With a vastly improved performance than of late, St Albans City successfully maintained their undefeated record at the home perennial championship favourites Aldershot Town on Saturday and with a modicum of good fortune could even have seen their patched up side hand the Hampshire club a third consecutive Ryman League defeat.
With Simon Martin and Rob Smith missing through suspension and Scott Holding sidelined having undergone surgery to his broken nose just 24 hours earlier, City were far from full strength but gave the kind of spirited performance that may yet persuade co-managers Gary Roberts and Steve Cook to reconsider their retained list for next season.
Playing up the slope during the opening 45 minutes the Saints started brightly with Rob Kean testing former City keeper Gareth Howells with a fine effort from 28 yards inside three minutes. Four minutes later the somewhat robust Shots defender Owen Coll was fortunate not to be dismissed after first elbowing Mike Bignall in the face near the touchline and then punching the City striker as the two players moved into the penalty area, Coll went on to collect the Aldershot man of the match award!
As the half progressed Aldershot began to impose themselves on the game but after Lee Holsgrove went close with a header from a Chris Allen corner an excellent City move involving Darren Baxter, Gary Ansell and Younes Nabil ended with Ansell taking a return pass but scuffing his shot wide. City's unbeaten record at the Rec looked to be under serious threat on 22 minutes when from Allen's superb cross from the left Mark Bentley was afforded ample space to plant a simple header to Richard Wilmot's left for the opening goal.
Strangely the half petered out as a spectacle following that goal although right on the stroke of half time Bignall did well to keep a long ball in play and with a powerful drive from an acute angle forced Howells into another save.
City began the second period in positive fashion and quickly threatened to draw level. A Kean cross from the right was flicked on by Bignall beyond the back post to Nabil who waltzed around one defender and sent a low shot in front of the sprawling Howells, the ball thudded into the foot of the keepers left hand upright with Kean wastefully sending the rebound over the bar.
City, though, were not to be denied for long and on 58 minutes Bignall won a corner down the visitors right that Baxter swung in towards the near post. Ansell headed the ball goalwards and from virtually on the goalline Bignall helped the ball home for his sixth goal of the season.
Four minutes later Howells went full stretch to push around the post a cleanly struck effort from Gary Wraight following Nabil's short free kick. City continued to pressure the Shots with a Baxter corner being flicked on by Craig Mackail-Smith which led to both Richard Evans and Nabil going close.
As the game moved into the latter stages Aldershot began to reimpose themselves on proceedings and Stafford Browne would surely have added to the two goals he scored when the sides met at St Albans earlier in the month but for an excellently timed block by Evans, two equally well timed challenges by Ryan Moran, who is showing a good return to form, also thwarted clear goalscoring opportunities.
Four minutes from time a misjudgement by Howells in coming for a high ball on the edge of the penalty area almost let in Mackail-Smith only for a covering defender to help the keeper smother the ball but it was City who breathed a sigh of relief during injury time when from a David Carroll free kick the unmarked Browne sent a header over Wilmot only for the ball to glance off the top of the crossbar.
Report by Dave Tavener