Playing their fourth consecutive Nationwide South match under a different manager St Albans City showed commendable spirit in salvaging a welcome point at Clarence Park last Saturday against a Margate side which appeared determined to match the Saints woeful attempts at defending to ensure an entertaining encounter.
Lee Clarke celebrates scoring the 1st goal for Saints
With the astonishing behind the scenes shenanigans at St Albans far exceeding anything likely to be witnessed in the impending pantomime season, it was with some relief that bottom of the table Saints and midtable Margate served up an equal mix of outstanding attacking moves and simply appalling defending, the result was an afternoon high drama for the disappointingly low crowd.
City gave a debut to the former England semi-professional international Nick Roddis, who is expected to work closely with new manager Colin Lippiatt, while Matt Nolan was also in the starting line-up for the first time and responded with a fine brace of goals.
The first competitive game between the two clubs burst into life on six minutes when Ben Walshe had a free kick deflected wide for a corner from which Matt Hann swung the ball inside the near post and possibly over the goalline although referee Gavin Muge declared that keeper Peter Trego had punched the ball away just in the nick of time.
Another afternoon of frustration beckoned for City a minute later when Margate, as they did for all of their goals, attacked down the City right with Adrian Clarke crossing for the unmarked Che Stadhart to head inside John Armand's near post.
City's response was impressive and within a further seven minutes they were level. Scott Cousins, who has turned down an offer to join Conference South rivals Cambridge City, had an attempted cross blocked but smartly laid off the clearance to Walshe who centred powerfully towards the near post for the incoming Lee Clarke to head firmly beyond Trego for his 10th goal of the season.
Going forward both sides were proving troublesome for two defences that bordered on the invisible, at times Walshe was linking superbly with Cousins down the City left while Nolan and Lee Clarke were both heavily involved in the Saints better moves although much of their best work was outside the penalty area.
Looking for their fourth home win this year City went ahead on 26 minutes with a glorious goal. Armand gathered a Darren Annon free kick and launched the ball downfield, Nolan won possession and surged forward before unleashing a marvellous right-footed drive from almost 30 yards that gathered speed off the wet surface as it curled low inside Trego's left hand post and into the York Road goal.
But Margate, beaten in five of their previous six away games, were in no mood to go down lightly to the leagues basement side and within sixty seconds were level this time with Stadhart, again unmarked, firing crisply past Armand for his 10th league goal of the season following a ball from the Gate left by Romauld Bouadji.
With the defences struggling and both keepers indecisive at crosses more goals were in the offing but good saves by Armand from Adrian Clarke and Stadhart kept the sides level at the interval. The second period failed to match the fluidity of the first but it did start well for the Gate with a fine run by Ross Smith past three players ending with his shot deflected for a corner.
Margate were not to be denied for long though despite Ram Marwa seemingly thwarting them with a good tackle at the cost of a corner, Adrian Clarke floated the ball towards the near post where it was met, well wide of the goal, by Rocky Baptiste whose glancing header deceived everyone and bounced into the goal via the inside of the back post.
Chances became scarcer for City the longer the game went on although a good chance went begging when Nolan and Lee Clarke combined to set up Adam Parker for a shot that he skied out of the ground. With an excellent save to his left Armand denied Stadhart his hat-trick for a second time and three minutes from time that save became even more valuable as late City pressure was rewarded with an equalising goal.
Hann whipped a corner towards the near post where new-skipper Parker headed the ball across the goal and beyond the back post to Lee Clarke whose header into the middle was somehow clipped into the goal by the outstretched leg of Nolan.
City's good work was almost undone moments later as Stadhart crossed to Baptiste whose woeful header went tamely over and that miss should have been punished during added time as Chris Seeby sent Hann scurrying away before he laid the ball off to Lee Clarke whose low cross just needed a touch from the incoming Cousins but unfortunately the chance was lost as the ball got tangled between the defenders feet.
Report by Dave Tavener