St Albans City were kept waiting until the latter stages of Tuesday’s 2nd Round Herts Senior Cup tie at St Margaretsbury before turning their superiority into goals with three late strikes securing a 4-2 victory over the South Midlands League side.
Saints boss Steve Castle fielded a strong starting XI, following three indifferent performances, and was rewarded with a dominant display by his side on their first visit to The Recreation Ground.
But the evening did not pass without some concern for the Saints who trailed at the interval after conceding two goals in three minutes having led through a Gary Cohen goal. A patient second half performance saw City gradually wear down their hosts before netting three times in the final twenty minutes to clinch a place in the quarter finals.
Chris Seeby continued his push for full fitness with a 90 minute run out while Lee Clarke and Simon Martin both made their return to action following injury. After the match Castle acknowledged that of the trio probably only Martin is likely to be added to the squad for Saturday’s visit to Clarence Park by Worcester City.
Seeby started the game most encouragingly with a drive into the side netting inside two minutes while the right back also won City’s first corner on 15 minutes. A measure of City’s dominance can be gauged by the corner count, which was 11-0 in favour of the Saints.
Although clear goal chances were limited early on the manner in which St Albans passed the ball around warmed another bitterly cold night and the Saints bright opening was capped by the first goal on 17 minutes.
A Luke Thurlbourne corner on the City right was headed goalwards by Seeby, and, while he stood appealing for handball, Cohen slotted the ball home from a couple of yards out.
St Margaretsbury offered little as an attacking force early on but Bury manager Lee Judges caught the attention of referee Andy Crawford with two verbal outbursts that resulted in a final warning before facing being banished from the dugout.
Bury suggested that City would not have things all their own way on 27 minutes when midfielder Kevin Ashwood drove a free kick just wide of the target and the Saints were caught napping on 32 minutes when Tony Smith was left unattended to head over from a Paul Taylor cross.
That warning went unheeded as a minute later Smith, on the edge of the penalty area, found space to control a low Ashwood cross and twist before planting the ball wide of Jake Palmer’s outstretched right hand for the equaliser.
If that goal surprised the sparse crown then two minutes later they were totally stunned as Steve Barker slid a short pass out to Paul Taylor who, some 30 yards from goal out on the Bury left, looked on as his intended cross looped over the stranded keeper and dropped under the bar to give the lowly South Midlands League side the lead.
City looked to up the tempo to get level by the break but other for an effort stabbed wide by Cohen, following Seeby’s near post cross, and a header by Sam Hurrell, there was little to worry home keeper James Sturgeon unduly.
The second half continued in much the same vein with St Albans dominating possession but St Margaretsbury working hard to defend their goal. Soon after the restart James Quilter had a downward header smothered by the keeper while shots from Cohen and Thurlbourne both missed the target.
Bury survived a frantic scramble after Jon Munday just failed to turn in a Thurlbourne cross while Sturgeon was relieved to get the ball straight into his midriff after Cohen had deflected goalwards a misdirected Munday free kick.
The pressure was maintained with Fisher clipping the ball towards goal from a Thurlbourne cross while Cohen went close from another Seeby cross.
Bury’s rearguard action was finally breached on 71 minutes when Hassan Sulaiman, who had a particularly fine second half, put the ball into Simon Martin’s path. A trip inside the penalty area by Steve Barker curtailed Martin’s run with Scott Cousins - who claims never to have missed a penalty – driving the resulting spot kick high into the back of the net.
The dominance of the Saints was total at this time and only a goalline clearance denied Fisher his first goal for the club following a corner by impressive substitute Hector Mackie.
But the Saints were only kept waiting until the 76th minute when Seeby, again receiving the ball from Sulaiman, cut in from the right flank and from around 28 yards unleashed a deflected shot that wrong footed the keeper and landed inside his right hand post.
Several times in the closing stages City threatened to increase the lead only for the killer touch to be found wanting. Mackie went close with a header and then a shot following crosses from Inih Effiong and Martin, while Effiong also headed just wide when Mackie was the provider.
Although outplayed Bury were still in the hunt at just one goal behind and in the 90th minute they were thrown a lifeline was the clearly offside Ben Herod was allowed to race after a long ball over the City defence.
Palmer charged well outside of his penalty area and went to clear the danger but, to the concern of those around him, miscued. Fortunately for the teenage keeper the ball stayed close to him and before Bell could react Palmer was finally able to clear his lines.
And two minutes into added time the result was at last put beyond doubt when Martin swept home his 79th goal for the club after Effiong had superbly read Cousins ball down the right hand side of the Bury defence and cut it back into the goalmouth.
St Margaretsbury still found time to squander a clear opening when Palmer parried a cross into the path of Brendan Brien who wastefully blazed wide from close in.