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Saints battle back to tighten grip on play-off place
St Albans City edged closer to the Southern League promotion play-offs on Saturday when goals by Kerrea Gilbert and John Frendo saw off troubled Bashley 2-1 in a lukewarm Premier Division encounter at Hoburne Field in the New Forest.
City had to come from a goal down against a Bash side that is set to lose not only its Premier Division status but also its place on the football map unless new investors step in quickly to save the 67-year-old club.
St Albans officials and members of the City press did their bid to aid Bashley’s finances by joining spectators in paying to get in, but on the pitch it was another day of disappointment for the Hampshire club as they slipped to a fifth successive home defeat.
The Saints were quite some way below their best but, as in keeping with many recent performances, did just enough to secure the points.
Figuring in the play-offs may be getting close to reality for St Albans but it is hard to believe that a continuation of their current form will be sufficient to secure a place in either Conference South or North.
With James Comley suspended, City gave a debut to 31-year-old midfielder Steve Wales, who joined the club during the week from Chesham United. Wales’s father, Peter, played at left-back for the Saints back in the 1976-77 season.
Substitute Warren Whitely, signed from Margate, also made his first appearance for the club. Both players made a significant impression as City won a league match at Bashley for the first time.
On a pitch that had a generous covering of grass, but was still a touch bumpy, St Albans began positively with a spell of possession football before Chris Watters laid the ball out to Lee Chappell for the left-back to cut inside and test home keeper Nic Jones with a firm drive that was beaten out safely.
Goalkeeper Tom Coulton made his league debut for the Saints and after performing well in eight cup ties for the club had a few more anxious moments on this occasion.
Bash captain Jack Odam drove a long free kick deep into the City penalty area that Coulton could only punch upwards. As the ball fell Coulton failed to hold on but was rescued by Ben Martin’s kick to safety.
An attempt by Wales to mark his first game with a goal saw the ball fly comfortably over Jones’ goal but the Bash keeper had to dive full length to his right to keep out an effort by Frendo.
Coulton used his legs well to deny Manny Soetan after the midfielder had got the better of Gilbert, and Odam headed over from a corner as the home side enjoyed a good spell.
Bashley right-back Adam Flint almost scored an own goal that would have gone straight into the ‘what happened next file.’
Dave Marden blocked a Lee Chappell cross and the ball rolled wide of the penalty area towards Flint on the goalline. With a wild swing of his leg Flint sent the sphere sideways high into the goalmouth and then watched in relief as the ball dropped and struck the stanchion before bouncing out for a corner.
Bashley survived the corner and on 29 minutes stunned their visitors with their first goal in 450 minutes.
The lively Odam cut in from the left flank and drove an angled right-footed shot towards the far corner of the goal.
The ball clipped the head of Tom Ward and left Coulton with little hope as it looped over the keeper’s despairing dive and into the net.
The lead was held for just ten minutes before George Sykes was sent scurrying down the left, and, with an excellent cross, found Gilbert whose powerful header from 12 yards left Jones flat-footed as it thudded into the underside of the crossbar before landing just over the goalline.
Linesman Wayne Thomas wasted no time in signalling that the ball had entered the goal, but just for good measure Frendo hammered the ball in properly.
Bashley had caused City concern on several occasions during the half when going forward and they ended the half on a positive note with Odam stabbing a low cross by Sam Roberts narrowly wide.
The second period kicked off in pretty nondescript fashion before City gained the upper hand on 59 minutes through Frendo 37th goal of the season.
The move developed from inside City’s own penalty area with Coulton rolling the ball out to Sam Corcoran. With a long raking pass the midfielder found Sykes wide on the left.
The on loan Barnet striker then exchanged passes with the overlapping Chappell who headed the ball deep into the penalty area.
Luke Ansell misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed Frendo to spin round and score with a shot that deflected off a defenders foot and sailed over the leaping Jones.
Frendo had a couple of opportunities to add to his impressive goals tally but the first, following good work by Corcoran and Wales, went straight at Jones, while the second, from point blank range, was blocked on the goalline.
Whitely added much needed speed to the right wing when coming on for the final 15 minutes and could well find himself playing as an out and out striker next week due to Frendo starting a two-match ban.
Also missing for next Saturday’s Southern League fixture with Burnham at Clarence Park will be Paul Bastock and James Comley, as both continue to serve suspensions. Kick off is at 3pm.
Bashley: N.Jones, T.Rolls, A.Flint (T.Manders 71), L.Ansell, D.Marden, J.Bulpit, S.Roberts (S.Joyce 87), M.Soetan, W.Kenna, J.Odam, B.Strickland, subs; B.Morris, M.George, J.Brookes.
St Albans City: T.Coulton, K.Gilbert, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, B.Martin, S.Wales, S.Corcoran, J.Frendo (P.Dean 87), G.Sykes (C.Henry 75), C.Watters (W.Whitely 75), subs; H.Hall, J.Kaloczi.
Goals: 29 1-0 Odam, 39 1-1 Gilbert, 59 1-2 Frendo.
Referee: Richard Corp (Frome).
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