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10.12.2011 at 15:00 Top Field Attendance : 362
Hitchin Town
0 - 3
St Albans City
Referee : Mark Scholes (Buckingham) Evo-Stik League Southern Premier Division-match

None Paul Furlong (20)
James Gray (43)
James Gray (45)
Opening squads
Nick Jupp
Ryan Watts
Michael Harriman
James Gray
Matt Cutchey
Micah Hyde
David Ijaha
Sean Shields
Paul Furlong
Simon Martin
Narada Bernard
Barrie Matthews
Tobi Jinadu
Aaron Lansiquot
Sakho Bakare
Rob Haworth
None Sakho Bakare -> Paul Furlong (82)
Aaron Lansiquot -> Sean Shields (88)
Yellow cards
None James Gray
Red cards
None None.
Match report
At the ninth time of asking this season St Albans City finally found a captain to lead by example as newly installed skipper James Gray struck twice during a comprehensive and crucial 3-0 Southern League victory over county rivals Hitchin Town at Top Field on Saturday.

Gray provided the defensive rock around which City snuffed out an ineffective Town attack and at the opposite end of the pitch the City Youth assistant manager plundered two outstanding goals as the Saints ended their shocking run of just one point from the previous eight away Premier Division games.

City fielded six changes from the side thrashed by Barwell a week earlier and once ahead through Paul Furlong’s exquisite finish on 20 minutes never looked like walking way from Fishponds Road with anything less than three points.

Hitchin showed just four changes from the 16-man squad that looked so impressive at Clarence Park back in August but since then confidence has clearly been shattered and the quality of the Canaries football was in keeping with that of a side now having gone ten league games without success.

In truth, City won at a canter without having to attain any great heights.

St Albans gave a debut to 37-year old midfielder Micah Hyde and the calmness of the former Watford star helped the visitors to play through the midfield with more assurance than has often been the case.

A new central defensive partnership of Gray and Matt Cutchey – the latter carried a foot injury for much of the afternoon - was highly effective and the experience of Furlong, 43, and Simon Martin, 32, in attack kept the home defence stretched.

The game kicked off in quite glorious sunshine but clear skies ensured the temperature remained low throughout. The absence of cloud allowed Hitchin’s third highest attendance of the season a clear view of a vibrant sunset over the Bedford Road and dramatic rising of the moon above the town.

Hitchin, without a goal in their previous three league games, opted for a five-man back-line but this simply allowed City to attack down either flank with plenty of freedom until getting close to the penalty area.

Michael Harriman, in particular, revelled in the space in front of him and it was from his cross that Furlong forced Canaries keeper Martin Bennett into the first save of the day.

The opening 20 minutes had been cagey with both sides fully aware of the losers facing the threat of being sucked into a relegation battle and City made sure that they were not put into that position when Furlong, collecting Harriman’s throw from the right, twisted away from defender Marc Leach and cracked a wonderful left-footed shot across Bennett and inside the keeper’s right hand post.

Hitchin hit back with Tony Fontenelle’s high ball into the penalty area being unconvincingly punched by Nick Jupp into the path of John Frendo whose snap shot struck the inside of Jupp’s left hand upright.

Jupp then stretched athletically to palm away a well placed Leach free kick while the limping Cutchey headed off the goal-line Leach’s flick from a Callum Donnelly corner.

After a quiet spell City applied a spell of pressure with Sean Shields forcing Bennett into making a save while the tireless Ryan Watts flashed a half volley across the face of the goal following another Harriman cross.

Hitchin’s main threat was provided by their leading goalscorer Frendo and he went close with an improvised effort following a low Donnelly free kick.

Gray, a robust and imposing figure in defence, put the game beyond Hichin’s reach with two cracking finishes close to half time.

On the 43 minutes the City captain, leaning away from Watts corner on the Saints left and just inside the penalty area, sent a perfectly placed volley to the right of the fully extended Bennett to open his account for the Saints.

Two minutes later Gray added the third City goal when powerfully heading a Watts free kick to Bennett’s left.

With the outcome virtually decided by the interval the second half struggled to retain the interest of the spectators but Shields, on the right of the City midfield, kept Bennett busy with three decent efforts.

Shields certainly possessed an accuracy in his shooting that was in stark contrast to the wayward finishing of the home strikers for whom former Saint Inih Effiong endured a quiet debut.

During the latter stages Leach looped a header onto the roof of the City goal and Frendo had a couple of shots charged down while Shields’ afternoon ended with him departing on a stretcher suffering possible ligament damage to his left ankle.

Referee Mark Scholes was clearly in no rush to get back to his Buckingham home and played a remarkable 11 minutes and 37 seconds of added time at the end of the half.
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