The football on display at Bootham Crescent on Saturday may not have matched up to the style and aesthetic beauty of the city of York but St Albans City will have had few qualms about that as they headed south after collecting their fourth point of the season from Billy McEwan's Minstermen. In keeping with recent weeks results elsewhere did little to improve the Saints hopes of Conference National survival but clearly City supporters have not yet given up hope with 145 of them making their presence heard in a crowd of 2,927; the second largest to have attended a St Albans match this season.
John Hastings proving to be a handful for the York defence
Following the very encouraging performance in midweek against league leaders Dagenham & Redbridge manager Colin Lippiatt stuck with the same starting XI and although this performance did not match the flair of the one given against John Still's team it had the bonus earning the Saints only their third point from the past seven games. That a point should be won at the home of the side in third place just days after the Dagenham match is, naturally, a tremendous boost to everyone at Clarence Park but really this was a match that York should have sewn up long before the interval. With a strong wind to their backs York attacked their large home support but it was those very some supporters who were under more danger of being struck by the ball than the visitors goal as the Minstermen, from 15 first half goal attempts, managed to test Paul Bastock just three times. Had the Saints goal been a coconut shy then whatever is inside a coconut would have confidently stepped out of its protective covering, safe in the knowledge that it would not be hit.
The form of the two sides going into this first meting of the clubs at Bootham Crescent could hardly have been more diverse. The home ‘city' had won three in succession, including a 5-0 midweek mauling away to Cambridge United, while the away ‘city', er, hadn't. Yet despite the remarkable number of shots York enjoyed during the opening 45 minutes, and with it a dominance of the possession, one left the ground later in the afternoon pondering their promotion credentials after they made little headway when playing into the wind after the interval.
City captain Gary Elphick, again in outstanding form, won the toss but after consulting with the senior players opted to defend facing the wind at the start. York needed little encouragement to try to exploit the conditions as they got the ball forward quickly looking for Clayton Donaldson and Craig Farrell to find gaps behind the City defence. A couple of early forays disappeared with the breeze but once the Minstermen mastered the conditions St Albans were repeatedly stretched.
But the first real threat came on the counter attack when Anthony Lloyd played the ball back to keeper Tom Evans whose long punt sent Donaldson clear on nine minutes, the striker struck his shot wide of Paul Bastock only for the ball to bounce wide off the keepers right hand upright. Bastock was none too pleased that Donaldson was allowed such an easy path into the penalty area and wasted few friendly words on telling Djoumin Sangare so.
Other chances quickly followed, Farrell crossed towards the near post where the ball broke loose from a cluster of players only for Mark Convery to slash his shot well wide, a minute later Farrell had a shot blocked by Bastock and then poked the rebound tamely wide. City responded with Leon Archer flashing the ball across the face of the York goal only for McEwan's men to almost immediately turn the ball into the Saints net only for an offside flag to keep the scores level.
Although John Hastings was running hard to cause a nuisance of himself he was winning few headers against York's impressive central defensive pairing of David McGurk and Janos Kovacs. However, the trio missed a throw into the penalty area by Ahmed Deen and this allowed Leon Archer to swivel and shoot but unfortunately for City straight at Evans. Farrell's frustration continued with a rising drive just to the left of Bastock's goal while a free kick from 25 yards was scooped up by the City keeper after it bounced awkwardly in front of him.
York, for whom victory could have lifted them into second place, finally looked to have found a way through on 34 minutes when Kovacs' lengthy free kick went over Elphick only to strike the back of the free Donaldson and then be hammered to safety by the relieved City defender. As half time drew near York desperately wanted a goal but had efforts from Donaldson and Convery charged down while Farrell fired over after twisting smartly on the edge of the box. Close to the break one final attempt was thwarted when Sangare superbly tackled Farrell.
The big question was now whether St Albans could match York's first half dominance with the wind at their bags, to put it simply, they could not. But, that said, York were a shadow of the side that had chance after chance before the interval and no one could have blamed any spectators who left early to take in the many historical sites of this wonderful county town (city). In fact, leaving early was a very visible act by a large number of home fans who gave up hope of a breakthrough being made long before referee Karl Evans decided to do away with the ridiculous notion of a game lasting for ninety minutes and chose to keep going until the first goal arrives - even he abandoned that idea, eventually.
As with the first half York continued to look to find their two main strikers with an early ball behind the City defence. It was a ploy that brought little reward early on and it soon became evident that both sides had been informed that the ball contained something best not touched so handed possession back to the opposition as quickly as possible, it did not make for pleasing viewing on a pitch blighted by several large bare patches.
Eight minutes after the restart Archer had a shot blocked with Deen sending the rebound bouncing along the top of the Roman city wall. On 56 minutes York, as St Albans were enjoying a rare spell of sustained possession, made a double substitution but for one of the new arrivals, Richard Brodie, it was just a temporary visit before injury curtailed his involvement 23 minutes later.
City launched an impressive counter attack when Bastock gathered a tricky low free kick from Convery; Archer, Tom Davis and Guy Lopez were all involved before Deen had a shot from 25 yards taken without fuss by Evans. On the hour, Brodie tried to go wide of Elphick before winning a free kick by the side of the visitors penalty area. Brodie offered some words of advice to Elphick, the kind of which one would not expect from two cities boasting such strong religious and cultural histories, only for the Saints captain to have the final word by blasting Woolford's free kick well clear of the danger area.
In what, for the second half at any rate, was a rare moment of passing football St Albans briefly imposed themselves on the game but there was to be no end reward as twice in quick succession the intriguing Malik Buari had crosses charged down. But all of City's good work was almost undone when Woolford delivered an excellent low free kick across the goal that Donaldson lunged at but just could not quite reach.
One of the features of City's first season in the Conference has been the general friendliness of the northern clubs and York, as expected, are no different. Fair enough the large crowd at Bootham Crescent (with apologies to the sponsors) was partisan, but it was quite remarkable to hear the generous applause that went around the stadium when it was announced that the attendance of 2,927 included 145 from St Albans, a figure that stands up well amongst the other travelling support of the southern clubs.
Needless to say such niceties were soon forgotten whenever a St Albans player challenged for possession either by means that could be considered fair or foul and the referee was clearly listening every time someone, anyone, within twenty miles of the ground suggested one of Colin Lippiatt's boys was time wasting. An even louder roar appeared to be on the cards on 79 minutes when Donaldson slid the ball towards the goalline for Woolford to cross into the goalmouth where Farrell looked a certainty to score before the immaculate Patrick Ada, from virtually nowhere, stretched out a leg to hook the ball off the strikers toe and away to safety.
With that tackle the Cameroonian seemed to knock a hefty chunk of confidence out of the York attack and City's mission was edging towards a successful conclusion, and when Deen, from a pass by Chris Seeby who enjoyed his best game for some time, won a corner there was a distinct possibility of the underdogs stealing all three points. When that corner was cleared reality returned and York really ought to have secured victory on 89 minutes. A Nathan Peat throw down the York left was flicked on by Rob Elvins to Farrell who played a square pass across the edge of the penalty area to the completely unmarked Woolford; this time City's resistance would surely be broken. Far from it, out rushed Bastock, Woolford panicked and shot low thus allowing the City keeper to spread himself and ensure that a run of 17 consecutive matches (15 league) without a clean sheet came to an end.
A huge cheer echoed around the old ground when the fourth official, Mr Hughes, indicated there would be an incredible eight minutes of added time - had no one told him the St Albans City supporters club coach was leaving at 5.15pm? Elphick, along with Bastock, surely the leading contender for the Saints player of the year award, extended that time further by taking a boot on his hooter that saw him leaking no small amount of blood. Elphick even stated afterwards that he, momentarily, passed out, but he did not let that little inconvenience cut short his participation and after some repairs were carried out, and an unnumbered shirt used to replace his blood splattered no.5, he was back in the think of the action and, unbelievably, soon heading the ball.
The match fizzled out after one last York attack on the Saints goal that saw Bastock safely catch Woolford's deflected drive. Amazingly referee Evans added 11 minutes and 42 seconds to the allotted ninety minutes and was soundly criticised by the Saints boss for so doing.