For forty-five minutes at Clarence Park on Tuesday St Albans City gave their most inspired performance of the season before, ultimately, being torn apart by the full-time professionals of Grays Athletic who continued the goal feasts they enjoyed at Cityâ€™s expense last season.
Scott Cousins has a strike at goal
Looking to build on the confidence gained by Saturdayâ€™s win over Basingstoke, City, with Chris Seeby and Gary Wraight restored to the side in place of the injured Chris Zoricich and departed Richard Thomas, played some excellent football from the start and were soon forcing Grays on-loan 19-year old Spurs keeper Nicky Eyre into a series of saves.
Inside the opening twenty minutes the youngster saved three long range efforts from Adam Parker while the Saints new captain Dean Hooper also forced a full stretch save from the keeper. The pressure was maintained with Ram Marwa, against his former club, having a header deflected wide while a speculative shot from out on the touchline by Wraight swerved across the face of the goal.
Grays came more into the game the longer it went on but it was not until the 39th minute that they seriously threatened the Saints as both Tony Battersby and Leroy Griffiths tried to force the ball home from close in. But less than a minute later City were ahead with a spectacular goal following a foul by Zeljko Popovic on Tom Beech. Once Grays had finally been persuaded to get their defensive wall back the required ten yards Ben Walshe stepped forward to send a glorious left footed drive across Eyre and high inside the keepers right hand post for his first goal for the Saints.
The possibility of City going in at the interval just a single goal to the good seemed scant reward for their flowing football but even that hope was shattered two minutes into stoppage time when a Dean Brennan free kick was met by a crowd of players and headed into the home goal with Seeby seemingly being the unfortunate player to throw Grays a lifeline.
Grays were in no mood to waste the opportunity to seize control and within 21 minutes of the restart used their strength, speed and skill to soar into a 5-1 lead. The second goal though, on 52 minutes, was an embarrassment for the in-form Hooper as he was late attacking a long kick by Eyre and could only look on as the ball bounced over him for Mitchell Cole to run through and beat John Armand at his near post.
Two minutes later Vill Power outjumped Armand to head home a Brennan free kick for the third Athletic goal. Any hope City retained of staying in contention faded when Beech laid a pass off to Hooper who superbly put Lee Clarke through only for his sliced shot to drift wide of the target.
Armand denied Cole on the hour but Grays notched their fourth on 64 minutes when Ben Martin was dispossessed by Martin Carthy who helped the ball onto Griffiths, after drawing the keeper Graysâ€™ leading scorer squared for Powell to roll the ball into the vacant Hatfield Road goal.
Barely two more minutes had passed when a bizarre ricochet freed Griffiths who duly tucked away Grays 21st goal in the past four meetings with the Saints. With their place in the 2nd Round of the Carthium Cup secured Grays eased up and were punished in the 76th minute when Peter Afolyan, making his City debut, slipped the ball wide to Wraight whose cross had almost crossed the goalline when Beech applied the final touch for his first St Albans goal.
Report by Dave Tavener