A deflected Ben Walshe free kick seventeen minutes from time on Saturday secured an 11th consecutive home win for St Albans City and ensured that the battle for the Conference South championship will be extended to at least the penultimate game of the season.
Gary Elphick clears City lines
Walshe’s sixth goal of the season, a low effort that beat the diving Kevin Davies courtesy of a deflection off Paul Collins, calmed the growing anxiety of City’s best crowd of the season, 977, as relegation haunted Hayes offered more than spirited resistance.
The game started at a furious pace with Hayes front two of Michael Bartley and Kieran Knight giving Ben Lewis and Gary Elphick numerous problems, inside 70 seconds a flick by Bartley sent Knight clear only for Paul Bastock to pull off the first of three match-winning saves.
Gradually City imposed themselves on the game and forced an exceptionally high number of corners but with players aplenty at the back Hayes repelled each one. In fact Hayes produced the better openings with Knight going close and Bartley wasting a clear opportunity before Bastock pulled off a save that was exceptional even by his standards. Bartley shrugged off Elphick and launched a cracking drive that forced Bastock to change direction before somehow palming the ball, left-handed, over the bar.
Seconds from the break City finally beat Davies with a well-placed Ben Lewis header from a Matt Hann corner only for Joe Sparrowhawk to head off the goalline.
City began the second half positively but had Matt Hann booked for diving when he did appear to be tripped inside the penalty area. Bastock was soon back in the thick of the action stretching high to his right to parry Kevin Warner’s perfectly placed free kick.
Chris Seeby and Hann worked an opening for Lee Clarke whose shot was well blocked by the sprawling Davies, after a scramble the retreating Davies gratefully clung to Ram Marwa’s overhead effort. An excellent move down the Saints right saw Seeby put in Paul Hakim who crossed from the goalline to the unmarked Clarke whose header drifted a foot wide of the target.
City’s greater share of possession was rewarded with Walshe’s fortuitous goal and moments later Hayes were again ruing their ill-fortune when Karleigh Osborne’s glancing header from Warner’s free kick bounced off the inside of Bastock’s right hand post and softly into his welcoming arms.
Either side of that incident Osborne was fortunate not to be dismissed, firstly for stamping on the head of the grounded Tom Davis and secondly for taking out Hann with a dreadful two-footed lunge.