Losing a First Round Setanta Shield tie at home to a very much in-form Hayes & Yeading United will probably cause St Albans City manager Steve Castle to lose little sleep but seeing four of his side pick up injuries does leave the City boss with a massive headache as he plots to end a two match losing streak.
City lost Paul Hakim (calf), Scott Cousins (ankle) and James Fisher (thigh) to injuries of varying degrees, Hakim’s calf injury being potentially the most serious, and late in the game saw central defender Ben Martin take a knock after the Saints had already used their permitted three substitutes.
But City were not the only ones in the wars as assistant referee Robert Hodges also picked up a leg injury during the second half that led to a ten minute delay while a replacement was found. City’s second choice goalkeeper, Chris Adams, a qualified referee, was eventually handed the flag for the final 17 minutes of the match.
Having won their previous six matches Hayes & Yeading United looked understandably confident at the start and struck the decisive blow just 15 minutes into the game. Josh Scott, unwittingly, blocked a City clearance close to the halfway line. The ball was quickly worked inside to Kieran Knight who threaded an excellent pass through the middle of the City defence to Stafford Palmer for the former Hayes Youth striker to competently beat Paul Bastock in the York Road goal.
City, with Gordon Rieck starting for the first time and Alex Bailey and Gary Cohen for only the second time each, struggled to establish any pattern to their play early on with their first real effort on goal coming in the 18th minute.
Hassan Sulaiman played the ball in from the right to Hakim whose shot from just inside the penalty area went comfortably over Delroy Preddie’s goal. Sulaiman frequently threatened to open up the visitors defence only for his delivery to be a touch wayward. But on 22 minutes the former Arsenal youngster slipped a fine cross into the box that just eluded Hakim and was headed behind by Hayes defender Danny Allen-Page.
Hayes had played the better football during the early exchanges but the longer the half wore on the longer the passing of both sides became. Even so, City ended the half encouragingly despite having already lost Hakim.
Sulaiman had two bites at the cherry before whipping over a good cross that Jonathan Hunt was poised to head home only for Nevin Saroya to make a crucial headed intervention. Seconds later, following City’s most flowing and incisive move of the night, Hunt sought to return the favour with a dangerous low cross from the left that Preddie did well to reach and hold as Sulaiman closed in.
St Albans kept the momentum going with another promising move that saw Simon Martin play a short pass to Sulaiman who in turn slipped the ball into the path of Hunt. The veteran midfielder neatly sidestepped two defenders and after his first shot was blocked powered in a second effort from 10 yards that looked certain to find the back of the net only for Preddie to make an astonishing save with his right hand.
St Albans came out for the second half with Lee Clarke on for Cousins who was nursing a sore left ankle. Clarke started the half in midfield but ended it as a central defender; previously he has also played in goal for the Saints as well as in his more familiar attacking role.
Soon after the restart Clarke headed just over from a Hunt corner while Simon Martin also went close with a clever header. Throughout the match St Albans struggled to give Cohen the service he needs to run at defenders but one such sortie did stretch the visitors before the excellent Tom Cadmore took the pace of the strikers shot with a well timed lunge, the ball then looped gently through to Preddie.
Cadmore was heavily involved at either end of the pitch and just after the hour headed over the home goal following a Steven Gregory corner. United came close to having Preddie dismissed for the second time in two years when facing the Saints following a clash with Cohen on 66 minutes.
The experienced keeper saw his goalkick headed back deep into his own half by Ben Martin with Cohen giving chase. Cohen won the race to the ball and knocked it wide of Preddie who then caught the City striker just outside the penalty area and was shown a yellow card. Hunt struck the resulting free kick cleanly through a crowd of players, which made a flying save by Preddie to his right all the more spectacular.
Following the ten minute delay while linesman Hodges’ injury was assessed, Hayes were quickly back into their stride and but for a wonderful save by Bastock low to his left Scott Fitzgerald would have increased the visitors advantage with a deft flick off his right foot.
Having struggled to find any rhythm earlier on and lost three players with injuries, it was to St Albans credit that they pushed hard for an equaliser in the closing stages. James Archer, set up by Ben Bowditch and Simon Martin, shot over the York Road goal while both Bowditch and Rieck troubled Gary Hurlock’s side when knocking the ball across the penalty area close to Preddie’s goal.
But it was Hayes who almost had the final word when Allen-Page had a shot charged down, the ball went onto Scott whose firm drive was smartly held by Bastock.