St Albans City's struggle for some decent form at Clarence Park surfaced once more on Saturday as Croydon, back in the Premier Division after an 11 year absence but seemingly set for a swift return to Division One, avoided defeat on their travels for only the fifth in 17 outings this season as the Saints stay marooned in the middle of the table.
Croydon had not won on any of their previous seven visits to St Albans but facing a club in some disarray the Surrey outfit fancied their chances once Nic McDonnell headed them into an interval lead but to the Saints credit John Kendall's young side turned the tables during the second period and should really have secured only their second home league victory since Christmas.
City, attacking the Hatfield Road goal, started on the offensive but 35 year-old Les Cleevely in the Croydon goal was seldom called into action. The Saints best early chance saw Gary Wraight find Richard Goddard down the right, the central defender turned makeshift striker cut the ball back to Francis Birch whose shot from 10 yards was blocked by teammate Danny Davis.
Despite City seeing plenty of the ball in the middle of the park there was precious little else to trouble the visitors but nonetheless it was a major surprise when Croydon, without a win in 10 Ryman League matches, went ahead on 32 minutes. City keeper Andy Walker seemed to have trouble dealing with a Graham Harper cross as it swirled in the wind. Walker settled for conceding a corner but Croydon took full advantage as McDonnell, standing beyond the back post, headed Chris Dickson's dead ball cross into the back of the net.
Three minutes later City looked to have equalised when Davis played a corner to Wraight on the apex of the penalty area, his low cross shot eluded Ryan Moran's outstretched leg which in turn fooled Cleevely and allowed the ball to bounce into the goal only for Moran to be deemed offside.
With the wind to their backs during the second half City were quick to pile forward after the break and within two minutes of the restart parity was achieved. David Pratt whipped over a free kick from the City right which was flicked on to Corey Campbell but just when the ball appeared to be trapped between his legs a deft back heel put the ball into the path of Moran whose placed shot with his instep clinched the Saints 80th goal of the season.
On the hour another Pratt cross should have led to City forging ahead but instead the diving Moran sent his free header wide and the City defender, on his 19th birthday, plummeted to the ground with blood gushing from a dislodge front tooth for his troubles.
Croydon were not so fortunate nine minutes later though as the impressive Goddard showed the predatory instincts more akin of a veteran striker as he tracked Croydon defender Mark Dickinson who attempted to the run the ball back to his keeper. Unfortunately for Dickinson, Cleevely was slow off his line and Goddard was able to stretch a leg through to the ball and lift it over the stranded custodian for his second goal of the season.
Once ahead City opened up Croydon with greater ease but Damian Franklin, on his debut and taking a pass from fellow new signing Nicky Gyoury, shot across the face of the goal while Davis, after taking a perfect knock from Goddard, cut inside one defender before blazing over. The most glaring miss however, befell Goddard who, having been freed by Wraight, took an eternity on the edge of the penalty area before sending a shot past the advancing Cleevely and against the crossbar.
That miss proved costly five minutes from time as Croydon substitute Peter Garland, who followed Cleevely from Dulwich to Croydon recently, found space just inside the City penalty area to slide an equalising goal wide of Walker. Four and a half minutes into added time City looked to have won the game when a miscued shot by Richard Evans found Pratt whose cross was met with a fine header by Franklin whose hopes of a debut goal were dashed as the ball bounced down off the underside of the crossbar but, according to the linesman, not over the goalline.
Report by Dave Tavener