A season of underachievement for St Albans City may yet have a silver lining for Steve Castle’s troops as a battling display at a sun-kissed Claremont Road secured the point required to carry the Saints into the end of season play-offs and a possible place in the soon to be launched Conference League South.
Greg Deacon holds off a Hendon player
A draw at the home of second in the table Hendon may be a measure of how far the Saints have progressed since a 4-0 home drubbing to the same team in December and, although it was not overly pleasing on the eye, a continuation of such battling performances next season – whether it be in the Conference, Isthmian or Southern League - will surely see the Saints to better days than those endured over the past nine months.
City’s best moments came during the opening 45 minutes and were topped by an excellent Lee Clarke goal, his fourth in two games, but the Saints also rode their luck at times with the woodwork twice coming to their rescue along with two other goalline clearances.
On an unusually flat Claremont Road surface it was the Dons who started on the offensive with Dwayne Plummer striking the crossbar inside two minutes while a well struck half volley from Eugene Ofori was smartly caught high up by Saints keeper George Clark. City gradually eased their way into the match and almost scored a fluke goal when Steve Watts could not quite control a Greg Deacon cross but the attempted Dons clearance smacked into Adam Parker and ricocheted a couple of yards wide.
A similar move on 15 minutes brought much better reward for the Saints as a fine first time pass out to the left by Chris Zoricich was well controlled by Deacon who cut inside and sent over an inswinging cross that Clarke headed into the centre of the goal past the unimpressive Hendon custodian Dave King.
Ten minutes later a move involving Dave Sargent and Watts ended with Gary Wraight firing straight at King before Hendon hit back with a crisp drive from Steve Forbes striking Clark’s left hand upright. Hendon should have pulled level on 31minutes when Mark Burgess freed Ricci Crece but his soft shot was easily deflected away by the diving Clark.
King caused consternation in the home defence when missing a routine Deacon cross just before the break and three minutes after the resumption was beaten to a Richard Thomas cross by Parker but the midfielders header went wide. The game, although highly competitive, was becoming increasingly untidy with both sides playing far too much long ball and there was also an undercurrent of bitterness with a couple of minor unnecessary off the ball skirmishes.
Hendon were a more effective side when they played the ball along the ground and following a spell of heavy pressure both Crece and Andy Cook could have scored but for good defensive work by Clark and Zoricich. City replied with Thomas and Scott Oakes linking well down the right and only a good block by King denied Thomas his first goal for the club.
Hendon certainly had most of the play throughout the game but it was with the introduction of former Saint Martin Randall that they became a real threat. Indeed, it was the unmarked Randall who headed home the Dons equaliser on 63 minutes after Forbes had played the ball wide for Scott Cousins to send in a perfect back post cross.
St Albans remained a threat on the counterattack but most of the pressure was centred on the visitors goal where the handling of Clark was excellent and young Chris Seeby also warranted special mention with a series of well-timed interventions and tackles that more than compensated for the absence of the injured Miguel De Souza.
City had strong appeals for a penalty rejected when Steve Butler fell on the ball and appeared to handle while at the opposite end Clark did well to smother a dangerous low cross from Randall and then saved well after Plummer had waltzed around two City defenders.