One year after sitting so proudly on top of the Conference National St Albans City slumped to the foot of the Conference South with an emphatic opening day defeat at Clarence Park on Saturday to the full time professionals of Dorchester Town.
Hassan Sulaiman recieved the Man of the Match
For rookie boss Ritchie Hanlon this was a tough introduction to football management as his side, in what for this year was unaccustomed scorching heat, sauntered around as if this were just one more practice match. Until the second half introduction of bustling striker Hector Mackie the Saints were a toothless outfit and being two goals to the good by then the Magpies were happy to sit back and soak up Cityâ€™s muted fightback before stealing a third goal right on full time.
The opening exchanges of Cityâ€™s return to the newly named Blue Square South contained little of threat to either defence with Cityâ€™s first offering coming through Paul Bruce on 17 minutes, his free kick flying comfortably wide.
But seven minutes later the Saints did almost break through, Bruce was denied when his perfectly struck 25 yard free kick was spectacularly palmed over by the fully extended Simon Evans, but Evans, along with a cluster of players, missed Matt Hannâ€™s ensuing corner only for Hasim Deen to fail to force the ball between the posts.
Dorchester had looked as uninspiring as St Albans to this point although their attack of Jon Docker, Charlie Henry and the Portuguese Hardy Pinto-Moreira appeared a potential handful.
Good defensive work by Deen and Marcel McKie thwarted Docker and Pinto-Moreira while the exciting Henry forced Nick Eyre to save low down but there was nothing the City keeper could do on 37 minutes to stop Jamie Gleeson from opening the scoring with a thunderous left footed half-volley from 28 yards that almost uprooted the newly installed goals at Clarence Park.
Six minutes later and City were effectively out of the game as Pinto-Moreira took a return pass from Docker and quite beautifully dummied his way past McKie before drilling an excellent shot to Eyreâ€™s left.
During the interval Hanlon withdrew the anonymous Gary Burrell and made Mackie the Saints ninth debutant of the day. Mackie may not have impressed during the preseason games but here he was direct, positive and struck the ball with formidable power to liven up his lacklustre teammates. Hanlon also switched central defender Leo Roget and deep-lying midfielder Deen before eventually replacing former Southend United star Roget with Chris Seeby.
Town threatened more goals early in the second half as Eyre punched away a crisp drive from Henry who, after superbly side stepping his way round Gary Elphick, also had an effort well blocked by Mckie while Gleeson went close following an exquisitely worked free kick routine.
For a ten-minute spell City suggested that a comeback was not beyond them with Mackie at the heart of their most promising moments. Former Stevenage striker Mackie set up Mark Beard for a drive from 28 yards that clipped the top of the Magpies crossbar while the City substitute then sent a ferocious shot crashing into the outside of Evansâ€™ left hand post from wide of the penalty area.
Mackie also fired over the York Road goal after Beard had a shot charged down but it was Dorchester who had the last word when Matt Groves forced Eyre into a good low save before beating the Saints keeper in the final minute with a powerful right footed drive on the turn.
Report by David Tavener
City kicked off the new season at Clarence Park with a disappointing performance, which will give manager Ritchie Hanlon an idea of the task ahead. With St. Albans being in the running for promotion with the bookmakers an opening day victory would have settled the young managers nerves. Fielding a new and inexperienced side Hanlon will hope that the players settle quickly and the second half performance may well provide him with encouraging signs.
The first half saw Dorchester enjoy much of the possession and look dangerous in front of goal with Nick Eyre being forced to produce a number of tough saves. With just two players in the starting line up from last season (Matt Hann, Lee Clarke) City struggled to make any impressions on the Dorchester goal with set pieces providing the best opportunities. Paul Bruce had an exceptional free kick tipped over the bar and from the resulting Hann corner Leo Roget found himself free of his marker but put the header over the bar from just 5 yards.
On the 37th minute the deadlock was broken when the ball fell to the feet of the impressive Jamie Gleeson on the edge of the area, hitting the ball on the half volley the ball rifled past the helpless Eyre. Dorchester continued to pile on the pressure with right winger Charlie Henry and striker Hardy Pinto-Moreira looking threatening with their direct running and pace. Approaching half time it was Pinto-Moreira who doubled the Magpies lead when a St. Albans attack was broken up on the half way line leaving the striker running at a retreating City defence, twisting past Mckie and Roget the striker finished clinically to extend the lead.
The second half began with Dorchester continuing to press forward and show the Saints just how tough this league is going to be. The pace and movement of the front pairing proved difficult for City to cope with forcing Eyre into a number of saves. Just past the hour mark City finally began to exert some sustained pressure with good play from Matt Hann and Mark Beard producing openings. It was assistant manager Beard who beat goalkeeper Evans with a rasping drive from the edge of the area only for the strike to fire against the frame of the goal. The introduction of young Hector Mackie in the second half also seemed to give the Saints that much needed physical presence as well as plenty of movement across the front line. His constant harassing and work rate helped to carve out another chance for City when he beat his man and struck a vicious effort which again hit the woodwork to the keepers left.
This pressure unfortunately could not be turned into a goal and late on Dorchester made it three with a sharp counter attack which substitute Matt Groves finished off comfortably. Hanlon may well take some solace in the fact that Chris Seeby and Hector Mackie certainly seemed to make a difference in the second half with more controlled on the deck football. With players struggling for fitness and so many new signings the season can only improve with St. Albans finding themselves at the bottom of the table after week 1. Of course this time last year the Saints found themselves top of the Conference so they know there is a long way to go.
report by Adrian Back