John Frendo’s 25th goal of the season was not enough to secure all three Southern League points for St Albans City at Hardenhuish Park on Saturday as Corey King’s 89th minute equaliser rescued a draw for Chippenham Town from a poor quality Premier Division encounter.
City took little pleasure in gaining their first point in five meetings between the two clubs, and joint manager James Gray was in no mood to celebrate when he threatened changes as City continue to limp into the New Year on the back of one win from four games.
On a difficult and sloping surface City struggled to play their patient passing game and in a match dominated by the two defences goal chances were very much a collector’s item.
St Albans made two changes from the side that defeated Frome the previous weekend with James Kaloczi stepping in as central defender in place of the suspended Darren Locke, while Ram Marwa, after spending five weeks in Thailand, returned to his defensive midfield role in place of Danny Green.
But Marwa was fortunate to see out the entire 90 minutes as just after the hour he, as the last defender, pulled back Chippenham’s James Guthrie just inside the City half.
Marwa escaped with just a yellow card with only the distance between Guthrie and the goal being all that saved the City midfielder from being shown a straight red card.
The game started under bright sunlight although much of the ground was in shade as the sun fell behind the main stand.
The Bluebirds, attacking towards the lower end of the stadium, enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes, although it was the visitors who made the first genuine threat on goal.
Saints central defender Ben Martin broke up a Town attack and fed James Comley. After moving forward Comley touched a short pass to David Keenleyside who sliced Chippenham open with a good through ball to Jamal Lowe on the edge of the penalty area.
Unfortunately the on loan Barnet striker’s shot lacked conviction and the advancing Bluebirds keeper Ben John smothered the ball easily.
Another good chance went begging when Comley controlled a difficult ball and sent Frendo away only for a well timed challenge by Pete Monks to force City’s leading marksman to shoot narrowly wide.
Chippenham responded with a good break by the lively Joe McClennan who blotted his copybook with a hideous dive inside the penalty area with the innocent Lee Chappell nearby.
McClennan was more positive when his crisp drive forced Paul Bastock to save to his right.
A corner count of four-nil in Chippenham’s favour gave an indication of which side had the better of the first half but it was City that appeared the brighter XI after the restart.
Chippenham, though, squandered a good position when Monks clipped a free kick well over the City goal following a foul by Martin on Lloyd Macklin, for which the City captain was booked.
A promising City move ended in nothing more than winning a corner when Lowe cut the ball back to Keenleyside and from his clever pass towards substitute Matt Taylor, Aaron Oakley did well to intervene and put the ball behind.
On 64 minutes Marwa was booked for pulling Guthrie back by his shirt after a hooked clearance by McClennan caught City by surprise.
A good spell for the Saints saw a square pass by Matt Taylor strike Lowe’s knee before being caught close to the crossbar by John, while Frendo shot low across the goal and just wide following good work by Keenleyside, Taylor and Comley down the City left.
With 13 minutes remaining City scored what looked set to be the winning goal.
A Comley free kick just inside the Town half was knocked into the home penalty area where Martin rose well to head the ball down for Frendo to open the scoring with a deft touch of his right foot.
It is only the third of Frendo’s 25 goals this season not to have come via his left boot.
Without a win from their previous six matches, Chippenham rallied well only for Lee Phillips to head straight at Bastock when well placed.
Following the goal St Albans made it clear that they were looking for a second when bringing on Mark Nwokeji and Nathan Ferguson for Lowe and Keenleyside.
One of the Saints best moves of the game saw Frendo knock a good ball out to the overlapping Chappell before continuing his own run into the penalty area. But the chance was lost when Frendo had to stretch to reach Chappell’s cut back and fired well over.
On 89 minutes Chippenham grabbed a surprise equaliser when Guthrie received Monks throw-in from the Town left and neatly twisted away from Howard Hall.
Guthrie stretched to drive the ball low towards the back post where Bluebirds substitute King hammered home his first goal for the club.
Chippenham quickly regained possession from the kick off and kept City penned down with crosses by McClennan and King, while Taylor’s cross at the opposite end of the pitch was just too high for Nwokeji to head in.
The draw keeps St Albans in seventh place but the Saints can move into a play-off position on Monday night (13th January) when relegation threatened AFC Totton are the visitors to Clarence Park. Kick off is at 7.45pm.
Both Chris Henry and Darren Locke are expected to be added to the squad after completing their respective suspensions.
Chippenham Town: B.John, H.Purnell, P.Monks, I.Harvey (B.Smith 11), A.Oakley, G.Tindle, J.McClennan, R.Dean (C.King 80), L.Macklin, L.Phillips, J.Guthrie, subs; T.Knighton, J.Beeden, C.Wright.
Booked: Guthrie, Dean.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, B.Martin, J.Kaloczi, D.Keenleyside (N.Ferguson 80), J.Comley, J.Frendo, J.Lowe (M.Nwokeji 78), R.Graham (M.Taylor 61), subs; E.Bailey, K.Gilbert.
Booked: Martin, Marwa.
Goals: 77 0-1 Frendo, 89 1-1 King.
Referee: Mark Russell (Portishead).