St Albans City’s remarkable transition under Colin Lippiatt from relegation fodder to the most in-form side in the Nationwide Conference South continued on Easter Monday with a victory at Lewes’ enchanting Dripping Pan ground that was as hard fought as any the Saints have achieved during their resurrection.
Dean Hooper in action
On Saturday against Bishop’s Stortford, City demonstrated that they can play as good a quality of football as any side in the Division while on Monday, for the second successive away game, the team proved they have the heart, strength and wit to also mix it when circumstances demand. This was not a game for the purist but when your side chalks up a ninth win from a dozen matches who really cares.
Three sides of the Dripping Pan remain unaltered since our most recent visit 19 years ago but the clubhouse end is now home to an excellent covered terrace that is the equal of any in the league. The other sides are quaint and a pleasure to walk around but sadly no longer are they deemed suitable for football at this level.
City were unchanged from Saturday while the Rooks made just one amendment from the side defeated at Carshalton at the weekend. The opening 45 minutes were low-key with goalmouth action more a collectors item than infrequent, even so Paul Bastock did pull off one fine save in dealing with a dangerous low cross by Jay Lovett that almost bounced its way inside the far post. With the pitch being bare in areas and dry all over the bounce of the ball made life difficult for both sides and maybe this contributed to the general scrappiness of the whole game.
St. Albans had the balance of the play during the opening 45 minutes but there never appeared even the remotest possibility of getting anywhere close to the seven goal haul recorded on our most recent visit to this part of East Sussex. Perhaps it was the lack of excitement that persuaded one of the linesman to join in after 36 minutes and ludicrously penalise Gary Elphick for holding Barrington Belgrave and convince referee Matt Stewart that Lewes should be awarded a penalty. Once the understandable City complaints died down Anthony Storey stepped up to send Bastock the wrong way to open the scoring.
Attacking the new-stand end, where most of their support naturally gathered, during the second half Lewes must have fancied their chances of chalking up only their second home league win in six attempts against the Saints and certainly the bright start enjoyed by Steve King’s side suggested that City’s fine run could be dented. Two chances in particular went begging before St. Albans really got into their stride, the first saw Bastock save well with his legs from the completely unmarked Kirk Watts who could have been spared his blushes had the equally unattended Lee Farrell got the follow up on target but instead launched it in the general direction of Lewes castle.
The second was again a case of dreadful finishing as Watts’ excellent ball picked out the muscular Francis Duku who weakly let the ball bounce off his chest and through to Bastock with Belgrave virtually screaming down the neighbourhood at him.
Having come through those potential disasters unscathed City set about making the long journey worthwhile and inflicting some damage on the second best home record in the Conference South. On 63 minutes City’s increasing attacking threat, much of it inspired by the highly impressive Tom Davis, brought some reward with the equalising goal. Duku attempted to run the ball out for a goalkick but Tom Beech refused to let him do so lightly and succeeded in keeping the ball in play and helping it on to Lee Clarke who in turn found Matt Hann whose cross to the back post was clipped in from a handful of yards out by Ben Walshe. Given that it was Walshe’s right foot that came into contact with the ball for a change he probably still has the bruise to prove it was his goal.
A minute later Chris Seeby superbly beat two players and goalkeeper Danny Naisbitt only just managed to push the ball away at full stretch to deny the City defender his second goal of the weekend. But on 78 minutes Ram Marwa did claim his second goal in three days as he received the ball in the middle of the Rooks half and laid it square to Davis who appeared to be on the verge of losing it as he came back inside only for Marwa to seize possession again and leave Naisbitt groping at thin air as his 30-yard shot dipped perfectly just under the crossbar.
For a few minutes City looked as if they would march onto a third goal but in the closing minutes Lewes turned the screw on their visitors and a second goal for the Reds appeared a distinct possibility. During four minutes of added time City only occasionally broke the shackles but good fortune at last came their way when Nick Roddis blocked a shot on the goalline and before City could clear their lines Lewes had strong penalty appeals rejected as Dean Hooper clattered into temporary-Saint Luke Cornwall while the ball ran through for Bastock to make another excellent save at the expense of a corner that came to nothing. Given the abysmal decision that went against City in the first half it could be said that justice was finally done.
The odds of Lippiatt’s boys being able to maintain their exceptional run with the visit of Sutton United to Clarence Park on Saturday are maybe not as high as one would expect given that the manager could be forced, through various suspensions, into making three changes. Lee Fieldwick seems certain to come in for his debut on Saturday having been signed last week from Lewes, an agreement was made for the 22-year old former Brentford (12 apps) and Swansea City (5) defender not to play against the Rooks on Monday. Two more loan signings are expected to be completed by the middle of the week to bolster the squad.
Report by Dave Tavener