Two second half goals from corners overturned a half time deficit for St Albans City at a wet and windy Camrose on Saturday as the Saints bounced back from their exit from the FA Cup to record a 2-1 victory that leaves hosts Basingstoke Town firmly rooted to the foot of the Blue Square South table.
Without a league win since January, Basingstoke received a massive boost when striker Phil Ruggles headed Frank Gray’s side into a 44th minute lead. Given the strength of the wind to their backs it was probably the smallest lead the Dragons desired at the interval and despite City’s frailties in attack there seemed scant danger of the Hampshire side retaining that advantage.
City drew level on 55th minutes when an in-swinging left-footed Jonathan Hunt corner caught the strong wind and eluded keeper Ross Kitteridge before clipping the far post on its way into the goal.
Eleven minutes later City added a fortuitous second goal when the outstanding Ben Martin and Town defender Rob Watkins challenged for a Ben Bowditch corner from the Saints left. Diving full length to get in front of Martin, Watkins inadvertently headed the ball in off keeper Ross Kitteridge’s left hand upright to present City with their first success at the Camrose since September 1999.
Saints boss Steve Castle pondered his options following the midweek defeat at Harlow and decided it was time for Gary Cohen to have a full 90 minutes in attack, where he lined up alongside Lee Clarke. Paul Hakim dropped back to the right of the midfield with Jonathan Hunt on the opposite flank.
With injury ruling out Luke Thurlbourne, Ben Bowditch joined James Quilter in the centre of the midfield only for Quilter to depart on 17 minutes after twisting his left ankle on a surface that several players suggested was not as flat they would have wished. Simon Martin replaced Quilter and partnered Cohen in attack with Clarke pulled back to the midfield.
The Saints back line, playing in front of Paul Bastock, pretty much picked itself with the very much in-form Ben Martin joined by James Fisher who has done an excellent job since standing in for Ryan Frater. Scott Cousins and Alex Bailey, the latter being added to the injury list late in the match, covered the flanks.
Bailey’s misfortune paved the way for Frater to make an unexpectedly quick return to the First team after playing his first match for the Reserves in midweek since suffering a leg fracture back in July. Frater, not looking quite at his optimum playing condition, dominated in the air and looked remarkably assured in the testing conditions.
Basingstoke made just one change from the side that defeated Hamworthy United in the FA Cup the previous Saturday with Adam Amiable replacing Aiden Lewis at right back.
The omens for an entertaining afternoon’s football were not good. Neither side was in good form and the weather was lousy and deteriorating. The conditions won.
Although facing an increasingly strong wind City began in positive fashion with Cousins and Hunt combining down the left with Hunt crossing to the back post where the incoming Hakim was unable to direct his header on target.
On seven minutes Clarke held up a long kick from Bastock and allowed Bowditch to sweep a pass wide to Hunt. The former Birmingham City midfielder cut inside one defender and tested Kitteridge with a low shot that lack genuine venom.
Bastock was instrumental in another City attack with a punt down the right that sent Cohen racing past Watkins and drilling the ball low into the goalmouth where Kitteridge did well to smother the danger.
Basingstoke saw a number of attempted through balls roll out of play on the back of the wind but on 15 minutes Sam Tucknott clipped a perfect ball over the City defence for Ruggles to latch onto. The striker steadied himself and unleashed a decent effort but Bastock was happy to leave the ball alone and watch it crash into the outside of the side netting.
Shortly after Quilter’s exit Ruggles again broke clear of the City defence, this time Bastock spread himself well and blocked the low shot with his legs. With clear chances at a premium these two misses were to prove costly for the struggling Hampshire club.
City’s earlier attacking intent waned as the half went on with a skied effort by Clarke, following a Bowditch corner, being the total threat on the home goal although Cohen’s pace was causing problems. In fact, Watkins sliced one low cross by Cohen perilously close to his own goal.
One-time Saint Sean Hankin attempted an audacious effort from close to the half way line direct from a free kick and it was only the alertness of Bastock that stopped the defender from opening the scoring. Tucknott also fired wide before Ruggles glanced home Carl Botham’s 44th minute free kick from the Town left to break the deadlock.
Given the growing ferocity of the wind, now carrying incessant rain with it, City had to be cautious so as to not put too much weight behind their forward passes. As it was the two goals that won the game came from set pieces with the wind playing a significant part in the equaliser on 55 minutes.
Hunt, taking a corner, crossed left-footed from the City right and looked on as Kitteridge misjudged the flight of the ball in the wind and could only flap unconvincingly as the sphere drifted over his head, struck the inside of the back post and bounced in for Hunt’s third goal of the season, and second in successive away league games.
There was little doubt now that Basingstoke’s frighteningly lengthy run without a league win was set to continue. Sadly the quality of the football, which was hardly ever high, dipped further in the ever-worsening conditions.
Passes went astray with alarming frequency, through balls were lost to the wind at either end of the pitch and there were far too many hopeful high punts to allow flowing football to flourish. Certainly Basingstoke could make little headway either into the strong wind or through a solid City defence.
The closest the Dragons came to a second half goal was a low ball into the box by David Tarpey that Ben Martin sliced across the face of the City goal. Bastock did have a couple of direct shots to deal with but neither was likely to trouble the veteran keeper.
City, with former manager Colin Lippiatt looking on from the back of the windswept main stand, wrapped up a second successive away league win with a second goal of good fortune on 66 minutes. Again it came from a corner, this time with Bowditch curling in a right-footed cross that Watkins, under heavy pressure from Ben Martin, headed into his own goal from eight yards off the inside of the keepers left hand upright.
Hopes were high that City would push on with a forward getting on the score sheet in an away league match for only the second time this season but in reality neither side really looked capable of changing the outcome with the only noteworthy incident during the remaining time being the return of Frater.
The powerful defender won three headers most emphatically and having reported no ill effects to his 80 minutes with the Reserves in midweek rounded off one of City’s better days in recent weeks with some welcome good news.