A trio of headed goals and an eighth clean sheet in ten games combined to give St Albans City a comfortable 3-0 victory over Weston-super-Mare at a sun-kissed Clarence Park on Saturday.
City gave the perfect response to the midweek defeat at Eastleigh although their task was made all the easier by the relatively feeble showing put up by Andy Gurney’s side.
Saints manager Steve Castle is looking to use the handful of remaining games this season to give run outs to players who have been on the fringe of the side lately and he also intends to look at some of the younger hopefuls aiming to push their way forward next season.
This meant that there was no place at all in Saturday’s squad for Scott Cousins while Alex Bailey and James Quilter were relegated to the bench. It was a particularly bad blow for Cousins with the left-back just two games away from his 150th appearance for the club.
With the two full-backs dropped, City began with Hassan Sulaiman moving from midfield to right back with Adam Everitt on the opposite flank. Ryan Frater joined Ben Martin in the middle of the defence with his first start in six weeks.
Hector Mackie maintained his run of good form when starting on the left of the midfield before switching to the right later in the game. Jonathan Hunt, out on the opposite flank, was in equally sparkling form as City recorded their biggest home win over the visitors from Somerset.
Solomon Shields, making his last appearance for the Saints, had a quiet first half but came alive after the interval and demonstrated just what City will miss in the weeks ahead.
Alongside Shields, James Fisher toiled away as industriously as ever before being replaced by Craig Mortimer. The Oaklands youngster certainly took his chance well to impress with some powerful runs and good crosses.
Up front, City’s leading marksman, Paul Hakim, notched his 18th goal of the season before limping out of the game at half time with a knee injury while Simon Martin moved into second place in the Saints goal scoring chart with a fine header that ensured he marked his 200th league appearance in style.
With City in mid-table no man’s land and Weston-super-Mare virtually assured of avoiding being sucked into a relegation battle, this match could have been 90 minutes of tedium but, for the Saints at least, there were sufficient bright points to cheer a crowd of 393.
Both sides won early free kicks in good positions but Paul Bastock’s simple catch from Marc McGregor’s dead-ball kick was the first time either keeper was called into action.
But Bastock, recalled on the final day of Lee Butcher’s loan from Tottenham Hotspur, was beaten on 16 minutes when Scott Partridge scored from close in following Ben Wells ball in from the left only for an offside flag to keep the game goalless.
Most of the Seagulls best moments came during the early exchanges but once City took the lead, on 22 minutes, heads seemed to drop and St Albans were able to win at a canter.
The opening goal was brilliant in its simplicity with Hakim heading smartly home at the near post after Sulaiman had sprinted past Ben Willshire to the goalline and clipped a fine cross into the Hatfield Road goalmouth from the right.
The move was repeated three minutes later but this time Hakim, in a more central position, failed to make contact to Sulaiman’s inviting cross. City maintained the pressure with Seagulls goalkeeper Ryan Northmore punching away for corner as Everitt challenged for Hunt free kick.
Hunt, on the City left, knocked the corner deep to Ben Martin whose knock down was scooped over the bar by Everitt. But City were not to be denied for long and on 33 minutes the game was virtually put to bed with the Saints second goal.
When a Hunt corner, one of ten City won during the afternoon compared to Weston’s three, was headed away the Seagulls appeared to have survived until Fisher hammered a shot diagonally back into the goalmouth where the giant Ben Martin stooped to head in from close range his sixth goal of the season.
Four minutes later the smile was removed from the face of the City captain when he, along with the perpetually moaning McGregor, was cautioned as the duo clashed off the ball. Martin was clearly the innocent party but still collected his fourth booking in as many games and 11th of the campaign.
Fisher twice fired wide from distance as City pressed for a third goal while McGregor was equally wild following a deep corner from Wells.
Weston had a let off on 41 minutes when Bastock threw the ball out to Sulaiman whose fine ball down the flank sent Shields charging towards the goalline. Northmore, racing a long way wide from his goal, was beaten to the ball by the tremendously enthusiastic teenager but in stretching to keep the ball in play and cross in the same movement Shields could only kick the ball against the keepers legs and the danger was cleared.
Moments later Shields was again in the thick of the action as Hunt chipped a clever free kick over a two-man wall. Shields latched onto the pass and tore into the penalty area where his powerful shot was smartly blocked by the diving Northmore.
Hakim failed to reappear after the break having taken a knock late in the first half. Cohen, after a couple of disappointing performances of late, took his chance well during the remaining 45 minutes and was a constant threat to the Seagulls.
After a slow start to the half Weston threatened to make a fist of the game with Wells shooting over and impressive substitute Ashan Holgate blasting the ball against the crossbar after Matt Groves had whipped the ball off Sulaiman’s feet as the City defender attempted to run it out for a goal-kick.
Weston’s best spell of the half continued with Scott Partridge forcing Frater into conceding a corner while Wells again tried his luck but again the effort went straight through to Bastock who was able to celebrate his 175th game and 55th clean sheet for the Saints with minimal fuss.
St Albans finally made certain of their first home win on a Saturday since 8 November when Cohen won a corner that Hunt, out on the City right, sent to the edge of the six-yard box for Simon Martin to head crisply into the York Road goal.
For the final 13 minutes, plus five minutes added time, City turned on the style with Cohen, Hunt and Mackie, in particular, catching the eye. One of the best moves saw Mortimer, Simon Martin and Mackie combine to feed Cohen who cut in from the left and forced Northmore to save low down.
Weston’s stretched back-line worked overtime to stem the City flow with Cohen having two further efforts saved while Everitt, Mackie and Mortimer had shots charged down.
At the final whistle Shields left the pitch for the last time as a St Albans City player, he now returns to Leyton Orient having left an excellent impression on the Clarence Park faithful during his two months with the club.
The day also saw Lee Butcher at the Park for the final time as the 20-year-old goalkeeper returns to Tottenham Hotspur after keeping four clean sheets and saving a penalty during his excellent six performances with the Saints.