St Albans City produced one of their most enjoyable performances of the season on Saturday but the lack of firepower that has dogged their battle against relegation helped condemn Steve Castle’s side to yet another defeat and sees them limp into the play-offs with just a solitary point – and goal - from their final three Premier Division matches.
City made one change to the side beaten earlier in the week at Thurrock with the controversial Derek Brown recalled in place of young Chris Seeby who had done little wrong away to second placed Hendon and a Thurrock side looking to secure third position, the highest placing in the Essex clubs short history.
St Albans attacked with style and menace from the start and won a succession of corners only for poor quality crosses and resolute displays from visiting skipper Jimmy McFarlane and goalkeeper Paul Gothard to further damage City’s pathetic goalscoring record at the Park this season.
Thurrock, looking to extend their unbeaten record against the Saints to an eighth match, were on the back foot from the off and should have fallen behind on 13 minutes when Greg Deacon slipped a delightful pass in the path of the inspired Richard Thomas, unfortunately his low cross to the n ear post was miscued by Lee Clarke on his return from international duty with the Northern Ireland U23 side.
Two minutes later Scott Oakes, who in seconds skips from the sublime to the ridiculous, sent over a cross that Adam Parker headed against the crossbar before a thrilling move involving Clarke and Deacon ended with the latter laying the ball off perfectly to Steve Watts whose low drive was comfortably taken by Gothard. Watts, a joy to watch in this form, maintained the pressure with a surging long run in from the right that was stopped as a goal beckoned courtesy of Steve Heffer’s timely tackle.
Thurrock had a rare sight of George Clark’s goal on 24 minutes when Simon Martin – City’s top scorer for the previous two seasons – brought down a Cliff Akurang free kick only to shoot straight at the home keeper. St Albans quickly regained the initiative with Thomas sending a good ball up to Watts who teed up Gary Wraight for a fine shot along the ground that Gothard spectacularly turned away for City’s umpteenth corner of the half.
Another flowing move on 41 minutes saw Wraight play the ball out to Dave Sargent, Parker challenged for Sargent’s cross and caused Gothard to fumbled the ball inside the six yard box, a wild clearance was seized upon by Deacon and cut back to Thomas who saw his cross wastefully headed over by Parker.
The Saints started the second half as they ended the first, on top, but somehow having managed the weather the storm Thurrock became more threatening themselves. On 47 minutes Watts shot through a crowded penalty area but straight at Gothard, it was to be one of few real moments of concern for the keeper as the play became more even. Castle strangely substitute Deacon for Miguel De Souza early in the half, to little effect, although Sargent almost scored a freak goal when a misdirected cross bounced off the top of the bar.
Thurrock had squandered one good chance when Akurang sent a half-volley across the face of the goal but on 73 minutes he had the satisfaction of setting up Tresor Kandol who, from outside the penalty area, beat Clark with a top quality curling right footed effort that flew high to Clark’s left for the opening goal.
City’s best chance to restore parity faded when a poor Gothard goalkick was collected by Clarke but after taking a return pass from Parker the striker shot tamely at the relieved keeper. Thurrock made certain of their first league double over the Saints in the final minute when Kandol powerfully headed home a David Collis free kick.
Moments later the final whistle sounded to confirm that City had failed to score for the 17th time this season, the second highest total in their 96-year history.
Report by Daid Tavener