early warning when Watters failed to deal with a clever ball into the penalty area by Ian Herring and former Saint Bradley Gray got behind to drill a good chance over the crossbar.

Gray was a thorn in City’s side all afternoon. Given free range on either flank Gray supplied the quality of cross from open play and set pieces that was sadly lacking from St Albans game.

City failed to heed the early warning and on seven minutes afforded Nick Stanley ample space from which to fire in the opening goal from 22 yards.

Playing down the prodigious slope a positive response was anticipated but one never arrived.

Hungerford played a direct game very effectively. City were not slow in also humping the ball long but the effect was minimal.

The three-pronged attack of John Frendo, Nwokeji and Jamal Lowe was largely ineffective with just a couple of efforts from Frendo testing home keeper Paul Strudley.

Two minutes after the opening goal Gray flashed a shot across the City goal and soon after, following the first corner of the game, the Crusaders duo of skipper Matt Day and Mark Hughes almost forced the ball home.

James Kaloczi, latching onto an excellent chipped ball into the penalty area by James Comley, was unfortunate not to extend his recent good run in front of goal when his half volley crashed into Strudley’s right hand upright.

Another City attack ended when Lowe, sent through by Frendo, shot tamely through to Strudley.

But most of the serious goalmouth action was at the opposite end of the pitch with Bastock saving from Goodger and the Town striker also had a powerful shot charged down by the head of Tom Ward.

Gray maintained the pressure with a shot across the City goal before Hungerford, on 42 minutes, extended their lead.

Referee Matt Rushton awarded the home side what appeared to be a soft free kick wide on the Saints left and Town were only too keen to take full advantage of this seasonal gift.

Gray, ten yards inside the City half, swung the dead ball into the penalty area and Goodger was left to stoop unchallenged and glance a header to the right of the diving Bastock.

In the little time remaining Strudley smothered a shot from Frendo to ensure that the Berkshire side remained two goals to the good at the interval.

Four minutes after the restart the Town keeper made his best save of the day to tip over a wickedly dipping effort from Frendo.

The City goal had a remarkable escape following a Gray corner on 54 minutes with Chappell making goalline clearances from Goodger and Brown.

Before the ball was cleared Hughes also had two goal attempts blocked and when the ball broke to Brown the Town striker had one more effort charged down with his crisply struck follow up being well caught by Bastock.

Gray was next to go close as Hungerford virtually lined up to take pot shots at the City goal.

St Albans made a triple substitution on the hour with the hope that Keenleyside and Nathan Ferguson would add a bit more creativity to the midfield.

But still it was Hungerford who offered the greater threat with a Gray free kick just eluding Goodger and striking the legs of a surprised Bastock. Brown played the rebound inside to Herring who fired over from ten yards.

Gray also sent a dipping free kick just over the away goal before City reduced the arrears on 81 minutes.

Kaloczi looked to be penned in by the corner flag but managed to burst his way along the goalline and drove the ball into the goalmouth where Town defender Jon Boardman sliced the ball into his own net.

There was an unsavoury scuffle as Hughes stood in the goal refusing to give the ball back to Frendo so that the game could get underway again. Somewhat mysteriously Hughes went down and required prolonged treatment as a tedious game edged towards a suitably fractious ending.

St Albans attempts to save the game were comfortably repelled with just a shot wide by Darren Locke giving the travelling City faithful hope.

The final few minutes were hardly a feast of good football as every long ball City launched towards the home penalty area was greeted with an even longer punt back down the pitch.

One such punt, following a long throw by Chappell, paved the way for Hungerford to breakaway and add a third goal in the sixth minute of added time.

Brown surged towards the City penalty area and, faced by Comley, held the ball up until cutting a reverse pass into the path of substitute Mark Draycott who fired low across Bastock to seal the points.

St Albans return to Southern League action on New Year’s Day with a Premier Division fixture at Biggleswade Town. Kick off at Langford Road is at 3pm.

Hungerford Town: P.Strudley, M.Hughes, E.Legg, J.Boardman, M.Day, S.Rees (L.Brewer 85), B.Gray, I.Herring, H.Goodger (M.Draycott 69), S.Brown, N.Stanley, subs; A.O’Brien, D.Stow, D.Burnell.

Booked: Boardman, Rees.

St Albans City: P.Bastock, C.Watters (H.Hall 60), L.Chappell, J.Kaloczi, T.Ward, D.Locke, J.Lowe (D.Keenleyside 60), J.Comley, J.Frendo, M.Nwokeji, R.Graham (N.Ferguson 60), subs; D.Green, T.Coulton.

Booked: Graham, Ward.

Goals: 7 1-0 Stanley, 42 2-0 Goodger, 81 2-1 Own Goal, 90 3-1 Draycott.

Referee: Matt Rushton (Pewsey).

Att: 206.

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