David Howell enjoyed a triumphant return to Earlsmead on Saturday as St Albans City moved through to the 2nd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory over the City manager’s former club Harrow Borough.
St Albans fell some way short of the good form they displayed up until last week’s defeat by Stourbridge but once in front through Barry Hayles headed 14th minute goal there was little likelihood of Boro, now managed by short-term Saints boss Dave Anderson, avoiding defeat.
Harrow did produce a stirring finish but with City three goals to the good the outcome was already a certainty, which was a fifth successive defeat for the Middlesex club.
The Harrow squad included three former Saints in Jon Munday, Gary Burrell and Joakim Ehui while City fielded the ex-Boro trio of Nick Jupp, Ryan Watts and David Ijaha. On the City bench was recent signing Jonathan Constant, another Harrow old boy.
Off the pitch, in addition to Howell, the City staff included former Harrow assistant manager Ken Charlery, coach Stuart Crawford and physio Sam Backhouse.
If there was any bad feeling between the clubs following the loss by Harrow of so many personnel to St Albans then it was not evident on the pitch as the game, which was very low on quality passing football, passed without undue incident.
On a spectacularly warm late summer afternoon it was Harrow who made the first attempt on goal with Garry Jones putting a free kick straight into the arms of Jupp who was back after two games out through injury.
City opened the scoring on 14 minutes through their first attempt on goal.
As Hayles challenged for a bouncing ball, Harrow defender Munday slid in to clear but could get the ball as far as Sean Shields.
Forced wide to his right, Shields chipped a clever ball into the penalty area where the free Hayles headed goalwards. Boro keeper Jamie Jackson seemed to have the ball in its hands only for it squirm free and roll gently over the goalline.
City’s leading goalscorer Lewis Toomey was denied by the woodwork as the visitors began to take control only for the game to then drift with a seemingly endless spell of neither side retaining possession.
On the half hour the game burst back into life when Harrow striker Alwayne Jones picked the ball up in the middle of his own half and during a blistering run shrugged off both David Ijaha and Moussa Diarra only for his shot to go tamely through to Jupp.
A minute from the break Watts almost marked his return to Earlsmead with a goal only for Jackson to smartly tip over the City’s defender’s well-placed free kick.
Soon after the restart a deep cross by Richard Graham was flicked on Hayles and collected by the again impressive Shields whose shot thudded into the crossbar.
Jackson continued to redeem himself from his earlier error and made a fine save after Curtis Ujah, receiving the ball into the box from Chris Seeby, shot powerfully to the keeper’s right.
But the keeper was beaten for a second time on 50 minutes when Toomey, sent away down the right by Seeby, slipped a pass towards the near post that the experienced Hayles simply clipped between the upright and Jackson.
Seeby’s lively start to the half continued when his cross sailed over the keeper, smacked against the inside of the back post and bounced just wide of the goal via Boro defender Ola Williams.
Jackson was soon back in the thick of the action as he saved well from Toomey and then looked on in some relief as the City striker blasted a penalty halfway to Ruislip.
The award of the spot kick, for handball against Danny Leech following a crisp effort from Ijaha, had appeared to be more than a tad harsh.
With the introduction of Ehui Harrow posed a greater threat than previously and went close when a cross by the Frenchman skimmed off the head of James Gray and flew just wide.
But City quickly returned to the attack with Henry heading over from a Seeby cross and Ijaha firing narrowly wide from outside the penalty area.
The outcome was put beyond doubt on 77 minutes with a beautifully constructed and executed third City goal.
Henry stormed at pace down the Saints left before cutting inside the retreating Williams and threaded the ball into the path of Shields who, first time, swept a delightful cushioned left-footed shot across Jackson for his third goal in four games.
City had a couple more chances late in the day although most of the attention was on the goal they defended as Harrow, belatedly, applied some sustained pressure.
Jordan Lawal and Jupp went for a Ferguson corner with the ball heading goalwards only for an astonishing amount of spin to see it bounce away from what looked a certain goal, with Shields completing the clearance.
City had another narrow escape when Layne Eadie cleared from on the goalline following Jones’s powerful header from Evandro Delgado’s corner.
Harrow got some measure of reward in added time when Ehui fired right-footed past Jupp after good work down the Boro right by Delgado.