Windswept draw at Frome sees City into the play-offs

St Albans & Harpenden Review: James Comley retained the captain's armband for City's visit to Frome Town. Picture: Leigh Page James Comley retained the captain's armband for City's visit to Frome Town. Picture: Leigh Page

A windswept St Albans City stumbled into the Southern League play-offs on Saturday when a gruelling encounter with mid-table Frome Town at Berkley Road failed to produce a single goal but did give the Saints the crucial point required for a top four finish.

A draw was fair reward for both sides in a match that was heavy influenced by a remarkably strong and swirling wind that was of no real assistance to either team.

Both teams can point to incidents when the match could have turned in their favour but, generally, there was little to commend these 90 minutes played out against a backdrop of the strikingly picturesque Somerset countryside.

For Frome the draw is good preparation for a midweek Somerset Premier Cup final.

While for City it means the extension of their season by at least one game, with Cambridge City laying in wait in the play-off semi-final at Histon this coming Wednesday.

City made two changes from the Easter Monday win over Biggleswade, with Kerrea Gilbert coming in for Howard Hall at right back, and Ben Martin returning, after suspension, to replace Tom Ward.

Needing just a point to ensure a play-off place the Saints afternoon almost got off to a dreadful start when young Frome central defender Jack Vallis headed against an upright with Paul Bastock well beaten.

As City struggled to make a positive impression early on the Robins went close again on 17 minutes when Matt Smith flashed a shot wide after a Frome corner had been only partially cleared.

A half chance came City’s way when their first flowing move of the game ended with Sam Corcoran pushing the ball out to Lee Chappell but the full-back’s low cross from the left was just out of the reach of George Sykes.

St Albans did get the ball into the net on 36 minutes when Ram Marwa leapt athletically to powerfully head home a Chappell corner from eight yards, but the goal was disallowed, somewhat harshly, for an alleged foul by John Frendo close to the goalline.

Right on half time, Chappell had a free kick from 25 yards that home keeper Darren Chitty saved comfortably. It was City’s only on-target shot of the half as five others completely lacked direction with two sailing out of the stadium.

During the early stages of the second half City played at a better tempo and looked a more cohesive unit; the elements looked as though they were being overcome.

Two minutes into the half Steve Wales embarked on a long run before helping the ball across the edge of the penalty area to James Comley.

With a piece of quick thinking, instead of confronting the three defenders between him and the goal, the City captain stylishly chipped the ball and Chitty had to backtrack and stretch to keep the scores level.

The promise of better things to come continued as Martin broke up a Frome attack and City moved forward quickly through Corcoran, Frendo and Wales.

After receiving a short from Wales, Comley sped wide of two defenders and cut the ball back from the goalline to Corcoran whose first time shot was kicked over the crossbar by Josh Ford from virtually on the goalline.

City continued in the ascendancy with Gilbert shooting across the face of the goal from well outside the penalty area.

Frome hung on as a header by Martin from a Chappell corner was blocked on the goalline by Ford. In the frantic few seconds that followed Sykes sliced a shot well wide but straight to Locke, whose shot was again charged down close to the goal.

The match took an unsavoury twist on the hour when an innocuous tumble involving Ben Thomson and Martin became a full blown inter county dispute involving almost every player in two linked but separate spats.

Referee Savvi Yianni, whose overall control of the game was good, dismissed Thomson and showed Martin a yellow card.

Frome responded well to going down to ten men with Bastock facing his busiest period of the afternoon and being called upon by Ben Wood to make his best save of the match.

Goalmouth activity faded as the game limped painfully towards its conclusion but with both teams having cause for mild celebrations.

City now head into an extended period of activity with a shot at promotion via the play-offs, while Frome can bask in the satisfaction of attaining their highest ever Southern League placing.

St Albans head for Bridge Road, Histon, on Wednesday in good form at the back having conceded just two goals in five games.

But a lack of creativity is causing the Saints problems at the moment with Frendo, in particular, not receiving good support at present, while Sykes’ finishing remains erratic.

St Albans beat Cambridge City 3-0 when the sides met at Histon in November, a win of any margin this time will secure a place in the final on Bank Holiday Monday, 5th May.

Frome Town: D.Chitty, J.Ford, M.Cooper, R.Baggridge, J.Vallis, J.Vance, K.Miller (M.Groves 26), M.Smith, B.Thomson, R.Hulbert (T.Stephenson 90), B.Wood, subs; B.Mundy, S.Armstrong.

Dismissed: Thomson.

St Albans City: P.Bastock, K.Gilbert, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, B.Martin, D.Locke, S.Wales (C.Watters 79), J.Comley, J.Frendo (W.Whitely 74), G.Sykes, S.Corcoran, subs; C.Henry, T.Ward, D.Green.

Booked: Martin.

Referee: Savvi Yianni (Weston-super-Mare).

Att: 352.

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