The quite astonishing turnaround in fortunes of St. Albans City as relegation certainties back in November, when they had just 14 points from 21 Conference South matches to the now delights of midtable obscurity with the last 16 games producing an excellent 34 points, is almost complete.
Kezie Ibe breaking through to set up the 3rd goal for the Saints
Tuesday evening’s ultimately dramatic success at Margate’s temporary shelter at Ashford has lifted Colin Lippiatt’s blossoming side to the giddy heights of 15th and a healthy eight points above the relegation group which includes a Margate side that has now gone eight matches without a win and looks to be in free fall on its way out of the Conference South.
St. Albans showed one change from Saturday’s starting line up with Scott Cousins returning after suspension and Tom Beech dropping to the bench. The return of Cousins allowed Chris Seeby to move into midfield where he linked superbly with those around him and had arguably his finest 90 minutes for the Saints. Alongside Seeby, Tom Davis was excellent and with a growing and impressive workrate he is now enabling himself to impose his undoubted skills on the game to great effect.
Colin Lippiatt, proving himself to be a master tactician during his short time at Clarence Park, decided to go with just Kezie Ibe in attack but such was the swiftness that he received support from Seeby, Davis, Ben Walshe and the talented Gavin Tomlin that Margate were frequently stretched. The Gate did not help themselves though with the regularity with which they conceded possession cheaply.
On a poor surface completely devoid of grass in many areas, City quickly imposed themselves on the game. Margate started proceedings by taking the kick off and presumably only used it as practice as they had to do it again just forty seconds later after extracting the ball from the back of their net. As City launched the ball forward Ibe kept the momentum going by quickly whipping it away from Gate defender Alexis Charalambous who latched onto Seeby’s forward header. Ibe tore into the penalty area before picking out Davis with precise low cut back that was duly swept home with the minimum of fuss by the pony-tailed midfielder.
After the weekend setback at home to Sutton this was the perfect fillip for City who then dominated the next 75 minutes without pounding away at Peter Trego’s goal. Indeed Margate could have pulled level through chances that came the way of experienced strikers Che Stadhart and Rocky Baptiste. City, though, were generally having the better of things with the defence competent rather than solid, behind them the ever immaculate Paul Bastock again made two saves – one in each half – at crucial times.
The Saints second goal was a counterattacking effort of the highest order. Davis knocked the ball long down the City right following a Margate corner, Ibe superbly held off a couple of defenders before touching the ball into the path of the supporting Dean Hooper whose cross towards the back post was met by Tomlin. The on-loan Staines Town player timed his leap to perfection and opened his City account with a header across the exposed Trego.
Cousins almost increased the lead with a freak goal when his intended cross from the by-line in font of the main stand went way in front of the City attack and Margate defence and was about to drop under the crossbar when the back-peddling Trego – a former professional cricketer with Kent – just succeeded in palming the ball over for a corner.
As the Saints midfield continued to control the game during the second half the likelihood of further City goals was omnipresent. Davis and Tomlin both forced the home keeper into saves low down and Seeby fired over after having his first attempt blocked. But Chris Kinnear’s side were not without chances themselves although their case was not helped when substitute Moses Jjundu raced clear of the City defence but forgot to change direction and simply kept running in a straight line off the pitch wide of the goal much to City’s relief. Baptiste was unlikely to be so careless but his best chance of the night vanished when he latched onto a poor headed back pass only to have his low goalbound shot smartly blocked by the diving Bastock.
The result seemed to have been put beyond all reasonable doubt on 69 minutes when Seeby and Tomlin linked up with the latter carefully easing the ball into the path of Ibe (another former Staines player) who strolled past the home defence prior to despatching it low into the corner of the net for his first goal for the Saints.
That really should have been the end of the contest but where Cousins failed with a freak effort earlier the Gate substitute Eseyas Yudego succeeded as his cross/shot/whatever from the touchline dipped over Bastock and hit the inside of the far post before crossing the line. The woodwork at the opposite end of the pitch was less kind to City moments later as Davis’s shot rebounded into play off the upright with Trego well beaten.
Yudego seemed pleased enough with his first effort and was positively ecstatic as he pulled the game back to 3-2 on 82 minutes with a fine shot across Bastock but his party mood was dampened by party-pooper referee J.Rowbury who had no option but to book the Margate man once he decided to rejoin everyone else on the pitch having leapt over the perimeter fencing to celebrate his joy with a few of his new buddies.
Thankfully for City Ross Smith was able to emulate Yudego’s antics as his header from an Adrian Clarke corner went wide but it was City who almost had the final word as a swift break ended with Ibe playing a good ball off to Seeby who cut inside one defender before forcing Trego into a save with his left hand. Fortunately, it mattered not.
Report by Dave Tavener