St. Albans City kicked off their new league campaign, albeit 35 minutes late, in the revamped Nationwide South division with a fine 2-1 victory over Sutton United here at Gander Green Lane. A brace of goals from the Saints’ Northern Ireland under-21 international Lee Clarke secured the three points, and ended Sutton’s run of 10 unbeaten league matches from the latter stages of last season.Lee Clarke was the main Saint to catch the eye but mention should also go to ex City youth defender Chris Seeby and former New Zealand captain Chris Zorocich who both controlled the City defence superbly in the second half in front of new Saints goalkeeper James Robinson, a close-season signing from Hitchin Town.
Where'd he go? Adam Parker comes away with the ball against Sutton.
City came out the brighter of the two sides, despite having been stuck in traffic on the M25 and not arriving at the ground until 2.50pm, thus delaying the kick-off until 3.35. The Saints should have taken the lead after 16 minutes when Clarke intercepted a crossfield pass by Scott Corbett and brought the ball into the penalty area, only to slightly mis-control and allow Sutton’s Phil Wilson to save at the striker’s feet. Just three minutes later City survived a scare when ex-Farnborough striker Joff Vansittart saw his header from former Wimbeldon midfielder Peter Fear’s cross hit the crossbar before being cleared to safety.
Robinson was called into action to push a Nigel Brake effort around the post, whilst at the other end Gary Wraight was unlucky to see his shot whistle just past the post after Adam Parker blocked an attempted clearance. Minutes before the break yet another cross by Fear was nodded down by Brake only for Eddie Akuamoah to shoot straight at Robinson.
Vansittart headed a gilt-edged chance over the bar after Robinson had missed a cross early in the second half, but the Saints themselves made no mistake on 53 minutes. Parker headed on a long Robinson kick to Clarke, who turned his defender one way and then the other before hitting a placed shot past Wilson and into the back of the net.
The Saints doubled their lead, with Clarke getting his second, quarter of an hour from the end. Gary Wraight sent in a corner that was firmly met by Clarke, who’s header from ten yards out hit the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net. The game was not over, however, and Sutton battled back, getting a goal of their own on 82 minutes. David Kennedy beat Robinson to a through ball from Akuamoah and crossed for Fear to score with a free header.
Clarke had two chances to complete his hat-trick and seal all three points, but was unable to convert either. The first effort was comfortably held by Wilson, and then the in-form striker sent a header just wide of the target. Despite seven minutes of injury time the Saints held out to take three points and a positive start to the new season.
Report by Tom Lewis