Goals flow as City Burn 'em in the sun

St Albans & Harpenden Review: City captain Ben Martin tucks away a 19th minute equaliser. Picture: Leigh Page City captain Ben Martin tucks away a 19th minute equaliser. Picture: Leigh Page

A flurry of late goals and intriguing incidents sent another good-sized Clarence Park crowd home happy on Saturday as St Albans City took one more significant step towards the Southern League promotion play-offs with a 5-2 victory over a battling Burnham.

City’s margin of victory was inflated by two goals during added time, but for chances created the Saints, although once more generally playing below their perceived best, were not flattered by the three-goal triumph.

St Albans line up was barely recognisable from that of a month ago but the new boys are making their mark with midfielder Steve Wales and striker George Sykes contributing three of the goals, as City completed their fifth Premier Division double of the season.

In a sometimes feisty encounter, Burnham gave a decent account of themselves with their attacking trio of Nicke Kebamba, Ryan Blake and Myles Hippolyte, causing the Saints several anxious moments.

But most of the goalmouth action came in front of Adam Lawrence’s goal and only three quite superb saves by the Burnham keeper kept the defeat to an acceptable margin.

That said, it was Burnham, on their first visit to St Albans, who opened the scoring on eight minutes following a foul by Tom Ward on Kebamba.

Hippolyte’s dead ball strike deflected off a not very solid wall and ran into the path of Lewis Driver who comfortably stroked the ball home from six yards.

City needed just 11 minutes to pull level when Ben Martin tapped the ball in from close range after Lawrence had failed to collect a Chris Watters corner.

Lawrence’s claim that he was impeded by City striker Warren Whitely, as he went for Watters corner, appeared to have some merit but St Albans were happy to accept their good fortune in a match containing a number of curious decisions by referee Nigel Phillips.

Burnham applied a spell of pressure midway through the half but two consecutive corners, taken by Ryan Upward, failed to worry the Saints.

St Albans were soon back on the attack and Lawrence made his first excellent save of the day when stretching athletically to tip over Watters rasping drive after a Ram Marwa cross had clipped the head of Burnham defender David Stevens.

Moments later Watters turned swiftly inside the penalty area but this time his shot was blocked and put out for a corner.

City full-back Howard Hall produced a couple of good overlapping runs late in the half and sent over low crosses that created unaccepted chances for Wales and Watters, while Sykes only just failed to connect with a fine cross by Whitely.

Despite the number of chances created it was not a vintage first half performance by the Saints, but they did show a distinct improvement after the break.

Soon after the restart Wales darted across the edge of the penalty area and nudged the ball onto Lee Chappell.

The left-back’s cleanly struck drive looked destined for the corner of the net before Lawrence pulled off a stunning save low to his left.

From Watters corner, Martin inadvertently headed the ball away from goal but it struck Ward and rebounded to Sykes whose close range effort was charged down.

Burnham remained penned in as Whitely whipped over a low cross that was just too long for the lunge of Sykes.

City’s growing dominance had to tell and on 58 minutes the Saints notched their 80th league goal of the season.

Ward and Martin worked the ball across the pitch to Chappell. With one-touch Chappell fed Watters and headed off on an overlap to receive the return pass.

Chappell then drove an excellent low cross towards the near post that Sykes clipped goalwards only for Lawrence to parry.

But as the loose ball ran towards the back post the keeper could only look on as Wales, from virtually on the goalline, struck his first goal for the Saints.

An offside flag denied Sykes a goal as City pressed forward, while at the opposite end of the pitch Tom Coulton saved well from Kebamba with the Burnham’s strikers follow up effort before deflected wide for a corner.

St Albans moved into a 3-1 lead on 65 minutes when a cross from the right by Wales was blocked by George Pilbeam, the ball ran onto Sykes whose shot sailed into the roof of the net off the leg of the diving Lee Togwell.

Lawrence, however, remained defiant and when Whitely successfully executed an audacious flick inside the penalty area following a Hall throw-in, the keeper pushed the ball over the top in dramatic fashion.

From one of their most incisive moves of the afternoon City went close to adding a fourth goal.

Coulton caught a free kick and quickly found substitute Matt Taylor on the right of the midfield. With a superb curling through ball behind the Burnham defence Watters was sent clear, only to poke his shot harmlessly wide as Lawrence moved from his goalline.

Warmed by the welcoming clear blue skies and bright sunlight, City appeared content with their haul during the latter stages but were shaken from their lethargy when Burnham reduced the arrears in the 90th minute.

Blake, at the start of a thrilling and pacy run down the Burnham left wing, exchanged passes with Upward and Spaniard Antonio Tomas Abreu.

After storming past James Kaloczi, Blake cut the ball back across the penalty area to the free Kebamba who fired the ball home with some force into the Hatfield Road goal.

It was the spark that ignited a roaring fire during the final four minutes of the match.

In the second minute of added time Watters, on the City right, swung a corner deep into the penalty area towards Martin, but before the City captain could get in a header Stevens quite ridiculously palmed the ball away.

Having earlier been booked for a foul on Sykes, Stevens was duly shown a second yellow card and despatched to get the showers warmed up.

Watters made certain of a City victory when his left-footed spot kick nestled just out of Lawrence’s reach inside the keeper’s left hand upright.

Two minutes later and ten-man Burnham were further punished when the Saints chalked up a cracking fifth goal.

Picking the ball up just inside the Burnham half, Wales ran at three defenders and, after receiving a helping touch from Chris Henry, shimmied inside Upward and beat Lawrence from 22 yards with a perfectly struck right-footed effort.

Mathematically St Albans still have plenty of work to do over the remaining five league games, but in reality they appear to already have one foot safely inside the play-off zone.

Next up for the Saints is the short trip to Hemel Hempstead Town next Saturday, 5th April.

The Tudors are locked in a fascinating tussle with Chesham United for the championship; while City will be looking for a fourth straight win to secure third place and a home draw in the play-offs.

City will again be without the suspended Paul Bastock and John Frendo, but James Comley is available after completing his ban.

Kick off at Vauxhall Road is at 3pm.

St Albans City: T.Coulton, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, B.Martin, S.Wales, S.Corcoran (J.Kaloczi 65), W.Whitely (C.Henry 77), G.Sykes (M.Taylor 77), C.Watters, subs; K.Gilbert, D.Green.

Booked: Martin.

Burnham: A.Lawrence, G.Pilbeam (S.Boultwood 87), R.Upward, D.Stevens, A.Smith, L.Togwell, A.Couch (A.Abreu 81), L.Driver, N.Kebamba, R.Blake, M.Hippolyte, sub; A.O’Brien.

Booked: Pilbeam, Driver.

Dismissed: Stevens.

Referee: Nigel Phillips (Ely).

Attendance: 640.

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