Former St Albans City manager Gary Roberts was in ebullient mood on Tuesday night as his Cambridge City side ensured maximum points from their opening two Conference South fixtures with victory in an absorbing contest at Clarence Park which condemned the suffering Saints to a familiar bottom of the table position.
Dean Cracknell scores Saints' first goal.
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Saints boss Colin Lippiatt, still searching for the central defensive partnership that will stem the flow of goals currently being shipped by his side, went for an ambitious three at the back line up against the Whites only to see his side torn apart during the opening 45 minutes. With a double substitution and much needed positional changes during the interval the City boss ironed out many of St Albans first half shortcomings and with a modicum of good fortune could have salvaged a point from an enterprising second half display.
Cambridge were quickly into their stride but the Saints should have drawn first blood when an excellent pass by Lee Clarke put Simon Martin through but the City striker dithered long enough to allow keeper Richard Millard to whip the ball away, it was one of few mistakes by the otherwise outstanding Martin.
Cambridge returned to the offensive and forced Paul Bastock into two saves with headers from Dave Sadler and Jamie Southon. Given the speed and swiftness of the Cambridge frontline it was somewhat surprising to see St Albans hold out for 27 minutes before the deadlock was broken, even more remarkable was that Bastock was partially at fault for the goal.
Dale Binns, who toyed with the right side of the Saints defence prior to half time, fired in a crisp drive that Bastock fumbled and could not retrieve before Mark Molesley nipped in to square the ball for the free Craig Dobson to stick away.
Having been under the cosh the Saints response was impressive and a spell of pressure ended on 31 minutes with Martin heading a Tom Davis free kick diagonally towards the edge of the six yard box where Dean Cracknell stretched out a leg to stab the equaliser into the York Road net.
A spectacular full stretch save by Millard on 36 minutes denied Clarke whose precise low curling effort looked goalbound and within four minutes the game was effectively put out of City’s reach. Cambridge regained the lead on 37 minutes when Paul Booth guided Sadler’s through ball to the right of Bastock and three minutes later Sadler himself was afforded ample time and space to head home the third Cambridge goal following a Steve Parmenter cross.
In between times Clarke went close with a header for St Albans but the visitors were in full flow during the closing minutes as Molesley tested Bastock and Dobson, from a tight angle, thudded the ball against the frame of the home goal.
Lippiatt ended Carl Kavanagh’s league debut at half time and was also forced into taking off the limping Paul Hakim. With a more orthodox back four supported by Nick Roddis the Saints were tighter at the back but also now attacked with greater menace, indeed both sides had chances during what was a wonderfully open and entertaining half.
Early City pressure saw Mark Graham, on for Hakim, just thwarted by Millard as he went for Clarke’s fine lofted through ball while Martin looked to be denied a clear penalty when flattened as he lined up a shot from close in. At the opposite end a swift counterattack was snuffed out at the last moment by Patrick Ada’s excellent sliding tackle.
The procession of chances was non-stop; Southon headed off the line from Martin while Roddis and Cracknell had long range efforts beaten way, and for Cambridge Sadler and Booth had efforts saved by Bastock. Martin just failed to reach a Davis cross that flew across the face of the goal and Clarke, moments after firing just over, battled his way through three players before seeing his shot spin up off a defender and superbly tipped over by the agile Millard.
Cracknell had one more 25-yard piledriver punched away before the Saints were finally rewarded on 87 minutes when Clarke powered a header from a Graham cross high to the keepers left and into the top corner of the goal. But as St Albans celebrated Cambridge calmly kicked off and looked on as Molesley walked through the City defence without facing a serious challenge and appeared to lose and regain possession before turning and firing low to the right of the less than ecstatic Bastock.
Match report by Dave Tavener. Kindly supplied by The St Albans Observer.