St Albans City strengthened their push for a place in the Conference National on Saturday with a gruelling seventh win in eight Conference South matches since Boxing Day and their fourth success in that time over fellow promotion hopefuls.
Patrick Ada celebrates scoring his first goal for the Saints
On a surface more akin to a ploughed field than a football pitch the Saints, with Nick Roddis at the helm as cover for the ill Colin Lippiatt, showed true grit to overcome a physical Lewes side whose own promotion bid has faltered with just one point collected from the past three games.
This was a match City should have put to bed during the opening half when a string of good chances went begging while the Rooks were left to rue missed chances of their own early in the second half before Matt Hann made the game safe for the Saints.
The game was certainly not one for the purist but there was much to admire in the workrate of both sides. Tactics also played a part with Lewes switching former Saint Dean Hooper to left back to counter the speed of Hann but three times the exciting winger broke clear.
His first effort, following a long kick from Paul Bastock and touch from Simon Martin, ended with a disappointing shot across the face of Paul Wilkerson’s goal. Hann’s second attempt saw his square pass to the free Martin blocked and the third effort, after good work involving Martin and Ram Marwa, was deflected just wide of the target.
Midway through the half excellent play by Patrick Ada and Ben Walshe, making his 50th appearance for the Saints, created the space for Marwa to cross to Lee Clarke’s whose soft header was easily gathered. Having been on the back foot up until now Lewes could have forged ahead when a quick counter attack saw Jean-Michel Sigere send Jamie Cade away only for Bastock to save to his right.
City deservedly went ahead on 32 minutes when Walshe curled a free kick, conceded by Hooper, to the back post where Clarke’s header was beaten away by Wilkerson but only to Ada who calmly headed the ball over a group of players for his first goal for the club.
Lewes wasted two golden opportunities to draw level when Luke Fontana sped clear of Ben Lewis only to clip the ball harmlessly wide and then on 42 minutes an inswinging free kick by Kirk Watts somehow went gently into Bastock’s arms when Steve Robinson looked odds on to score with a free header.
The Rooks, attacking the terraced end, began the second half in the ascendancy with leading scorer Sigere causing all manner of problems although his finishing was wayward. Twice inside the opening six minutes he forced Bastock into saves when the keeper maybe should have been given no chance and shortly after he held off a robust Ada challenge to fire well over and later sent a diving header high over the bar.
Having pushed hard for an equaliser the Rooks challenge faded after conceding a soft second goal on 64 minutes when Walshe won a corner off Leon Legge and swung the dead ball towards the near post where Marwa missed it but Hann was alert to stab home his 14th goal of the season from virtually on the goalline.
City could have added a third when Hooper sold Wilkerson short with a back pass that Martin seized upon but shot tamely wide. The game became increasingly scrappy and chances less frequent as the poor surface deteriorated further. Lewes substitute Mo Harkin went close with a free kick and Sigere drilled a low ball across the City penalty area with no one able to apply the killer touch while Paul Hakim, deep into injury time, fired a couple of yards wide after an excellent turn and sprint took him clear of three defenders.