Goals may continue to be in short supply at Clarence Park but St Albans City can take heart from Saturday's goalless encounter with a Billericay Town side that has lost just one of it's past ten Ryman League fixtures. The City faithful even caught a glimpse of the future with Youth team striker Craig Mackail-Smith coming on as a substitute for his debut and the youngster took his chance well with some positive runs and good use of the ball.
For manager John Kendall the possibility of Mackail-Smith making a successful impact at this level is a huge boost as steady cuts to the playing budget have made it almost impossible for new faces to be introduced from outside the club. Mackail-Smith, scorer of 19 goals in 15 Youth team matches this season, turned 17 at the end of last month and burst into Saturday's match full of the enthusiasm one would expect from a local teenager but he also supported his keenness with intelligent use of the ball and a willingness to battle on, without complaint, after twice being on the receiving end of hefty challenges.
City went into the game seeking to improve upon a run of just two wins in eight Premier Division matches but in a lifeless first half there was little prospect of either side claiming maximum points as both defences dominated proceedings. Even so City should have gone ahead on 14 minutes when Ben Andrews sent Neville Roach away down the left. Roach appeared to be trapped by the corner flag but skipped past two defenders and crossed low towards the near post. A poor clearance sent the ball straight to Mark Rooney but the wing-backs curled shot failed to trouble visiting keeper Gavin King.
Seven minutes from the interval Gary Wraight, who had a fine game, played the ball up to Spencer Knight whose first time effort from 18 yards flew across the face of the Town goal. Billericay ended the half with an attacking flurry of their own but both Lee Williams and Dean Parratt wasted clear opportunities.
The second half was a far livelier affair which saw both sides create good chances with the Saints enjoying the lions share of the play. Within seven minutes of the restart Simon Spencer went close for Billericay and former Saint Dominic Gentle sent a looping header over Andy Walker and against an upright following a Parratt cross. City responded with Wraight going close with a cracking half volley from a Steve Blaney corner while Wraight also set up Knight for a shot which King parried and the keeper was relieved to see a defender knock the loose ball against the incoming Roach and out for a goalkick.
Just after the hour the Town goal was threatened by a couple of excellent efforts. Firstly David Pratt, picking up on a Blaney corner headed away by Parratt, sent a dipping volley just over and then Wraight hit a volley cleanly but unfortunately straight at the keeper.
City had a let off on 67 minutes when Walker, whose handling once again was impeccable, miscued a clearance which Williams seized upon and forced the young keeper to scramble to his right to smother the swift goalbound return. From then on goal chances were limited although Knight should have done better with a header following a Pratt cross and a minute from time Williams fired wide for Billericay after being set up by Spencer to ensure the Saints first home league draw of the season.
Report by Dave Tavener