IN ROMPING to a thoroughly justified 3-0 victory at a chilly Clarence Park on Saturday, Maidenhead United not only put a healthy 11 points between themselves and a once again relegation threatened St Albans City but also chalked up their biggest win over their hosts in 49 encounters dating back to 1951.
Following the previous weekend win at Dorchester Town Saints manager Steve Castle called upon his side to take seven points from three games, in failing to add to the three points collected in Dorset St Albans find themselves once more in deep trouble towards the foot of Blue Square South.
With only Bognor, courtesy of a stunning win at leaders Lewes, of the bottom five winning City have not lost much ground but a home record showing just one victory since the start of the season does not bode well for the rest of the campaign.
Castleâ€™s team selection was limited on Saturday as suspension ruled out Paul Bruce, Lee Clarke and Ben Martin, even so his chosen XI raised a few eyebrows with added intrigue given to the surprising positions handed to some players.
Maidenhead, whose first home win of the season only arrived towards the end of November when they defeated City with ease in the FA Trophy, were on top from early on but all too often promising approach play was let down by a poor final pass. In attack, top scorer Manny Williams and one time Saint John Hastings forged an excellent partnership, while in midfield Wes Daly was supreme. In fact, it was hard to spot a single United player not on song as Johnson Hippolyteâ€™s side called the tune with plenty of decent passing football.
City keeper Nick Eyre was quickly called into action to head away a long through ball, Magpies wingback Jack Bradshaw fired the loose ball goalwards from well outside the penalty area only for Ryan Frater to clear for a corner. The better openings continued to come the way of the visitors with Gavin James firing wide and Hasim Deen doing well to clear a dangerous near post cross from the same player.
A long awaited first City threat on the Magpies goal arrived when Dean Cracknell, starting a game for the first time wide on the right of the midfield, had a shot charged down with Paul Hakim picking up the loose ball. His low cross to the near post saw Simon Martin get in a shot but the diving Mark Nisbet took the pace off the effort and City appeals for handball against the defender were brushed aside by referee Matt McLaughlin who had a fine game.
Boosted by that foray St Albans pushed forward with greater conviction and an excellent move down the left almost made the breakthrough. Ben Walshe played a short pass to Scott Cousins, after exchanging passes with Simon Martin Cousins then flicked a wonderful ball inside to Martin whose cross was volleyed tamely wide at the back post by James Archer â€“ the teenager having started a league match for the first time.
Archer made a better impression with a good effort from 25 yards that keeper Louis Wells smothered at the second attempt. An excellent through ball by Bradshaw looked to have put Williams clear only for Deen to make a perfectly timed and crucial intervention. But for City it was only a minor stay of execution as Maidenhead went into the interval a goal to the good after striking moments from the whistle.
Martin attacked but failed to properly clear Ashley Smithâ€™s free kick from the left and when Lee Kersey clipped the ball back into a crowded goalmouth Hastings, without getting the ball fully under control, poked the opening goal under the exposed Eyre.
With just two wins from their previous 21 home league matches, and not having won at home after falling behind since October 2006, City, instead of closing the gap on the Magpies to five points, were now facing a serious 11 point deficit.
Three minutes after the restart and that statistic virtually became reality as Maidenhead moved into a two-goal lead. United cleared their lines with a hefty clearance that Deen elected to leave for Eyre to the left of his penalty area. As the Eyre swung a leg, after waiting for the ball to arrive, Williams nipped in and got a gentle touch that nudged the ball wide of the stricken keeper. Williams calmly cut back inside and stuck away his 23rd goal of the season â€“ Cityâ€™s leading scorer has eight.
Straight after the goal Castle moved Cracknell inside and pulled Archer wide but the damage was done. For a while City showed greater urgency and during the course of the half mustered five shots but all were off target. Maidenhead displayed no such leniency and they too had five shorts with all five forcing Eyre to save.
Indeed United were unfortunate not to go three up when James beat Frater and crossed the ball to Hastings and although the pass was just behind the striker he still managed to drive the ball against the inside of Eyreâ€™s left hand post.
Cityâ€™s first corner did not arrive until the 56th minute but a couple of Walshe free kicks did cause problems for the visitors. Martin glanced a header wide from one set piece while a second went just over Fraterâ€™s head and bounced up closer to the back post than Wells had anticipated.
Maidenhead, like St Albans, may have won just once at home in Blue Square South this season but the Magpies clinched a sixth away win on 78 minutes when Bradshawâ€™s cross was miscued some 12 yards out by Smith, but the midfielder had time to have a second bite at the cherry and duly hit the ball to Eyreâ€™s left and into the corner of the York Road goal.
Daly forced Eyre into a good save on 82 minutes while in added time Hakim, whose passing had been somewhat erratic throughout, forced Wells into his only save of the second half.
Bruce and Clarke will again be absent for Cityâ€™s Setanta Shield 5th Round tie at home to Conference National leaders Aldershot Town on Tuesday evening but Ben Martin will be available for selection. One player certain to be missing is striker Richard Butler who has joined Isthmian League Premier Division side Staines Town.
City have applied for international clearance for Nigerian striker Wasiu Akanni Sunday. The 23-year-old recently scored in Reserve team match for Bournemouth but clearance is sought from the Lithuanian FA where he played for Vilnius.
Report by Dave Tavener