Saturday 6th January 2018, 1500 KO
St Albans City FC vs Chelmsford City FC
The Build Up
For the first game of 2018, I was making the hideous journey around the M25 to St Albans. I decided to make a weekend of it, and visited a friend in London Colney on the Friday evening, which shifted the journey to Friday rush hour, making it even more delightful. There seems to just be something about that motorway that turns everybody on it (except me, obviously) into a moron. Oh well.
Saturday morning rolled around, and with it, the battle of the tiny cities – St Albans vs Chelmsford. Formed in 1908, St Albans City finished 10th in the Vanarama National League South last season, and sit in a similar position this time around. The Saints come into this fixture on the back of a fairly good December period, and having beaten Chelmsford out in deepest, darkest Essex earlier in the season, would be looking to complete the double.
If the hosts are in good form, then Chelmsford are absolutely on fire. A seven game unbeaten run (nine including friendlies and cup matches) has seen them storm up the table, where they are now firmly in the mix (5th) in the duck’s arse-esque battle for the title. Rod Stringer’s side finished 4th last season, and were firmly among the favourites for the promotion race at the beginning of the season.
Irritatingly, both teams are nicknamed City, which could make this a reader’s nightmare (beyond the standard issues of tortured metaphors and excessive verbosity), so I’ll run with their other monikers – The Saints, and The Clarets.
Clarence Park is a 5,007 capacity ground, and sits nestled within a Victorian leisure park by the same name. Walking off York Road through the park, you pass the cricket pitch and the old Pavilion, before arriving at the stadium. My first impression was the quaint, almost country village aesthetic of the rear entrance, before walking all around the ground.
Built in 1893, the ground retains a large element of its Victorian charm. Wrought ironwork turnstiles, pitch perimeter fencing adorned with the city’s crest and a clubhouse behind the main stand all lend to the feeling of stepping back generations. Some may look at the ground and simply see it as old, but I absolutely loved it. You can easily imagine crowds of people, wearing flat caps and waving wooden clackers. That is what they did in the Victorian age right?
The burger fan – City Diner – supplied me with an entirely unnecessary post-Christmas calorific overload of chips, sausage and curry sauce (with obligatory Diet Coke) for £6, which seemed a touch steep. Added to a £2.50 programme and £15 adult ticket, this is a sight more expensive than some of their league rivals who I have visited.
As the away supporters raised their banners and the home fans lined the fencing and took up positions in the dimly lit terraces, I set myself up pitchside behind Sam Beasant –yes, he is Dave’s son (there are a lot of famous sons in these squads…) – and the referee got us underway.
A slightly above average crowd of 774 watched on as it took less than sixty seconds for Shaun Batt to have the first chance of the match Chelmsford City. The striker latched on to a bouncing ball near the edge of the area and flashed a right footed shot wide. It was a decent effort, but was absolutely the only thing the game had to speak of in the first quarter of an hour.
The early exchanges were broken and scrappy – no little endeavour, but both teams were finding it difficult to put passes together in brisk January cold. Seventeen minutes in that changed, when the Saints put together the first decent passing move of the match. Former Fulham Academy midfielder Solomon Sambou was the catalyst for St Albans moving the ball side to side across midfield, showing good patience, until Kieran Monlouis found himself in possession ten yards outside the box.
No one came to close Monlouis down and he surged at the defender’s right shoulder. Breezing past him, the number 10 found space for a shot and cracked in a left footed effort. On target anyway, a slight deflection ensured that the ball found its way past Beasant to open the scoring and give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Batt was involved again. In the programme notes, Batt was described as being “not well known for his goal record, but for his physical prowess and chance creation”. This was very apparent. Sort of like a Vanarama Heskey. On this occasion, his strength allowed him to hold onto the ball under pressure from a throw in, turn, and fire in a shot. Deflected, and wide for a corner.
The next piece of action came from a 29th minute corner for the Saints. Whipped in from the left, Tom Bender rose highest to secure the knock down, which landed at the feet of Harvey Bradbury. In the side today for his St Albans debut after signing on loan from Watford, Lee’s son saw the goal open up before him. He was, however, heavily impeded by some Shawcross style centre back play by Chris Smith and skewed his shot wide. With Smith reprising the famous Di Caprio/Winslet “King of the World” scene, I’m not surprised.
Two minutes later, Batt bustled his way through to create another chance. A long ball over gave him the chance to chase, but with Bender in his way, Batt’s route to goal was blocked. No problem – Batt simply threw him to the floor. With the linesman flagging for the foul, referee Whitton waved batt through, but his shot was palmed away by Dean Snedker in the Saints goal.
The Clarets had another good chance to score on 41 minutes, when a corner and subsequent scramble saw the ball arrive at Chris Smith’s feet. His shot was rushed, and Snedker gathered it near the foot of the post. Chelmsford would regret this four minutes later when Layne Eadie, which sounds like two surnames to me, doubled St Albans’ lead.
Skipper David Noble, Scotland B international and formerly of Exeter City (spit), but trained at Arsenal (un-spit) advanced through the midfield in possession. With Eadie pulling right, and Monlouis pulling left, Noble chose the pass to Monlouis. The young midfielder’s control was off on this occasion though, and his heavy first touch bounced away from him, falling perfectly into Eadie’s path. Eadie took the ball in his stride, and as he shot, almost scuffed it into the floor, bouncing it over Beasant in the Clarets goal to put his side two up on the stroke of half time.
Two nil at the break, and St Albans definitely deserved their lead. Despite Batt and Oyenuga looking busy up front, the trio of Monlouis, Noble and Sambou were controlling the game. As I listened to the dulcet tones of The Knack blaring out My Sharona over the sound system, it seemed to me that St Albans were likely to stretch the lead in the second half.
The start of the second half saw the occurrence of one of my favourite sporting events – a completely unnecessary and obvious instructional shout. When a Chelmsford player missed the target with a hopeful shot, ‘keeper Beasant helpfully yelled forward “Hit the target!” If only he’d shouted that before the shot, his oppo surely would have scored.
The next chance again came about through Noble on 57 minutes when he played a neat one-two with Monlouis on the edge of the box. He could have shot from the D, but opted to play in Charlie Walker instead. A gilt-edged chance to add to his eight goals this season was spurned though, as he shot straight into the grateful arms of Beasant.
Chelmsford started to up their game around the hour mark, and applied some decent pressure at the Saints’ end. A useful cross by Craigh Braham-Barrett promised danger, but Snedker did exceptionally well to hold under significant pressure from Scott Davies and Kudus Oyenuga.
On 69 minutes, St Albans were denied a clear penalty, and chance to go three up. A lofted ball looked to be dropping perfectly for substitute Rhys Murrell-Williamson, when Braham-Barrett managed to get a head to it. As the ball skimmed off his bonce, it ricocheted straight into his upraised arm, dropping neatly at his feet. About twenty unimpeded metres from the linesman, it was as clear a penalty as you could wish for, but no dice.
Ten minutes after this, Kudus Oyenuga raced onto a slide-rule cross on the deck from another substitute Lee Barnard. About five yards to the right of the goal, Oyenuga got his bearings all wrong and sidefoooted harmlessly high and wide. I had been quite disappointed by Oyenuga up to this point. A player I had heard good things about, I had been looking forward to seeing what the former Spurs’ prospect could do.
Clearly aware of the thoughts in my head, Oyenuga decided to banish my doubts minutes later, when he halved the deficit. A push by Tom Gardiner on a Clarets midfielder resulted in a free kick near the half way line. As is required by law for the losing team in the last ten minutes of a football match, it was lofted into the box, where the opposing centre backs competed for the ball. As it dropped, it landed at the feet of a surrounded Oyenuga. He did well to sort his feet out quickly, made space for the shot, and calmly slotted into the corner. This was 85 minutes in, and with five minutes of injury time, game on.
The final ten minutes fizzed and sparked, and though both teams tried to attack until the end (around some cynical time wasting by St Albans at throw ins, Ben Herd leading this particular effort), there was no more goal mouth action.
The Wash Up
So Ian Allinson’s side ran out the winners, and deservedly so. Having now done the double over Chelmsford, they find themselves up into 8th, whilst their opposition drop to 6th. An interesting set of results at the top of the table means that only six points separate the Saints in 8th, from Dartford in 1st.
I felt for Chelmsford’s fans today, who turned up in good numbers. It really did seem as though the side just ran out of steam today after such a sterling December effort. Eight games in one month for a nonleague side is a huge workload, and to remain unbeaten in them is some achievement. Back to the drawing board after today, but the Clarets have a strong squad and will certainly be there or thereabouts come the business end of the season.
All the top performances came from St Albans players today, and I was impressed with them across the pitch. Unsurprisingly for a man who played under George Graham, Allinson has built an impressive defence, with Tarik Moore-Azille as the bedrock. The big number five worked well with his central defensive partner Percy Kiangebeni. Both agile, strong and quick, their biggest assets were the ability to read the play. Both were comfortable stepping out of defence to intercept, and they cut Chelmsford’s supply lines well. Ably flanked by Herd and Bender, the back line looked good.
Monlouis looked good in possession through, and Sambou has the ability to drive at a defence and set the tempo as he pleases, but my man of the match today goes to Captain David Noble. A vocal leader on the pitch, he also led by example with his performance, at the heart of everything his team did well. Barring one particularly odd moment where he literally walked the ball into touch, he made no mistakes and was influential in both penalty areas and most areas in between.
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