Despite being a match appallingly low on decent quality football the 90 minutes at Park View Road on Saturday contained a series of high drama incidents including two dismissals, two penalties and a stunning contender for the goal of the season award.
Tom Davis gets stuck in
Ultimately it was the magnificent goal scored by the Conference South XI captain Dean Hooper that proved decisive and has not only kept the Saints head above the dreaded relegation line but also dragged hosts Welling United back into the mire. But Hooper’s goal aside this match really was painful viewing as both sides embarked on a contest of slug-it-out route-one football.
That said, Welling could have put the game beyond doubt inside the opening seven minutes as City, having not played a Conference South match since the end of February, looked all at odds with themselves and the decision not to let the first team fulfil the midweek Reserve team fixture at Redbridge appeared ill-judged.
The Wings were ahead inside three minutes when the troublesome Onome Sodje tucked the ball under Paul Bastock after City had failed to clear the ball out on their left. The Saints were well and truly on the rack as the Welling attacked ripped the visitors apart at will and only Bastock, when pushing a Paul Booth header onto the woodwork and then making a superb save from Tony Browne, keeping Adrian Pennock’s side at bay.
St. Albans offered more as an attacking unit as the half wore on but the better chances still came the way of Welling for whom Ian Wiles and Booth both tested Bastock. The game turned dramatically at the start of first half added time when Matt Hann clipped a good ball though for Liam George, making his league debut, to latch onto. The former Luton striker was sent tumbling in the penalty area by a ridiculous tackle by James Smith for whom the red card could be the only possible outcome. Why he willingly conceded a penalty and put his side down to ten men beggars belief but then so did the rousing reception afforded him by the home supporters. Lee Clarke was quite happy to accept the gift and sent keeper Charlie Mitten the wrong way from the resulting penalty to claim his 26th goal of the season.
After a dreadful start to the season- their only points from the opening eight games coming in a remarkable 5-2 victory at Clarence Park - Welling have made a terrific recovery with just one defeat from their past nine away league games. But the story is not so impressive on their home patch and with a one-man advantage the stage was set for City to secure a seventh win from their last ten Conference South matches. The quality of the football may not have improved after the break but the intrigue level certainly rose once Ram Marwa was dismissed on 54 minutes for allegedly stamping on Lee Spiller after the Wings midfielder had flown in with a shocking tackle that earned him a yellow card once the physio had completed his work. Even before then Bastock had made a stunning save to keep out Sodje’s excellent header.
Now matters were even but not for long as within the next nine minutes City struck two crucial blows. The first, on 58 minutes, saw a Ben Walshe free kick fail to clear the first man inside the penalty area but flicked off a head to leave Mitten stranded as it went high to his right for the second City goal. Tom Davis tried to claim the goal but it appeared to glance the head of Sodje before beating the bemused keeper.
The Saints third goal, in the 63rd minute, was a gem and was wasted on a game such as this. Clarke went on a meandering run before slipping the ball wide to Hooper who almost lost control before electing to cut inside and unleashing a drive from the edge of the box that possessed simply awesome power and soared high to Mitten’s left before bulging the net quite majestically. It was Hooper’s first goal in 30 games for the Saints and was more than worth the wait.
Not surprisingly Welling had the better of exchanges during the remaining time and once Booth, a touch fortuitously, reduced the arrears with a penalty that just evaded Bastock’s grasp on 75 minutes City did appear to be in a backs to the wall situation. But for all their territorial advantage Welling seldom seemed likely to score and it was, in fact, City who came closest to adding to their tally twice through Walshe.
Report by Dave Tavener