David Tavener reports from Clarence Park...
It is not quite a case of back to the drawing board but two home defeats within a week against opposition St Albans City expected to beat will have manager Colin Lippiatt pondering his options with a failure to break down the massed defences of Havant and then Maidenhead United high on the agenda.
Playing their first Conference South match for three weeks Maidenhead scored a simple early goal and then defended with great doggedness with the former Spurs youngster Lee Kersey giving one of the best central defensive displays seen at Clarence Park for many a long day. But Kersey was not alone in blunting City’s attacking edge as the Magpies opted for safety in numbers and successfully blocked practically every cross the Saints sent over from either flank.
Lippiatt made two changes from the previous week with Tom Beech and Matt Hann losing their place in favour of Lee Charles who was making his home debut and Ben Walshe who returned to the starting line up for the first time in over a month and looked a touch rusty.
Maidenhead, beaten at home by Sutton United Reserves in a friendly the previous week, were looking to record a third away win in four outings and inside four minutes were on course for a third consecutive success in the Saints back yard when Kelvin McIntosh slipped a ball through the middle of Saints defence for Craig O’Connor to neatly guide the opening goal, left-footed, under the diving Paul Bastock.
An 11th minute corner by Dean Clark, who had a fine first half, almost led to a second United goal before City started to dominate the possession without seriously troubling the giant but unimpressive Magpies keeper Adenola Bankole. City’s best chance of the half came on 14 minutes when Walshe fed Ram Marwa whose shot was blocked by Kersey but the ball bounced into the penalty area where Charles latched onto it only for his chip over the advancing Bankole to sail just over the crossbar.
United were impressive on the counterattack but most of the action centred on the visitors goal where Marwa, who continued his run of good form, fired just wide from 30 yards and Tom Davis, after Bankole had punched away a Walshe corner, drove narrowly over. Davis, though, wasted a golden opportunity when he nipped between two defenders and would have had a clear sight of goal had he not chosen to go to ground with a dive that was as pathetic as it was theatrical.
Twice within the first two minutes of the restart Maidenhead almost increased their lead, firstly, when James Cook’s low shot was parried by Bastock with Ben Martin completing the clearance and, secondly, when Peter Adeniyi and Clark combined to free the unmarked O’Connor who shot tamely through to Bastock.
United had a let off on 53 minutes when a Nick Roddis free kick was headed into the goalmouth by Gary Elphick only to be knocked over the bar from six yards by the combination of Charles and Lee Clarke. Clarke ended up in the goal net with Bankole and the keeper was fortune to collect only a yellow card after aggressively shoving the innocent City striker.
On the hour the Saints leading scorer neatly controlled a Scott Cousins ball into the penalty area and shot on the turn, Bankole parried the effort and smothered the loose ball before City could pounce. As the pressure mounted, Walshe passed to Cousins down the City left, from his cross Charles headed down to Clarke whose first effort was blocked and his second rolled a couple of yards wide.
With United coping well with high crosses from out wide Walshe fired in a succession of powerful low crosses that the Magpies also repelled but the City winger maybe should have equalised himself when latching onto a loose ball inside the penalty area only to shoot high.
Midway through the half City withdrew Davis and sent Beech into the fray and while his size did indeed add to Maidenhead’s problems his qualities as a goalscorer remain questionable.
Dennis Greene’s side, bottom of the table at the start of the day, moved into an assailable position on 76 minutes with a highly debateable goal.
McIntosh and Cook worked an opening down the Magpies right with Lawrence Yaku applying the finishing touch from virtually on the goalline. Referee Eamon Smith, who did his best to keep the play flowing at all times, looked to his linesman whose flag stayed down. The general consensus of opinion was that had Yaku been any further forward he would have been done for loitering in York Road.
That second blow took the wind out of City sails for a while and Maidenhead appeared to be cruising to victory and could have scored a third through Cook until the Saints a launched a late onslaught. Roddis, with his first league goal for the Saints, set up a dramatic climax on 88 minutes when he ran onto Marwa’s through ball and slipped it to the right of Bankole and into the Hatfield Road goal.
In the short time remaining City squandered three excellent chances. Charles helped on a long punt by Bastock with Martin, thrown forward as City desperately sought to save the game, clipping the ball from a tight angle across the face goal and wide of the far post.
But the two best chances fell to Beech who will have nightmares as he reflects on failing to accept either of them. Marwa won the ball on the edge of the penalty area and touched it to Beech whose shot barely trickled through to the disbelieving Bankole. And as the seconds ticked by Beech, from six yards out, scooped the ball over the target following a cross from Walshe.