Louie Theophanous scored and St Albans City are through to the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. Beyond that there was little positive to find in City‚Äôs performance as they squeezed most unconvincingly, 2-1, past Southern Counties East League side Deal Town at a sunny Clarence Park on Saturday.
Louie Theophanous scores the opening goal on 3 minutes.
Theophanous‚Äô eighth goal in 13 games ‚Äď City‚Äôs 300th home goal in the FA Cup ‚Äď came inside three minutes and should have provided the platform upon which the Saints would hammer in a few more goals against their lower league opposition to rebuild a confidence in front of goal that is, at best, brittle.
Instead, Deal defended stoutly during the opening 45 minutes and for much of the second half found the spirit to attack but lacked the physical presence to seriously concern their hosts.
City did gain the cushion of a second goal just after the hour, but even that was an own goal for it was not until the closing minutes that Graham Golds‚Äô and Jimmy Gray‚Äôs boys mustered a second on-target effort.
Deal also had problems in piercing the opposition with their late goal, from defender Charlie Dickens, coming from their on-target goal attempt of the day.
It all conspired to churn out the most tepid of cup-ties. The Magic of the Cup; hardly.
The City side bore little resemblance to that of recent weeks as John Kyriacou and Scott Thomas returned to the starting line-up after injury. James Comley stepped in to cover for the injured Darren Locke as a central defender.
Billy Gibson was handed a second run out while Lewis Hilliard was offered one more chance to prove that he is capable of producing the form that tempted City to sign him during the summer.
Striker Harry Crawford, signed from neighbours Boreham Wood late in the week, came in for his debut and with Theophanous formed an attacking partnership that allowed a couple of good chances to go begging due to refusing to trust their weaker left feet.
Attacking the Hatfield Road goal St Albans began promisingly and quickly rebuilt an attack after a Theophanous shot had been charged down and cleared up-field.
Ian Gayle, at the start of a second month on-loan from Dagenham & Redbridge, ended the Deal attack by laying the ball back to ‚Äėkeeper Joe Welch.
City‚Äôs current Player of the Year rolled a short pass to Comley who picked out Gibson with an excellent long diagonal pass out to the right flank.
Gibson cut inside past Dickens and slipped the ball into Theophanous‚Äô path, a second later the ball was flying high to Chris Waymark‚Äôs left for the opening goal.
City sought to build upon their early breakthrough by playing a passing game, which was fine except that it was far too pedestrian and when the ball eventually went forward it was either misdirected or just plain inept.
To reach this stage of the competition Deal had already played six games, but the gulf between the two sides looked vast early on. Maybe it was this that caused City to play with such an apparent lack of urgency.
Some chances were created during the remainder of the half but precious few caused any concern for either custodian.
Hilliard curled a shot just wide of Waymark‚Äôs goal while Ryan Philpott and Connor Coyne sent snap shots wide of the home goal.
A cross by Kyriacou that drifted towards the goal was tipped over for a corner and, right on half time, a good touch by Crawford to Gibson‚Äôs through ball sent Theophanous away only for the City marksman to screw a right-footed effort well wide when the chance was begging for a left-footed shot.
Deal survived an anxious moment early in the second half when Gibson flicked a Lee Chappell corner across the face of the goal and just wide.
Gray made a double substitution just nine minutes after the restart with Gus Sow and the again disappointing Hilliard making way for David Long-King and Luke Allen, the latter having been out for a month through injury.
With Long-King placed in the back four Comley took a more attacking role, but with City‚Äôs passing into attacking positions still devoid of good quality the Town goal remained under little threat until the Saints scored a fortuitous second goal on 62 minutes.
The build-up was patient as Allen and Scott Thomas worked the ball across from the right to Chappell. The City captain sprayed a pass out to the left to Gibson who wasted no time in sending a cross deep into the penalty area.
Allen went for a header but that he only applied the faintest of touches led to Town defender Charlie Dickens, who was immediately behind him, inadvertently, diverting the ball into his own net.
Crawford should have made it three but his close-range downward header from a Chappell crossed rose sharply off the ground and over the crossbar.
With little left to lose Deal now got at City more positively than at any stage of the game, and whilst Derek Hares team seldom really troubled the Saints they did, for quite a while, appear the side packing the greater menace.
Even so it still took the Kent side until the 81st minute to win their first corner of the tie when a shot by Philpott was blocked and diverted out of play.
Substitute Andy Miller clipped the corner from the Town right towards the near post where Dickens headed home with the aid of a slight deflection off Longe-King.
The Hoops rushed back to get the game moving again and saw plenty of the ball during the remaining time, but their only real threat was a long throw by Walsh that Welch clung to well under pressure.
At the opposite end of the pitch Kyriacou tested Waymark with City‚Äôs long-awaited second on-target shot of the day and in added time possibly City‚Äôs best move of the match ended with Allen firing a couple of yards wide from just outside the penalty area.
Jimmy Gray pulled no punches in his post-match interview and threatened that some players could soon be heading for the exit.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think we did anywhere near enough and against a better side we would probably have come unstuck.
‚ÄúWe started really brightly, got the early goal that should have settled us down, then after that we really huffed and puffed and found it difficult to do anything positive. I make no excuses, I think the boys let themselves down and I told them that,‚ÄĚ said the City joint-manager.
Theophanous has now scored eight of City‚Äôs 13 goals this season and the lack of goals from elsewhere in the side is clearly causing Gray some concern.
‚ÄúOur creativity in the final third at the moment is non-existent; there is a lot to work on.
‚ÄúI feel that some of the boys may not be up to this level of football and I‚Äôve just told them in there (the dressing room) that there‚Äôs no two-ways about it, they go before I get the sack. They‚Äôve got to pull their finger out, I‚Äôm not going to sit around and wait for it to come good. If they are not doing it within the next week or so then they can go.‚ÄĚ
City‚Äôs victory earns the club ¬£4,500 from the FA Cup prize fund and ¬£7,500 is at stake for the winners of the 3rd Round Qualifying matches on the weekend of 10 October. The draw for that Round takes place on Monday.