A game of little more than gentle sparring packed an almighty punch at Clarence Park on Tuesday as St Albans City, after falling behind with just eight minutes remaining, struck two decisive knock out blows to send Division One outfit Bognor Regis Town spinning out of the Bryco (Isthmian League) Cup.
The Rocks, making their first visit to St Albans for ten years, were on the verge of pulling off a shock win when the Saints awoke from their slumber to set up a 3rd Round tie at Ashford (Middx) this coming Tuesday thanks to an 89th minute goal from the fit again Simon Martin and then a killer blow three minutes into added time by Scott Oakes.
Attacking the York Road goal the Saints made a promising start with Richard Evans’ through ball sending Craig Mackail-Smith away but the teenager, making his first start of the season, elected to shoot early and over the target. Three minutes later though, Mackail-Smith had a hand in the opening goal when he won a free kick just to the left of the penalty area which Scott Oakes floated across for Gary Crawshaw to escape the static defence and clip past the rotund Eddie Broadbent for his first goal since September.
Bognor ought to have equalised when Michael Birmingham picked out Lee Stevens only for the diminutive striker to shoot tamely wide but Stevens was more impressive in the 22nd minute when he comfortably beat Beckett Hollenbach down the Rocks right and slipped a square pass into the goalmouth for the unmarked Jamie Howell to stroke home the equaliser.
After Crawshaw put a powerful header wide Jon Challinor side-stepped a defender before unleashing a rising drive that Broadbent did well to palm away for a corner but it was Bognor who almost claimed an interval lead with an audacious effort from Stevens that dipped just over the City goal.
The second period, until the remarkable finale, lacked many moments of high drama although City did possesses slightly the greater attacking threat and went close in the 55th minute when Crawshaw neatly cut the ball back to Rob Kean whose drive was deflected over the top by the sprawling Guy Rutherford while a snap shot by Mackail-Smith flew a couple of yards wide. Just after the hour Broadbent excelled to deny Crawshaw, Mackail-Smith retrieved the ball with his attempted cross bouncing off the top of the crossbar and behind.
City looked to be facing their second home cup exit in four days in the 82nd minute when Hollenbach stumbled into Steve Leigh to concede the Saints first home penalty of the season which Birmingham despatched at pace into the roof of the home goal.
A minute later Martin almost latched onto a quickly taken Oakes free kick but last seasons top scorer was not to be thwarted and in the 89th minute a long ball down the park by Duncan Roberts was helped on by Martin to Mackail-Smith who moved forward before slipping a perfect return pass into Martin’s path and with a low angled drive parity was restored.
With almost three minutes of added time played extra time was looming when City worked the ball well across the pitch until Oakes peeled in from the right touchline to exchange passes with Martin before claiming his first goal for the Saints with a precise finish low to Broadbent’s right.
Report by Dave Tavener