Lee Clarke battles past two Grays defenders
VIDEO The number of goals conceded by St Albans City inside the final ten minutes of a match rose to 16 for the season on Tuesday night as Gavin Grant's 87th minute strike clinched a Conference National double for Grays Athletic over the Saints and handed Justin Edinburgh's side their first league success in 15 matches. More importantly, Grays victory, their first in the league since visiting Clarence Park in October, dumps the Citizens into the bottom four with just a dozen matches left to play. The win completed a good three days for the Essex side who progressed through to the last four of the FA Trophy on Sunday but it was heartbreaking stuff for City who battled with tremendous resilience against a Grays side that is better than its lowly league position suggests. By the time of Grant's goal City were just about hanging on, courtesy of some outstanding defending and brilliant goalkeeping, but hopes of the Saints snatching a second goal to go with Leon Archer's first half tap-in had long since faded. Although under pressure for much of the second half St Albans certainly played their part in a match that, overall, was open and entertaining. Although Grays may not have won in the league since before the clocks went back, history suggested that St Albans would be in for a tough time at a decidedly wet Recreation Ground as Colin Lippiatt's side had lost on all of the eight most recent meetings between the two clubs. In an effort to stave off defeat number nine - and a tenth on their travels this season - Lippiatt ‘rested' three players from Saturday's tame showing against Stafford Rangers while he was also without Djoumin Sangare as part of the players loan agreement with Grays. Out went Ram Marwa, Chris Watters and Malik Buari with the latter coming on late in the day and showing some very useful touches. Into the side came Simon Martin, who is now expected to see out the rest of the season with the Saints, Matt Hann and Chris Seeby who at last got a chance to shine in his favoured right back slot. Seeby can feel pleased with his contribution on his return to the side as can Martin who was in the starting line up for a league match for only the fifth time this season - strangely all away matches. But the stars of the show as far as St Albans are concerned were the ever reliable Bastock, the clearly talented left back Ahmed Deen and Patrick Ada who switched to the centre of the defence to cover for the absent Sangare. Sadly for Ada, playing his 50th game for the club, he was probably first in line to collect the man of the match award when it was an error on his part that allowed Grant to snatch the late winner. Prior to then the Cameroon born defender had been quite magnificent. The Saints opted for a seldom used 4-5-1 formation with Martin the lone striker, Hann wide on the left in midfield, Archer on the opposite flank with Lee Clarke, Tom Davis and Dean Cracknell in the middle. Given City's first half performance it must be said that the formation was a success. Hann did particularly well during the first half when coming in from the left touchline but interestingly he changed flanks a couple of times during the match and seemed to pose less of a threat when reverting to his more familiar position on the right. Archer saw a lot of the ball early on but quickly faded and maybe - and hindsight is a such a wonderful tool - the decision to replace him with Malik Buari could have come quite a bit earlier than it actually did. Rain had fallen persistently on the ground throughout the day but conveniently stopped in time for the match which set off at a cracking pace with City almost ahead inside 40 seconds as Deen's excellent cross from the visitors left just eluded Martin in front of goal before bouncing out for a goal kick. City clearly meant business at the back and three times in the opening minutes the ball was hoisted forward by the swiftest means possible, from the third such hoof down the park home keeper Ashley Bayes raced from his penalty area to clear but, under pressure, only succeeded in slicing the ball out for a throw. City had half hearted - or maybe less - appeals for a penalty rejected when Martin went down following a challenge by Bayes before the Blues struck in the fifth minute with a soft goal. Gary Elphick produced something of a collectors item by misjudging a long goal kick by Bayes and allowed Dennis Oli to break free down the Grays right. The strikers right-footed angled ground shot appeared to be reasonably harmless until Bastock, attempting to dive to his right, lost his footing. Speaking the after the game, Bastock said he thought he could still reach the ball but instead could only look back after it curled away from his fingers and rolled just inside his right hand upright. Three minutes later the City keeper had to be alert to deal with a fine effort from the ever-threatening Grant and on ten minutes it was the visitors who were celebrating. Archer won a free kick that Hann floated into the box for Grays defender Jay Smith to put behind for a corner. Hann swung the ball away from goal with Elphick, some 15 yards from goal, sending a low volley, of no great power, into the goalmouth where Archer was deemed to have nudged it over the line for his third goal in seven games for the Saints. With Davis having a highly productive first 45 minutes City were buzzing and both sides looked capable of quickly adding to their early strikes Although Grays won the greater number of corners and had more shots City possibly shaded the half although Bayes had few shots to deal with. On 20 minutes Seeby fired a long ball towards the edge of the penalty area that caught Martin in two minds; whether to flick it hopefully over Bayes or bring it down and go for a shot. He went for the latter and was duly dispossessed. Davis tested Bayes with a low drive that took an awkward bounce before being smothered while the keeper frantically scooped up a Deen fee kick that was then hacked to safety. After a spell on the back foot Grays finished the half strongly with their fit again skipper Stuart Thurgood playing an increasingly significant role. A positive run by Grant won a corner, Glenn Poole - who saw a phenomenal amount of the ball throughout the game- directed the dead ball to the edge of the penalty area where Gavin Cowan sent in a terrific header towards the foot of Bastock's right hand post. Somehow the City keeper, despite thick mud in the goalmouth, sprung full-length across his goal to push the ball wide of the target. Two minutes later more good work by Poole ended with a ball towards the back post that sat up nicely for the incoming Grant only for Deen and Bastock to throw themselves in the general direction of the shot and save the day. The pressure was maintained with Thurgood having an effort charged down and his follow up comfortably taken by the Saints custodian, before Bastock could draw breath Grant was dancing into the penalty area along the goalline threatening carnage. But Bastock restored calm by blocking the strikers attempted low cross-shot and then smartly stretching to gather Poole's follow up cross. Grays manager Edinburgh made a highly significant change during the interval when withdrawing Oli to be replaced by the excellent Leroy Griffiths who has recently returned to the club. Griffiths has lightning quick feet and a sharp eye for goal but the first serious moment of concern for City was of their own doing as Ada and Bastock misunderstood each other intentions as the ball rolled towards the edge of the penalty area, eventually Ada did touch the ball back to his keeper - just when he did not really want it - but as Grays looked to pounce Bastock hastily sliced it to the safety of Row Z. Cowan headed over from a Poole corner - one of precious few that Bastock did not punch away - while midway through the half another Poole corner was met on the edge of the box by Griffiths who twisted sharply and sent a clever shot just wide of Bastock's right hand upright. By now Grays were taking control of the game as attacking threats from the visitors became fewer and farther apart, indeed City were not to win another corner after changing ends. Athletic looked to have regained the lead on 70 minutes through Grant's close range header yet Bastock, purely instinctively, clawed the ball away to his right with Seeby hoofing the sphere out of the box. Buari may have had his sights poorly focused against Stafford but he made an immediate impact following his introduction here in the 80th minute for the tiring and injured Archer. Within seconds of coming on he arrowed a dangerous cross, at speed, towards the near post that referee Steve Creighton, who generally had a fine game, decreed came off Martin when a defender seemed to have applied the final touch. Five minutes from the anticipated calling of time, Clarke clipped an excellent ball over the home defence that put Hann clear but the winger, now back on the left flank, clipped his shot high and wide of Bayes goal. Seconds later Deen surged down the left flank and cut the ball back to Hann who whipped in a good first time cross that lead to Buari having a dipping header saved. A minute later, the 87th, and St Albans City hopes of Conference National survival were dealt a severe blow with a painfully conceded goal. A long ball from Bayes fell behind Ada and to the left of Elphick, it should have been Ada's to clear but he seemed indecisive and instead of either putting the ball out or knocking it back to the keeper he dithered and allowed Grant to bundle his way in and, from the edge of the box, poke the winning goal beyond the furious Bastock. Referee Creighton played 15 seconds short of eight minutes of added time, during which City mustered just a soft effort from the industrious Davis as Grays saw out time with plenty of possession. The defeat plunges City back into the bottom four for the first since the defeat at Burton Albion in January and they travel to Morecambe on Saturday with both Dean Cracknell (shin) and Archer (ankle) doubtful through injury.