A good New Year turned into a sublime one for St Albans City on Saturday as the leading scorers in the Conference South easily unhinged the second meanest defence in the Division to rise above championship favourites Weymouth into second place.
A first half full of flowing, pinpoint football against the more robust style of Adrian Pennock’s Welling saw City break through the fifty goal barrier in just 22 league games and chalk up a fifth consecutive victory. It is just a pity that the locals have yet to latch onto what is happening at Clarence Park with just 576 spectators present to witness the Saints latest success.
The visitors from Kent were expected to offer one of the sternest tests City have faced to date but with the wide men of Matt Hann and Ben Walshe, and the central strikers of Lee Clarke and Simon Martin in outstanding form, particularly during the first half, the Saints were unstoppable and even a freak equaliser was brushed aside as the Wings slipped to just their third league defeat of the season to end a run of six consecutive draws.
City were almost ahead inside five minutes when the debut making Ben Lewis headed on a Walshe corner that Tom Davis just failed to turn in, but there was no escape for Welling four minutes later as a slick City move saw the offside trap sprung to deadly effect. Receiving a Clarke ball down the right Hann cut inside and slid a perfect pass into Martin whose well timed run left him with just keeper Jamie Turner to beat, which he did with a neat shimmy to the keepers right before planting the ball into the Hatfield Road goal.
Although City were playing plenty of good football the Wings were soon posing problems of their own but with Nick Burton continuing his run of outstanding form since joining the club City looked secure. That said, good fortune smiled on City when Che Stadhart was adjudged, quite rightly, to have impeded Paul Bastock when seizing on a bouncing ball before stroking it home.
Unabashed Welling did pull level on 25 minutes with a bizarre goal as Jamie Day curled a near post corner in from the Wings left that eluded Clarke and two United players before bouncing into the goal. Welling were now playing with confidence but City quickly re-imposed their attacking flair on the game and within 12 minutes had put the result beyond the Wings.
City’s second goal on the half hour may have had a fortuitous finish but was top class in its creation. Hann, although hindered by a wild challenge by Matt Lee, hit a wonderful pass down the right that Martin ran onto and played inside to Clarke. The Saints leading scorer continued to spread the play across the pitch via Cracknell and Scott Cousins who set Davis up with a pass inside that the pony-tailed midfielder drove into the back of the net from 25 yards with a deflection off a defenders header that wrong footed Turner.
The ever-dangerous Danny Kedwell fired across the face of the City goal before the Saints scored for a third time on 37 minutes. Hann played the ball up to Clarke on the edge of the penalty area and spotting Turner slightly off his goalline beat him with a stunning chip that hit the underside of the bar and before the retreating keeper could pounce Cracknell dived in to head in his seventh goal of the season.
City sought to put the result beyond doubt by the interval with Hann testing Turner low down while Clarke produced two flashes of supreme skill out on the left although neither came to anything. The second half was a grittier affair with frequent stoppages but a game, which threatened to get nasty, was well controlled by referee Ron James.
Both keepers were in action soon after the restart as Bastock went low to save from Kedwell while Turner saved smartly from Clarke. Welling, inspired by the excellent Rob Owen, exerted greater pressure as the game went on but other than a spectacular volley onto the roofing of the net by Kedwell and a fierce shot just wide by Owen after Bastock had excelled to beat away Stadhart’s firm drive from a tight angle the City defence, which once again was in good form, held firm.
At the opposite end City attacks were less frequent than before but still Clarke, after good work by Cousins and Martin, was a whisker wide with a deflected effort and Martin, after cutting between two defenders, almost set up a fourth City goal.
The final minutes were marred by a centre circle melee although no punches appeared to be thrown and no bookings were made before Bastock could be the last of the 22 players to join the not so happy throng.
Match report by Dave Tavener. Kindly supplied by The St Albans Observer.