Following the takeover of St Albans City by businessmen Lawrence Levy and John McGowan on 10th May 2011, the duo, having made clear that they had no desire to oversee the running of the playing side of the club, set about appointing a chairman. Before making that appointment, the new owners spoke with current City manager Steve Castle but could not guarantee that he would still be in charge for the new season.
After three weeks following various leads Levy and McGowan approached and appointed Ian Ridley as the new City chairman. Ridley, who had never been impressed with the way the previous owner, John Gibson, had run the club, was a popular appointment. A respected football writer who had contributed to various national newspapers in more than 30 years as a reporter, and was a specialist in biographies and ghosting autobiographies, he had a spell as a City director in 2006 and had also had two stints as chairman of Weymouth. On his way up the journalistic ladder Ian even composed a handful of reports on City matches whilst with the Evening Echo in the latter part of the 1970’s. Below; John McGowan, Ian Ridley, Lawrence Levy.
The new chairman soon met with Castle but again was unable to guarantee that he would continue as City manager.
McGowan, Levy and Ridley introduced themselves to supporters at a Fans’ Forum held in the Clarence Park clubhouse on 3rd June. Also present was Reserve team manager Franco Sidoli, and Graham Golds and James Gray who had been handed control of the revived St Albans City Midweek Youth side.
Absent from the Forum was Steve Castle . Due to fears of news leaking out that a decision had been taken to replace him, Ridley, who had wanted to tell Castle face-to-face, contacted him by telephone on the final day of his family holiday and informed him of the decision.
Ridley gave the reasons behind ending the reign of the third longest serving manager in the history of the club. “This was a decision not taken lightly. Steve did a sound job in very difficult circumstances last season and the club is grateful to him for his perseverance. It was a difficult decision to make in many ways and it was tempting to keep him on because of the difficulties he’s faced in recent seasons. We needed a change of momentum and direction with fresh thinking and fresh players, so it was probably going to take a new face to do that,” said Ridley.
David Howell appointed manager
Castle’s replacement was David Howell, as Ridley tempted the Harrow Borough manager to give up his safe seat of eight years at Earlsmead and shift from the Isthmian to the Southern League. Howell boasted an impressive C.V. as a player. He had played for, and captained, the England semi-professional side, he was a member of Enfield’s successful sides of the 1980s and scored in the E’s 1988 FA Trophy final replay win over Telford United. He also scored on the day Barnet secured promotion from the Football Conference to the Football League in 1991. After leaving Underhill, with Barry Fry , he made a belated entry into the professional game and played in the Football League with Southend United and Birmingham City.
The 2010-11 season had been 52-year-old Howell’s most successful with Harrow. Having finished no higher than 14th during his first seven years, Howell guided Harrow to fifth place in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League in 2011 and also led the club to the 1st Round proper of the FA Cup. Not blessed with the best attendances at Harrow he worked to a tight budget, something that made Boro’s success all the more praiseworthy.
St Albans had lost most of their big guns towards the end of the 2010-11 season with Paul Bastock (260 appearances) returning to Boston United, Ben Martin (150) went to Welling United, Ryan Frater (127) joined Arlesey Town while James Fisher (135) took a break from the game. During the close season City’s last two ‘name’ players, Player of the Year Adam Everitt and full-back Peter Smith , also left with the duo signing for Conference South side Staines Town. Smith later returned to one of his former clubs, Poole Town.
Although some of the younger players that had helped to see City through the final weeks of the previous attended pre-season training it was clear that few still had a future with the Saints. And Inih Effiong , City’s leading goal scorer during the unsuccessful battle against relegation, also made it clear that he did not wish to remain at Clarence Park . Effiong looked to be on his way to financially troubled Farnborough before being snapped up by Boreham Wood.
Wood played Effiong under an assumed name during a summer friendly and believed that they could take the striker for free having been advised by former City chairman Gibson that he was out of contract at St Albans. In fact, Wood had been badly advised and the player, as confirmed by the Football Association, was indeed under contract to the Saints. A bitter exchange of words ensued, mainly between Wood chairman Danny Hunter and his opposite number at Clarence Park , but City were fully vindicated by the F.A. and, in November, City’s neighbours were ordered by an F.A. tribunal to pay St Albans £1,500. By this time Effiong had already fallen out of favour at Boreham Wood and had been loaned out to Concord Rangers. Wood even had the temerity to offer Effiong back to St Albans before the tribunal had taken place. The Wood manager at this time was Ian Allinson and when he became St Albans manager in 2016 he still insisted that Wood had acted correctly.
The early training sessions were held at Clarence Park (above) where a vast number of hopefuls, mostly youngsters, tried to catch Howell’s eye. The only remaining players from the previous season thought to be in with a chance of staying at the club were Aidy Chaves, Ross Dedman , Michael Lewis, Rob Magwood and Sean Shields , while Solomon Shields also returned having not played for the club since November 2010. Sidoli was hopeful that a number of his Reserve team players would also be given a chance to break into the First team.
Howell admitted that those attending training, although enthusiastic, were lacking in experience. “My target is to try and get a team together in four weeks. I see a lot of lads who are eager but I just feel at the moment we are a little bit young and I need to bring in a little bit of experience, people who know their way around the park,” said Howell.
City’s next port of call since being relegated from Conference South had been in doubt throughout the summer until it was finally confirmed early in July that the club would spend the forthcoming campaign in the Southern League. The original St Albans Football Club spent two seasons in this league between 1897-99.
Sprucing up the Park
While Howell was assembling his squad, work was going on to improve the facilities at Clarence Park . The toilet block at the Hatfield Road end of the ground, first installed in 1923, was completely refurbished. All of the old pitch perimeter advertising boards were hauled down and would only be replaced by boards that had been paid for rather than left to fill unwanted gaps, as had been the case for a number of years. The goalmouths at either end of the pitch were re-laid with new turf but this was a far from successful venture with the new surface wearing out quickly. It was later established that the turf was possibly diseased and due to this the company involved agreed to level and re-seed the goalmouths the following summer. Due to a hosepipe ban coming into effect in April 2012, re-turfing was not an option and even the success of seeding was at the mercy of the weather with plenty of rain required.
Other work around the ground saw the clubhouse given a spruce up, the terraces and surrounding banks were completely cleared of weeds while tree branches overhanging the Hatfield Road terrace were cut back. The Conference League boards were replaced by Evo-Stik (sponsors of the Southern League) boards and, early in the season, new signage was erected directing spectators to ‘The Saints Bar,’ which was the new name for the clubhouse. The club also brought in a new catering van at the York Road end of the ground and had a van selling hot drinks at the opposite end of the ground. Although the food from the new catering van was good the delays in serving spectators were unacceptable and the caterer for recent seasons, ‘Andy’s Snacks,’ was recalled.
Howell had precious little time in which to build a successful team but very soon his prospective squad was taking shape with a number of players who had turned out for him at Harrow switching their allegiance to Clarence Park . The problems Harrow faced in losing a number of personnel to St Albans was not restricted to players as Howell was followed to Clarence Park by his backroom staff at Earlsmead. These included assistant manager Ken Charlery, coach Stuart Crawford and physio Samantha Backhouse.
For the Saints first friendly of the summer, at home to Queens Park Rangers on 18th July, Howell cast his eye over no less than 27 players. Just five of the 27 had appeared for the club the previous season, three ‘old boys’ were included – Ryan Moran (Boreham Wood), Rob Haworth (Tooting & Mitcham United) and Tobi Jinadu (Harrow Borough) – while seven players known to have previously played for Harrow were also given a run out.
Clarence Park included nine players with Football League experience. With two goals from Leon Clarke and singles from Antonio German and Alesandro Pellicori Rangers won 4-0. True to his word, with the acquisition of Haworth (35) and Moran (28) Howell had begun to add experienced players to his youthful squad. (Left: Rob Haworth v Queens Park Rangers).Despite the QPR First team being on tour in the south west, the Rangers squad used at
A City side of sorts was back in action 24 hours later to defeat Ware 3-2 at Wodson Park. The game included three own goals, two of which secured a win for the visitors. An own goal following a Bradley Wilkinson (cousin of former City striker Trevor) cross put City ahead before Ware levelled with an own goal. The own goals kept coming with a beautifully flighted Alexis Nicolas cross striking the crossbar and an upright before bouncing into the goal off the back of goalkeeper Obey Murefu. Trialist Jason Nicolau added the third Saints goal before Marcus Sammons headed in the second Ware goal. With Howell absent Sidoli took charge of the side.
Azerbaijan side Gabala provided the next opposition on 24th July. The Gabala manager was Tony Adams who is a close friend of Ridley, the City chairman having ghost written Adams’ highly successful autobiography.
Gabala were on a 10-day tour of England and the 3-2 win for Adams side included their first goals of the tour. City’s two goals were both scored by Jerome Walker as the former Harrow youngster made a good impression on his new followers at Clarence Park . The visitor’s goals were scored by Murad Huseynov and a brace for his brother Vurgun Huseynov.
The new owners were determined to rebuild broken ties between the club and the local business community and during the summer a breakfast meeting was held at The Peahen with specially invited members of the Chamber of Commerce. Levy and Ridley took centre stage in front of around 90 guests and felt that the club received a positive response. The club looked to build upon this start and for the QPR match erected a large marquee in front of the boardroom with Chamber of Commerce members receiving the hospitality of the club.
City chalked up their second win of the summer with a 2-0 victory over Royston Town at Garden Walk two days after the Gabala match. Danny Hart scored both goals but it was the tireless Solomon Shields who caught the eye. Amongst the trialists was the well-known Lawrence Yaku but it was a one-off appearance by the former Hampton striker.
For the fifth friendly City used their fourth different goalkeeper. Former Harrow ‘keeper Nick Jupp was highly impressive against QPR, the experienced former Basingstoke Town custodian Stuart Searle played for the first half against Gabala, while the unknown Kwami Fordah was between the sticks at Royston. Reserve team ‘keeper Aiden Kelly played at Aylesbury but was unable to save the side from a surprise 3-2 defeat. On a swelteringly hot day Aylesbury dominated the opening 45 minutes and led at the interval through goals from Jack Thompson (penalty), Greg Williams and former City Youth player Ricky Miller. Both sides made a high number of changes before the game was over and a stronger City XI in the second half reduced the deficit with goals from Sean Shields and Brian Haule.
Former City midfielder Barry Fry , now secretary at Peterborough United, was among a party from the Posh that won a friendly at the Park on 2nd August. But it was another City old boy, admittedly for just two matches whilst with the Saints on work experience from Peterborough during the 2010-11 season, Joe Newell who grabbed the headlines with two goals as Posh won 4-1. Newell’s second goal saw him poke the loose ball home after City’s latest goalkeeper trialist, Phil Carpenter, had saved the teenagers spot kick. Aaron Wickham and Dan Evans also scored for the visitors while James Bent claimed the City goal.
The following day the player expected to be the Saints custodian during the forthcoming season, Nick Jupp, boarded a plane bound for Shenzchen, China, to represent Great Britain in the World Student Games. Jupp’s participation in those Games, with the blessing of the club, would rule him out of the opening four league matches.
City’s on-pitch preparations were completed with two matches against local opposition. A Dom Petrucci goal, rubbed out by Colney Heath player Murray, secured a 1-1 draw for a team consisting of fringe First team players and trialists on 4th August. The player to catch the eye most at Colney Heath was French striker Sakho Bakare.
Two days later another side of probables and possible won 2-0 away to Isthmian League side Potters Bar Town courtesy of first half goals by Frenchman Joakim Ehui and Haule. The Town side included ex-City players Luke Jackaman and Ryan Baronet and was coached by another former Saint in 23-year-old Harry Wheeler. Carpenter was given a second run out in the City goal for the opening 45 minutes and was replaced at half time by Nick Bussey. Neither player went on to sign for the club with Bussey actually going on to play against City for both Hemel Hempstead and Arlesey.
Before starting the league campaign City had one competitive fixture to fulfil in the Herts Charity Cup. Having changed his side with great frequency during the friendly matches Howell resisted the temptation to field his anticipated First team for the 1st Round (quarter final) tie with Cheshunt at Theobalds Lane. The game was played to a backdrop of thick smoke from the Sony warehouse fire in nearby Enfield (above), as the London riots got into full swing. Within the opening 90 seconds Bakare was scythed down by a shocking hack by Cheshunt’s Ryan Wade. Somehow referee Anthony Serrano allowed Wade to stay on the pitch and maybe his leniency on that occasion gave Charlie Moxon licence to carry out a similar assault on Jake Panayiotou during the second half. This time Moxon was dismissed while Panayiotou was sidelined for three weeks. Bakare, who had ended the previous season playing in Spain, scored City’s first goal of the season on 78 minutes with Petrucci adding the second in a 2-0 win. City substitute Nick Chrysanthou, who made five First team appearances the previous season, looked in particularly sparkling form when coming on as a second half substitute. The win was achieved with City’s first clean sheet in the competition for eight years. The match saw six players make their debut for the Saints; central defender Sam Lyon, full-back Sermet Karagozlu, midfielders Kojo Appenteng, Adam Fry and Craig Davies, and striker Bakare.
On the eve of the league season City owner Lawrence Levy announced a new sponsorship deal with local college Oaklands and a fresh partnership between the college and the club. The college, having been shirt sponsors for the previous two seasons, signed up for a new two-year deal. The partnership deal would see the college run a form of football academy with players made available for possible inclusion in the City Youth, Reserve and First teams. The deal received a cool reception from supporters who were wary of a repeat of a previous agreement, organised with the previous owner of the football club, that led to accusations of funding supposedly meant for the football club not reaching its destination. Levy went to great lengths to highlight that the arrangements for the new academy bore little resemblance to the former scheme and both the college and the football club would benefit from the new partnership.
Southern League campaign commences
Clarence Park . A large number of the team were unknown to supporters although Rob Haworth (182 games between 1996-200) and Ryan Moran (146 games between 2000-03) were hardly strangers. The only survivors from the summer cull were Solomon Shields and Sean Shields . Haworth had the honour of scoring the first goal in the new club-coloured net (above). Solomon Shields added the second (left), and an own goal following wonderful weaving close skills by Sean Shields put City into an unassailable position. Jamie Reid reduced the deficit before 42-year-old Paul Furlong, who was signed only the day before the game, completed the scoring barely three minutes after coming off the bench. Ten players made their City debut including goalkeeper Kyle Merson who stepped in at late notice on a one-month loan from Staines Town to cover for the absent Jupp. The other debutants were; midfielder Marvin Alebiosu (unattached), striker James Bent (Harrow Borough), central defender Matt Cutchey (Heybridge Swifts), right-sided midfielder Joakim Ehui, striker Paul Furlong (Kettering Town), central midfielder David Ijaha (Harrow Borough), left-back Barrie Matthews (Hampton & Richmond Borough), right-back Matt Pooley (Braintree Town), and winger/forward Jerome Walker (Harrow Borough).Cirencester Town, on 13th August, provided the opposition for City’s first fixture in the new surroundings of the Southern League. The Gloucestershire side were punished for missing several chances early on as St Albans put a stuttering start behind them to open up with a 4-1 victory, the club’s biggest opening day win for 16 years. Remarkably, the three goals City scored at the Hatfield Road end of the ground equalled their total in that net for the whole of the league campaign in 2010-11. The club was desperate to make a good start to herald the dawn of a new era; the large win and a gate 60 above the previous season’s average provided substance to the air of optimism that was sweeping through
Gary Roberts side was put on the final score when Craig Hammond, after missing a hatful of chances on the day he became a father, added a late fourth. Missing from the City line-up was the unavailable Furlong. Brian Haule, formerly with Hendon, stepped in as City suffered their biggest defeat for 33 years in the first away match of the season. Right: Brian Haule is shadowed by former Saint Dave Theobald.Three days later and St Albans could really throw down the gauntlet to the rest of the Division by defeating Cambridge City at Milton Road. Unfortunately, things did not quite pan out the way intended and Cambridge won 4-0, and had they accepted just the reasonable chances that came their way then a margin in double figures would not have been out of the question. A fluke goal by Liam Nicell got Cambridge on their way and with a brace by half time for Luke Robins St Albans were facing utter humiliation. Some measure of the dominance of
Howell was still getting to know his squad and made three changes for the following Saturday’s trip to Barwell. A second half goal by Solomon Shields secured victory for the Saints but it required some dire shooting by the home side, and Jamie Towers in particular, to allow City to claim their first away points in the Southern League. Right-sided midfielder Danny Hart, who spent the previous season with Harrow Borough, made his debut and Bakare, as a substitute, made his first league appearance. Davies made his final appearance for the club prior to being released. In what was City’s fourth competitive match of the season Barrie Matthews picked up the first booking of the campaign.
Having put the nightmare of Cambridge behind them City welcomed county rivals Hitchin Town to Clarence Park for the first league match between the two clubs in over seven years on the 23rd. Hitchin looked to be well on the way to victory when goals by John Frendo and one-time Saint Jerome Anderson gave Carl Williams side a two-goal lead inside the opening nine minutes. A spectacular strike by Pooley (below), his only goal for the club, pulled City back into contention on ten minutes but a second for Anderson on the stroke of half time looked to have sealed City’s fate. The game twisted again midway through the second half when stupendous strikes from Sean Shields and captain David Ijaha pulled City level. Now it was Hitchin’s turn to be resilient and the City comeback looked to be over when Frendo scored his second on 75 minutes. Frendo’s night took a turn for the worse four minutes later when he picked up a second yellow card, both for dissent, and was duly dismissed. There was another twist during added time when referee George Sprague picked up an injury and had to be replaced by senior linesman Daniel Richardson. A qualified match official was required to run the line and fortunately Herts F.A. official David Willacy was on hand to take on the role, despite being dressed in civvies. Willacy had run the line during Isthmian League matches back in the 1970’s and also stepped in during City’s 5-0 win at Histon in January 2006 when the referee suffered a heart murmur. With the game now deep into added time City’s last hope looked to have gone only for Sean Shields to be pulled down inside the penalty area. After what seemed an eternity Bakare salvaged a draw when beating Martin Bennett from the penalty spot in the sixth minute of added time. For all four City scorers in the 4-4 draw it was their first goal for the club.
The following weekend was the August Bank Holiday and facing games on the Saturday and Monday Howell sought to protect his players from exhaustion by selecting vastly differing sides for the two games. For the first league meeting with Banbury United the City manager made six changes from the side that drew with Hitchin. Goalkeeper Nick Jupp, back from China, came in for his debut as did left back Nathan Ralph who joined City on work experience from Peterborough United. Former Banbury skipper Nathan Haisley completed a trio of debutants while Marvin Alebiosu made his only starting appearance. Banbury’s youthful attacking duo of Will Green and Aaron Woodley scored the goals that secured a 2-0 win for the Puritans but Green missed a chance of making the result more emphatic when he had a penalty saved by Ryan Moran. City’s central defender went between the sticks when Jupp was dismissed for bringing down Woodley midway through the second half. Amongst the City substitutes was Haworth who came on at half time but within a minute was flat on his back with a thigh injury and was immediately replaced by Ehui. Banbury’s win was their third in a run of four straight victories.
For Moran the joy of saving a penalty was washed away just two days later when he was dismissed after only 25 minutes for bringing down Hemel Hempstead Town striker Lewis Toomey at Clarence Park . Moran looked to be on the wrong end of a poor decision but City, having overturned Toomey’s early goal for the still winless visitors courtesy of goals from Danny Hart and Jerome Walker held on to secure a 2-1 victory. Hart and Walker’s goals were their first for the club on the day Ehui made his sole home starting appearance of the season only for the winger to be substituted immediately after Moran’s exit. Furlong played for the full 90 minutes for the first of just four occasions. The referee was Christopher O’Donnell, brother of the former City and Hemel player Jonathan (better known as JJ).
September: ‘New era’ optimism begins to fade
Sean Shields (left) handed City a half time lead. But City’s indifferent form dipped after the interval and Marine were rewarded for dominating the second half with goals from Dave Bampton and Max Etheridge as the hosts collected their first win of the season. City’s misery was compounded when Tobi Jinadu (above right), back at the club after an absence of three years, was dismissed as City had a player sent off in three consecutive matches for the first time in 20 years. The game was Brian Haule’s last league game for the club and Matt Pooley’s final competitive game before being released.With ten points from the opening six games City sat in 10th place, five points adrift of leaders AFC Totton. St Albans were optimistic of strengthening their start with a trip to bottom of the table Swindon Supermarine on the 3rd. The Wiltshire club had lost most of their players since the end of the 2010-11 season as the club reduced its budget to stay close to income. The upshot of the cutback was a side that collected just one point from the opening six games and that run looked set to continue after
Pooley, though, did make one final – ten minute – appearance two days later as Peterborough United returned to the Park for a second friendly in just over a month. The Posh, for whom manager Darren Ferguson had a rare run out, won 3-1 with Joe Newell, Danny Kearns and a Nick Ajose penalty rubbing out Haule’s goal for the Saints. Below left: Former Peterborough United player and assistant manager Ken Charlery with Darren Ferguson.
Hart, with a goal inside 40 seconds, and Walker were on target for the second successive home match as City returned to winning ways with a comfortable 2-0 win at Clarence Park on the 10th over a surprisingly inept Redditch United. The Worcestershire-based club had been relegated from Conference North at the end of the previous season and on this evidence were unlikely to make a swift return. A debut was given to right-back Jack Pattison whose father had played for the Saints almost 30 years earlier. Jack, and his dad Steve, were the 11th father and son combination to play in the City First team. Pattison was one of three debutants as he was joined by the former Barnet duo of goalkeeper Will Viner – in for the suspended Jupp - and the left-sided Ryan Watts. Rob Magwood came off the bench to make his 50th appearance in his last home game for the club. Referee Elliott Kaye booked five Redditch players, the joint highest number of any side facing St Albans during 2011-12.
Solomon Shields , troubled with back problems, in the starting line for the final time while Haworth returned from injury. Above: Will Viner saves from Nat Sherbourne as Matt Cutchey gives chase.Viner kept his place in the side as City entertained early leaders AFC Totton the following Tuesday. The prospect of St Albans announcing themselves as genuine promotion candidates was endorsed as Jinadu bundled the Saints into an early lead. But Totton, with a highly impressive display were ahead by the 22nd minute with goals from Nat Sherbourne and Matt Oldring. City’s challenge looked to be over when Pattison was dismissed for handball with the outstanding Michael Gosney converting the ensuing penalty. Somewhat disappointingly, Totton came out for the second half in a defensive and time-wasting frame of mind. For the second time in the match Jinadu scored within three minutes of the kick off but, through Michael Charles, Totton regained their two-goal advantage within a minute. Much to their credit City kept pushing forward and a late strike by Bakare set up a tense finish. The game saw
Clarence Park . The Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division side had risen from the ashes of the financially crippled and now defunct Berkhamsted Town. Jupp returned between the posts but it was at the opposite end of the pitch that City had problems with the side not managing to get as much as a single shot on target. A dismal encounter duly ended goalless.Attention switched from the league to the FA Cup on the 17th with the reformed Berkhamsted making their first visit to
Howell made five changes to the starting line up for the home game with Berkhamsted and three more for the replay at Lower Kings Road. The response was exactly what was wanted as City attacked from the off and strolled to a 3-0 victory with goals from Haworth, Moran (left) and Walker. The match attracted the largest crowd seen at Broadwater, 306, since the launch of the new club.
City lost one of their favourite sons on the 22nd when Dennis Gibbs, a veteran of 148 games in the 1960’s, passed away at the age of 75.
Boosted by progress through to the 2nd Round Qualifying of the FA Cup, City made a positive start for the following Saturday’s league match at Stourbridge with Haworth’s excellent long-range glancing header securing an interval lead. But City left the intriguing three-sided War Memorial Athletic Ground pointless when the Glassboys struck twice in six minutes through leading scorer Ryan Rowe whose brace took his seasons total to seven in 11 games. The high turnover in players continued with diminutive Peterborough United striker Ben Seymour-Shove coming in for his only appearance. The game was Rob Magwood’s 52nd and last for the club before joining Potters Bar Town on a dual registration deal (below). Alebiosu, as a substitute for Magwood, also made his final appearance prior to being released.
October: Early exit from FA Cup & FA Trophy
Ross Dedman was called in for his first appearance since the Herts Charity Cup tie at Cheshunt but it was his last game before going with Magwood to Potters Bar Town. After several weeks at Potters Bar the duo were informed by Howell that they would not be recalled to St Albans.Given their precarious away form City were wary of a 2nd Round Qualifying F.A. Cup tie with lowly Isthmian League Premier Division side East Thurrock United at the start of the month. But there appeared to be few problems as an early goal by United’s Kris Newby was brushed aside by strikes from Jinadu, a Barrie Matthews penalty (right) and Haworth’s third in as many games as City built a commanding lead at Rookery Hill. City’s continued participation in the competition was thrown into some doubt though on a swelteringly hot day – then the hottest 1st October on record – as their hosts pulled level through Petri Elbi and Kye Ruel. The Rocks had won just two of their previous six home matches, one of which was a F.A. Cup victory over City’s Southern League rivals Bedford Town.
The replay was a night of embarrassment for City as East Thurrock ran out 3-1 winners and really should have won by a far more convincing margin given their dominance in front of the lowest Clarence Park F.A. Cup attendance, 250, for 11 years. Three goals in 12 second half minutes, through Elbi 2, and Newby, put the Essex side in command before Ryan Watts reduced the arrears. Former England Schoolboys international Reece Yorke, troubled by injury since the summer, came in for his debut on the day Nathan Ralph’s spell with the Saints ended. Thurrock pocketed £4,500 prize money for their win at the Park.
Three more changes, two enforced, were made to the starting XI for the visit of an Arlesey Town side on the 8th that included former Saints Ryan Frater , David Deeney and Derek Brown. Solomon Shields time with the club ended as a second half replacement for Hart. Fellow substitute, 17-year-old Kgosietsile Ntlhe, came on for his debut after becoming the latest signing on work experience from Peterborough United. Former Harrow Borough forward Bent came off the bench for his second and final league appearance against the side promoted from the Central Division at the end of the previous season. Haworth (top) and Walker (lower) put City into a two-goal interval lead but for both players it was their final goal for the club. Arlesey salvaged a point with two goals in a minute from Chris Dillon and Chris Marsh. A disappointing second half for the Saints was compounded with the 80th minute dismissal of Watts for an alleged off the ball kick on an Arlesey player.
City shrugged off the loss of two points against Arlesey during an entertaining clash with Bedford Town at The Eyrie three days later, but again City left the pitch feeling frustrated. A hamstring injury to Haworth allowed Bakare to start and the Frenchman put City into an early lead with a fine effort from the edge of the penalty area. Chances came and went for St Albans until Watts, with his first league goal, added a second in first half added time. For the opening 30 minutes after the interval City played with a confidence previously unseen on their travels but a third goal was not forthcoming and former Saint Drew Roberts was only too happy to make them pay dearly. Roberts pulled a goal back on 76 minutes and had Jupp retrieving the ball from his net again within a minute as City surrendered a two-goal lead for the third time in four games. Roberts’s two goals took his tally in recent games to ten in five matches. The match saw City wear their new change kit of red shirts, black shorts and black socks for the first time.
Bakare retained the no.9 shirt for Frome Town’s first visit to the Park on the 15th and the Parisian notched his first double for the club as City went in at half time two goals to the good for the third successive match. This time, despite Luke Ballinger grabbing a goal during added time, the Saints clung on to collect all three points. For the first time since facing Cambridge City back in August St Albans went an entire 90 minutes without picking up a booking. The match was the Saints 13th league game of the season and the first time Howell had fielded an unchanged side.
In his programme notes for the Saints 1st Round Qualifying F.A. Trophy tie at home to Ashford Town (Middx) manager David Howell said, “The Trophy is the biggest cup competition in non-league football after the F.A. Cup and my team are desperate to do well.” Unfortunately for Howell the afternoon did turn into a desperate situation for his team as City, after leading through a goal from Moran (below, no.6), were eventually outplayed by their guests and suffered a 3-1 defeat. Jack Mullan struck twice for Ashford, from the Southern League Central Division, with Shane Graham, brother of one-time City winger Mark, scoring the final goal in Ashford’s win.
After making just one change for the previous two matches Howell was ruthless for City’s next two games. Four and then five alterations were made for the next two Southern League matches at Bashley and then Oxford City. The Saints only previous meeting with New Forest side Bashley saw City win 7-1 at Bashley Road in the F.A. Trophy in 2000 and the omens looked good when Furlong fired City ahead with a spectacular first half goal. Furlong lined up alongside Bakare from the kick off for the only time during the season. Bakare secured his place when scoring five times for the Reserves during an 11-0 midweek drubbing of Sun Postal Sports. But City’s run of dismal second half performances continued as Bashley stormed back to romp to a 4-1 victory. Mark Gamble scored the equaliser and a minute later City’s challenge effectively ended when Ntlhe was dismissed for the second of two bookable offences. Bashley took full advantage with skipper Dave Allen scoring twice, one a penalty, and James Stokoe completing the thrashing. Furlong was in the side for the kick off for the first time in six weeks, Ehui came in for his first league start, central defender John Sonuga came on for his only league appearance and Ntlhe headed back to Peterborough at the end of the game. The number of City supporters to have made the trip was meagre and the feeling that the club was not on the verge of turning the corner to mount a play-off challenge was growing. Support for the manager from the terraces was, at best, limited at this time and after the game Howell was kept in the main stand for quite some time by the chairman as answers were sought to City’s alarming slump.
November: Leaders held but slump continues
The new month kicked off with City’s second meeting with Broxbourne Borough V&E. A crowd numbering just 65 saw the bad run continue with a 2-1 home defeat. Howell’s saving grace was that he fielded an experimental side but there still appeared to have been sufficient experience in the team to stave off defeat. As it was Bakare’s late goal, his fourth in five games, was outdone by a Chris Doyle penalty and Gabriel Akuwudike’s brilliant solo effort. The new-look side included Nick Chrysanthou in the starting line up for the first time since April and bespectacled midweek Youth team defender Myles Scott came in for his First team debut. Michael Lewis, as a substitute, also played his first game in the First team since April but for three players – Haisley, Pattison and Viner – this match was their last for the club.
A return to league duty brought little joy to St Albans as Oxford City, already through to the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup, moved ten points clear of 14th placed Saints with a comfortable 3-1 victory at Court Place Farm. City’s goal was nothing more than a consolation effort by Sean Shields (above) with Oxford already three-up through the experienced Lee Steele with a brace and Andy Ballard. Howell gave a debut to central defender James Gray who had recently been released by Arlesey Town but had to be signed on a dual registration with Dunstable. Gray had actually been with the Saints since the summer as coach to the midweek youth team, he also played for the first half of the friendly with QPR. By his own admission Gray had a truly shocking opening 20 minutes at Oxford but by the end of the game was the best Saints player on the pitch and he proved to be one of Howell’s most influential signings. Chrysanthou retained his place in the starting XI but was withdrawn at half time. Michael Lewis came in for his Southern League debut but, just like Chrysanthou, it was his final game in the First team. Bakare was relegated to the bench and it was to be another 12 games before City’s leading goal scorer was restored to the side.
Howell fielded a reasonably strong side for City’s first Southern League (Red Insure) Cup tie at home to neighbours Hemel Hempstead Town on the 8th but the rare run out given to Haule, Sonuga and Yorke was their last for the club. Hemel, with Tommy Widdrington having replaced Colin Payne as manager since the sides met in the league, recorded their biggest win at the Park, 3-0, with goals from Marvin Williams, Dave Pearce and Ryan Blake. The win was bottom of the table Hemel’s second in 11 games and condemned the Saints to a fourth consecutive home cup defeat, the club’s worst run for 34 years.
Clarence Park Howell continued to change the squad and brought in two loan signings and one permanent player for the visit of an Evesham United side that was just three points off the foot of the table. Evesham were every bit as poor as their record suggested they would be and fielding a side without a recognised defender did little to aid their cause. Even so, Evesham went ahead from the penalty spot through Josh Quaynor but City had the game sewn up by half time with two goals from Furlong, a James Blake own goal and one from on-loan Queens Park Rangers striker Mo Shariff (right). Former Staines Town player Shariff (full name Abdullah Mohamed Shariff) was one of two QPR loan players making their debut with right back Michael Harriman being particularly impressive. The third new face was Wealdstone midfielder Chris O’Leary and all three enjoyed excellent debuts. Nathan Ralph also returned from Peterborough but when it was revealed after the game that he had broken a wrist his time at the Park was over. Furlong was City’s sixth different captain in as many matches (Ijaha, Jinadu, Haisley, Matthews and Haworth being the previous five) and Matt Cutchey became the seventh captain in six matches when he took the armband from Furlong for the final three minutes of the 4-1 win.With the alarm bells ringing loudly around
Gray, booked in each of his first two games and five of the first seven, missed the next game, at home to leaders Brackley Town, due to serving a suspension for being sent off prior to joining St Albans. Ryan Moran stepped in and formed a good partnership with the consistent Matt Cutchey. Sean Shields put City ahead inside two minutes but the Saints had to settle for a satisfactory point when Josh Green equalised for the visitors four minutes later. A draw was a fair outcome but City were most fortunate when referee Chris O’Donnell somewhat harshly disallowed a headed goal by Tom Kemp. O’Leary had another good game but surprised the club two days later by announcing that he was returning to Wealdstone .
Below; Ryan Watts and referee Chis O’Donnell look on as Danny Hart sends a volley towards the Brackley Town goal.
City failed to use the Brackley result as a springboard for better things and put in a thoroughly inept display when going down 4-0 to Chippenham Town on the 22nd. Shariff was struggling with an injury and his time with the club was curtailed when replaced by Bakare before half time. Outstanding midfielder Toby Osman opened the scoring and Ross Stearn added a second before half time as the Hardenhuish Park club grabbed two-goal interval lead. Two late strikes by Lewis Powell completed the rout.
The following Saturday saw City on the wrong end three decisions that had a significant bearing on the outcome of the game. Referee Martin Dexter denied what City believed to be two of the clearest penalties one could wish to see and then, on the word of his linesman, awarded Leamington an 80th minute penalty for the flimsiest of offences. Jacob Blyth despatched the penalty but he was not on the pitch at the final whistle as he and Moran were dismissed following a mild scuffle. With this being his second dismissal of the season Moran was handed a four-match ban. The turnover of players continued at pace with 17-year-old City Youth left-back Myles Scott coming in and giving a competent performance. The bespectacled Scott worked his way through the youth set-up at MK Dons before joining City. Fellow Youth player Matt Taylor, formerly of Harvesters and Boreham Wood Youth, replaced Sean Shields late in the day to make his debut. Completing a trio of debutants was former Northwood forward Aaron Lansiquot. The stadium itself, the New Windmill Ground, is as close to being in the middle of nowhere as is possible and, according to the locals, matches were often affected by strong winds. (Left: Prior to the game the two sides were greeted onto the pitch by a group of cheerleaders who braved a very windy and cold day).
December: Thrashed then the fightback begins
St Albans headed into the festive month in 12th position having won just two of the previous 11 league games, conceding goals at an alarming rate and just five points above the relegation places. The cast of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, performing at the Alban Arena, joined a crowd of 324 to see if City could arrest the slide and complete their first league double of the season as Barwell visited Clarence Park for the first time. City did play reasonably well until being completely overrun for the final 30 minutes, during which time Barwell could have run up a cricket score. As it was, boosted by a Ken Charley hat-trick, the Canaries romped home 6-1. Already a goal down, City had Harriman dismissed on 29 minutes and when the excellent Jamie Towers converted the ensuing penalty there appeared little doubt that Howell’s side was heading for a third successive defeat. City’s goal came from the penalty spot, scored by Watts – one of the most solid and consistent performers of the season – while strikes by Luke Barlone and Towers either side of Charley’s 150th goal for the visitors confirmed City’s heaviest home defeat since September 2007. Another ‘new’ face was seen with Simon Martin replacing Haworth just before the interval. It was the start of Martin’s fifth stint with the club. Ian Ridley expressed his concerns about the side to Howell after the game as the duo were locked in talks for two hours. Howell gave assurances and the response in the ensuing weeks was remarkable.
Howell brushed aside speculation regarding his future and made sweeping changes for the short trip to Hitchin Town the following weekend. Yorke was released while Walker quit to join Isthmian League Division One South side Metropolitan Police. Scott had his short run in the First team terminated while Haworth, Moran, Hart and Jinadu were all dropped. Moran was actually starting a four-match ban following his dismissal at Leamington and did not return to play for the club again. Early in the New Year he joined Chesham United. Narada Bernard and Simon Martin came in for their first starting appearances. Two players were particularly instrumental in City, after a shaky start, cruising to a 3-0 victory as Hitchin’s run without a league win was stretched to a ninth match. Gray, formidable at the back, scored two excellent goals while new signing Micah Hyde, from Aveley, dominated in midfield. Hyde, now 37, had previously made over 250 appearances for Watford and played 17 times for Jamaica. Furlong, with a sweet left-footed drive, scored the other City goal.
Victory at Hitchin stopped the slide down the table and with a surprise 3-0 win at home to Cambridge City on the 17th in the final game before Christmas the Saints sneaked into the top half of the table. Cambridge, like Hitchin, had not been in the best of form and arrived at the Park without a win in seven games. Martin notched a brace while Matt Cutchey, with a wonderful curling effort added the third. Cutchey, along with Watts, was one of the unsung heroes giving a series of solid and dependable performances although he was more comfortable as a central defender rather than at right-back. There were two changes from the side that beat Hitchin with Hart replacing the injured Shields and Matthews standing in for the suspended Harriman, it was Matthews’s final starting appearance.
City welcomed fifth in the table Chesham United to the Park on Boxing Day and with an outstanding goal by the recalled Hart were on course for a third successive win until Chesham equalised with a stunning overhead kick by Rob Bartley. The attendance of 606 was the highest at the Park since April 2010 and amongst the good turnout was City’s all time second highest appearance maker and goalscorer Steve Clark along with his parents Gill and Len. Former England midfielder Brian Talbot was also there to watch his son, the Chesham midfielder Danny Talbot.
The year ended with the Saints making the long trek to Weymouth on New Year’s Eve and it was almost a wasted journey. Concern had been expressed that making such a long trip at that time of the year could be difficult if the weather was bad but as things turned out it was a mild day, yet still the game almost did not go ahead. The match came close to being postponed when Weymouth discovered that there had been a break-in at the Wessex Stadium with the perpetrators puncturing match-balls, damaging the nets, daubing slogans onto the crossbars and posts and, just for good measure, attempted to flood the clubhouse. Weymouth managed to put most things right in time for the game but were left without match-balls. A supply was eventually found via a local sports centre but the quality, according to the players, left a lot to be desired. Quite ridiculously referee Peter Levelle declined an offer to use a bag of nine Conference South balls that St Albans had taken with them. City keeper Jupp was certainly left fuming about the quality of the balls used as for the first goal, struck quite magnificently by Stephen Reed from 36 yards out. Jupp claimed it veered in several directions, leaving him flat-footed as it crashed into the back of the net. Sam Poole increased the Terras lead before half time with Furlong reducing the arrears soon after the break. City had more than enough chances to salvage the game but poor finishing was fully punished when James Coutts, on loan from AFC Totton, added the third, and final, Weymouth goal. City welcomed one new boy at Weymouth with former Harrow Borough wide-man Dewayne Clarke making his debut. Haworth came off the bench to play his 199th game for the club before being loaned out to Leatherhead and then Hemel Hempstead Town.
January: Country freezes but City continue recovery
St Albans kicked off the New Year with a first visit to Hemel Hempstead Town’s Vauxhall Road ground for a league meeting in 29 years. Howell continued to ring the changes with four alterations being made from the Weymouth match, including three debuts. The most bizarre debut was that of teenager Lewis Frost who joined City on dual registration from Dagenham & Redbridge. He came on for just the closing seconds and when the final whistle sounded shortly after his City career had ended without him even touching the ball. Fellow substitute Danny McGonigle, another Harrow old boy, also made his debut but the most significant new face was that of central defender Cedric Ngakam who followed in Hyde’s footsteps from Aveley. Ngakam’s somewhat softer approach alongside Gray’s robust style was to form the most impressive partnership within the team. Hemel had won just one of the previous six home league games and City had few problems in chalking up their biggest win of the season, 4-0. Bakare (above) opened the scoring before three players – Clarke, Hyde with a penalty, and Lansiquot – all scored their first goal for the club, Lansiquot with his first touch of the game. The attendance at Vauxhall Road was 488.
City’s improved form was expected to be severely tested on the 7th with Leamington’s first visit to Clarence Park . The Brakes had actually gone slightly off the boil having collected just one point from their previous three matches, all of which were against sides they would have fancied beating. An extra four points would have put Leamington top of the table but their challenge continued to falter as a high quality Bakare double was enough to shrug off David Kolodynski’s late strike. The match was Michael Harriman’s (right) last before being recalled by Queens Park Rangers and he marked his departure by, along with Bakare, being voted the match sponsors man of the match.
The rise up the table was put on hold the following weekend when referee Tom Harty declared the Redditch United pitch unplayable a little more than hour before the kick off, by which time practically all of the City supporters who were going to attend the match were already at The Valley Stadium. At this time the country was going through a particularly cold snap and it was an area of the pitch, still in the shade of the main stand, rather than in the sunlight that engulfed most of the playing area, that was frozen and caused the postponement.
The weather relented during the next week and bottom of the table side Swindon Supermarine seemed the ideal opposition against which City could maintain their belated challenge for a play-off place. From their previous eight matches the best result Marine achieved was a 3-3 draw, with 23 goals conceded during that time. When Gray put City ahead inside six minutes all looked to be going according to plan only for a headed Matt Wright equaliser to throw the outcome into some doubt and it was only through a controversial injury time Bakare penalty that City secured a 2-1 win. Barrie Matthews returned to the starting line-up for the first time since the Cambridge match in December but it was his last game for the club before joining Hemel Hempstead Town.
On the 28th City played their third consecutive home game, spread over three weeks, and most encouragingly each was relatively well supported with the 446 that attended the Swindon match being the lowest of the trio. And another well-supported event took place in the clubhouse before the Bedford game with 50-60 people attending a 70-minute talk on the history of the club. Nick Moon, a City supporter since the mid 1960’s and who had actually formed a Junior Saints Supporters Club at that time, presented the talk in an entertaining fashion. During a question and answer session at the end chairman Ian Ridley answered questions regarding the future of the club. Nick’s text was written by club historians David Tavener and Peter Taylor.
Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon did not quite go City’s way and after Gray had wiped out Josh Beech’s opener for the Eagles with a fine volley, Drew Roberts added to his impressive tally by scoring Bedford’s winner. Guyana international Howard Newton made his debut on the right of the midfield and, during the second half, Chris Henry, signed from Tonbridge Angels, also made his first appearance. Making a reappearance at right back was Chris Seeby some three years after his most recent game for the club. Seeby, who played 190 times for City between February 2003 and February 2009, returned to St Albans from Slough Town having joined the Isthmian League side in November following a year working in Dubai.
Despite losing for the first time in 2012 St Albans stayed in 10th place and climbed to ninth the following Tuesday with a dramatic 4-3 win over Redditch United at a still bone-chillingly cold Valley Stadium. Several players suggested that the pitch was actually in a more unplayable state than for when the game was called off earlier in the month. City took an early lead with Bakare’s 11th goal of the season but with two almost identical goals on the counter-attack Redditch moved ahead through Jimmy Deabill and Jake Jones. Ngakam headed the Saints level with his first goal for the club but the Robins were ahead again before the interval courtesy of Deabill’s second goal. But Redditch’s hopes of easing their relegation fears were blown apart when Ijaha scored for the first time in five months and then when Henry notched his first for the club. Deabill’s first goal of the night was one of the best team goals of the season with the move starting right back on the home goalline with Sam Adkins headed clearance and ended by Deabill stroking the ball wide of the advancing Jupp. The match was played on a bitterly cold night and with the fixture in doubt until mid afternoon the attendance was restricted to a paltry 84.
One oddity from the evening at Redditch was the appearance on the team-sheet of Anton Blackwood as an unused substitute. It did appear that it would be the only occasion that the one-time Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur youngster, who also made one appearance for Aveley in November 2011, would be listed for a City match. Blackwood was offered the opportunity to have trials in Antigua with a view to playing in the North America League the following season and David Howell suggested it was an offer that the 20-year-old should accept. On 29th February Blackwood, still registered with St Albans, played for Antigua and Barbuda in an international against Trinidad & Tobago, at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium, but was substituted after just 16 minutes due to a hamstring injury. This injury sidelined him for a prolonged period and it was only on 21st April that he finally made not only his City debut but his sole appearance for the club. Nonetheless, he became St Albans’ tenth international player.
Redditch, however, was not the only venue staging a St Albans City match on the 31st January, as 40 spectators saw another City side bow out of the Herts Charity Cup with a 2-1 defeat away to South Midlands League Premier Division side Leverstock Green. Five members of the City Youth midweek side were handed their debut but for keeper Nick Hardy his first senior game did not last the full 90 minutes as he suffered a broken finger. Hardy was replaced by substitute Josh Davies who is usually a central defender. City took the lead through James Bent’s only goal for the club but the Pancake Lane (Hemel Hempstead) club secured their place in the final with goals from Lewis Pritchard and Junior Owusu-Akonor. Amongst the First team players on show was Jinadu who played his final game for the club before joining Tooting & Mitcham United.
Quite why City felt the need to arrange two First team matches at exactly the same time as each other is something that makes no sense at all. In accordance with league rules the match at Redditch had to be rearranged within 42 days of the postponed fixture. Bizarrely, with six weeks to choose from City opted for 31st January despite knowing full well that this was also the night of the already arranged Charity Cup tie.
February: Cold snap bites hard but City continue upwards move
The lengthy cold spell led to the postponement of matches against AFC Totton on the 4th and Stourbridge the following Saturday. The pitch at Totton was deemed to be unplayable due to being frozen but as the day wore on the temperature in that part of the country rose noticeable and by the evening, when inland, including St Albans, was disappearing under several inches of snow, Totton was battered by high winds and driving rain. The freezing temperatures around St Albans refused to yield for sometime leading to deep snow causing the Stourbridge match to be off.
After the enforced lay off City made their first visit to Arlesey Town’s Hitchin Road ground for a competitive fixture on the 18th and came within seconds of losing on their travels for the first time since the turn of the year. Drew Broughton gave the Bedfordshire side an early lead with City only rescuing a point in added time when Newton (below) slid in to convert Lansiquot’s low cross. The match was a poor encounter but City created more than enough chances to have secured a third successive away win.
An international call up for Howard and illness to Bernard kept that duo out of the side for City’s first visit to Frome Town and Howell made further changes with Bakare dropped to the bench. Furlong replaced leading scorer Bakare while Hart, out of the side since Weymouth in December, received a recall. Henry was given his first start and it was he, along with Hyde’s excellent through ball, that contributed towards Simon Martin firing in the only goal of the game on a sunny but cold afternoon in Somerset. The win extended the unbeaten away run to four games, which was a far cry from the one win, one draw and eight defeats from the opening ten away league games.
City’s improved away form faced its sternest test so far on the 28th with a first visit to AFC Totton’s Testwood Stadium, a ground that had been open barely a year. Injury forced Ijaha to miss his first league match since August, something that allowed Danny McGonigle, two months after appearing on the team-sheet for the first time, to make his first league start. Furlong was not available but there was no recall for Bakare as Aaron Lansiquot was given his first start. Lansiquot had already created an unusual record when becoming the first player in the history of the club for all of his first ten appearances to be as a substitute. Despite having picked up just one point and not scored in their two previous games Totton were still third in the table and ten points clear of the Saints with two games in hand. The Hampshire side looked set to return to winning ways when taking the lead through a Michael Gosney penalty, awarded for a handball by McGonigle spotted by a linesman rather than referee Jim Patterson. That goal came just a minute before the interval but City were level within seconds of the second half getting underway when Hart hammered home a cracking low drive following Henry’s astute pass. City competed well but were thankful to an outstanding performance by Nick Jupp for defeat being avoided.
March: Saints edge closer to the play-off places
City went into March in a season’s high position (excluding the first week) of eighth and just four points outside the play-off places. But the challenge was handicapped by having played as many as three games more than many of the other sides challenging for promotion. And 38 minutes into a first home meeting with Oxford City for 14 years that challenge looked to be fading as goals from skipper Wayne Blossom and former Banbury United striker, but now on loan from Oxford United, Aaron Woodley, put the visitors into a two-goal lead. Oxford were comfortably in control but the game change when Howell sent on substitute Bakare and Sean Shields . Bakare scored twice and a 90th minute effort from Ngakam secured a dramatic 3-2 win for the Saints. It was the first time in seven years that City had won from two-down.
But it was not all good news for St Albans as Seeby, in an accidental clash with Andy Ballard, suffered a bad facial injury. After a prolonged wait for the swelling to go down it was established that his cheekbone was fractured. Seeby underwent an operation at Northwick Park Hospital and the possibility of him playing for the final weeks of the season wearing a mask was discussed but, in the end, did not come to fruition. (Left: Chris Seeby with City physio Samantha Backhouse). Seeby was replaced against Oxford by Cutchey for whom this was his first game since the end of December as work commitments limited his availability. Cutchey was a qualified engineer and was sent all over the country by his biggest customer, GlaxoSmithKline. Following on from Totton’s Jon Davies, Oxford’s Mike Lyon became the second opposition player in successive games to be booked for diving.
After two tough games City faced what, on paper at least, appeared an easier task when travelling to Worcester City’s St George’s Lane ground to face Evesham United at the Robins temporary home. Evesham were two places and five points above the relegation zone while City were four points and two places outside the play-off places. Bakare, Bernard and Cutchey all received recalls but Bakare had a particularly poor game and Lansiquot, having retained his place in the attack, was equally disappointing and lost his place the following week. Bakare replaced Martin whose run of 13 starts came to an end but his cause had possibly not been helped by going to the wrong ground. Having firstly gone to Evesham’s old ground he was redirected to United’s ground, the only problem being that at this time the ground had not yet opened and he had to move on again to find Worcester’s ground. Evesham’s plight received a boost on 26 minutes when a linesman, the unfortunately named Matthew Homer, deemed that Wayne Daniel’s header had crossed the goal line before being headed away by Bernard. City were adamant that the ball had not crossed the line and pictorial evidence appeared to support their claim. Most unusually it was just one of three such incidents involving St Albans during the final nine games of the season. The Robins squandered two good chances to secure victory and 14 minutes from time they were denied victory when Ngakam planted a fine header into the back of the Evesham net following a corner by Hart.
Having to settle for a draw with Evesham was a blow to City’s play-off aspirations but the challenge was maintained one week later when Bashley, on their first visit to Clarence Park , went down 2-0 after mounting a fascinating rearguard action. Apart from the first couple of minutes, when Bashley were on the offensive, City dominated throughout but had to wait 73 minutes before Bakare made the breakthrough when heading home from Shields exquisite cross. But controversy surrounded the goal with Bashley most vocal in claiming that the ball had not crossed the goal line when Dan Strugnell hooked it away (left) after keeper Stewart Kearn had pushed the ball against the inside of an upright. There was, however, no dispute regarding the second goal that Martin drove into the roof of the net after Bakare had headed down a Ryan Watts cross. That goal gave the Saints a positive goal difference for the first time since the opening day of the season. After the thrashing by Barwell in December the goal difference was minus 13. Newton returned to the side after a four-match absence while there were also two new faces in Belal Aite-Ouakrim and James Comley. Aite-Ouakrim joined City from Hendon but was not seen again while Comley was signed from Canvey Island having spent much of the season training with Tottenham’s development squad while he recovered from a long-term injury.
A break was taken from competitive football two nights later, the 19th, as City entertained the staff of HMS St Albans, which had returned from a tour of duty in the Gulf and was moored alongside HMS Belfast on the River Thames. Off the pitch the ship’s company was led by commander Tom Sharpe OBE. City won 6-1 with goals from Jamelle Parke-Jude, James Shaw, James Bent, Ken Charlery, Sakho Bakare and Ryan Watts with Rob Jones powering in a consolation goal. City manager David Howell played for part of the second half whilst his assistant, the previously mentioned Charlery, scout Stuart Crawford and Youth team manager Graham Golds also had a run out. The scenes after the final whistle were a throwback to the early days of football as the ship’s command gave their hosts a resounding three cheers and the footballers responded by forming a guard of honour as the crew left the pitch. Match proceeds and the takings from a raffle were split between two charities; Help For Heroes and The Grove House Hospice.
When Banbury United defeated City back in August the Oxfordshire club were flying high in the middle of a seven-game unbeaten run. Seven months later and Ady Fuller’s side were deep in relegation trouble when they visited Clarence Park for the first time in 26 years. Five consecutive defeats had left the Puritans just two points above the relegation places but their survival hopes were boosted when Ricky Johnson scored from the penalty spot on nine minutes following a foul by Jupp. After applying prolonged pressure City drew level through Newton but during a highly entertaining late flurry both sides could have claimed victory. As it was a 1-1 draw probably did neither side many favours. Micah Hyde picked up an unusual booking when he was shown a yellow card for taking a free kick before referee Darren Stobbart had blown his whistle, but it was clearly more a case of the referee taking far longer than was necessary rather than Hyde being too quick. Howell named an unchanged side but added the former Farnborough and Staines Town defender Richard Orlu to his squad. Orlu was named amongst the substitutes for the following Tuesday’s game against Stourbridge but never did get to play for the club. Also new to the club was Sean Bonnett-Johnson, formerly of Aveley.
A run of seven successive home league attendances in excess of 400 – the best run since the end of 2007-08 and start of 08-09 – ended with the visit of Stourbridge with the rearranged fixture on a Tuesday night attracting 366 spectators. Those that stayed away missed one of the best matches of the season. City grabbed the points with a 2-1 win that saw Moussa Diarra and Newton score either side of Nathan Bennett’s strike for the Glassboys. Diarra, one of three Frenchmen in City’s starting XI, was making his league debut, his First team debut in all competitions coming during the Herts Charity Cup defeat at Leverstock Green. And to complete a thrilling first appearance in the Southern League Diarra played a leading part in Newton’s winning goal that also included Ijaha and Martin in the build up. The win once again pulled City to within four points of that vital fifth position and just two points behind a Stourbridge side that left a good impression on their first visit to Clarence Park . City’s football at this time bore little resemblance to the poor quality served up during the first half of the season but given that the side that played Stourbridge showed nine changes from the XI that kicked off the season in August against Cirencester then it was clear just how big a task Howell had faced in building a winning combination. This combination did not include recent signing Bonnett-Johnson who was listed amongst the substitutes but, like several other recent additions, then slipped quietly off the radar.
Above: Left, Moussa Diarra is joined by Howard Newton and Simon Martin after scoring on his debut. Right, James Comley made the first of his 153 appearances for the club during the win over Stourbridge.
St Albans had to kick their heels on the last day of the month and look on as promotion rivals Cambridge City, Chesham United, Oxford City and Stourbridge all won, but at least two of the wins were over fellow top sides Brackley Town and AFC Totton. City were without a match due to the fixture scheduled for this day, Leamington away, having been brought forward to 26th November.
April: Undefeated run continues but play-off hope ends
For the promotion bid to be turned into reality it was felt that City had to win all of their final five Premier Division matches. Facing a Weymouth side at Clarence Park whose only success during the previous eight matches had come against bottom of the table Cirencester Town seemed to be the ideal platform for the winning run to continue. But the game, on a cold Easter Saturday, did not go entirely as a healthy home crowd of 539 had anticipated. The sides matched each other almost shot for shot before the interval but after the break, boosted by Newton’s 47th minute goal, City took complete control. Shields added a fine second goal and Weymouth looked to be on the rocks before stunning their hosts with two goals during the final eight minutes through substitute Matt Ford and midfielder Craig Duff. Comley was rested as there was some concern over the strength of his hamstrings and Gray was absent for the second successive match due to back problems. Promotion, despite the unbeaten run moving into double figures, was slipping away and Howell’s misery was compounded when informed that he had received a parking ticket after leaving his car parked on double yellow lines in York Road.
The Saints may have a special interest in Easter Monday but far from there being a resurrection for St Albans it was the end of the dream for at least one year as a second successive 2-2 draw, this time at Chesham United, nudged City out of contention. Sad to say but the surge ended in controversial circumstances at The Meadow. Chesham showed in the game at Clarence Park that they were clearly one of the better sides in the Division but in the return fixture it was City that looked by some distance the better of the two teams. Even so it was the Generals, through leading marksman Simon Thomas, who opened the scoring on 25 minutes. Newton restored parity with his fourth goal in as many games. The game looked to be heading City’s way until Chesham launched a spell of sustained pressure that concluded, following an amazing goalmouth scramble, with Thomas’s second goal of the afternoon. Two minutes later, the 77th, Bakare pulled the Saints level again, this time with a deflected effort. City were very much in the ascendancy and in the 81st minute victory should have been clinched from the penalty spot following a foul by Rob Bartley on Martin. Remarkably Bartley, who pulled Martin back by his shirt right in front of the goal, was only shown a yellow card and Chesham had further cause for celebration when one-time City ‘keeper Shane Gore saved Bakare’s weak spot kick. It was City’s first miss of the season after five successes. Time was running out for City but former Saint Chris Watters seemed to be doing his bit to help his old club when accidentally knocking the ball over his own goal line. But while the City players and supporters at that end of the ground, the meadow end, celebrated their joy was cut short as linesman Sebastian Podsadny ruled that the ball had not crossed the line. City’s frustration was increased in added time when Shields, sent clear by Henry, looked to be tripped from behind by John Kyriacou only for referee Adrian Piggott to book the City winger for diving, Shields was not known as one of the game’s ‘divers.’
For the penultimate away game of the season the Saints made a first visit to the picturesque town of Cirencester. The Gloucestershire club had already been relegated but showed commendable spirit when defeating neighbours Evesham United the previous Monday. St Albans wrapped up their fourth double of the season with a brace of first half Chris Henry goals but, particularly in the second half, it was a pretty dismal City performance. Cirencester continued the spirit shown against Evesham but with Jupp maintaining his run of good form a 14th home defeat could not be avoided by the Centurions. Howell went for a new combination in attack of Martin – for the first half – joined by Henry. Despite being replaced by Furlong during the interval Martin took his total appearances to 283, edging him above Herbie Smith into 15th position. The victory gave Saints general secretary Steve Eames extra reason to celebrate his birthday that day.
Two days before the final home match of the season, against Chippenham Town on the 21st, City held their third Fans Forum of the season. Ian Ridley and Lawrence Levy took questions for the first hour and after a short break David Howell took the floor for 45 minutes. The chairman announced the launch of a new club lottery, ‘Saints Snowball’, while Howell revealed that goalkeeper Nick Jupp had been named a provisional England C squad to face Russia at Khimky in June. Both the manager and the chairman stated that a play-off position was the minimum of City’s targets for the 2012-13 season.
Chippenham Town arrived at the Park at the back end of a dire run of 11 winless matches. City, on the other hand, were looking to chalk up a 13th game without defeat. The result could hardly have gone more against expectations as the Bluebirds cruised to an easy 4-1 win and in so doing became the only side to complete a league double over St Albans during the 2011-12 season. Prior to the kick off David Ijaha received the April Player of the Month award and a minute’s silence was held in memory of Herts FA chairman Gary Norman who had died suddenly earlier in the month. Any fears of this being a normal end of season game evaporated quickly as Chippenham led 2-1 inside 15 minutes. A little over a minute into the game, Ross Stearn, who clearly fouled Jupp put the visitors ahead with City hitting back through Henry’s third goal in two games. Alan Griffin restored the Bluebirds advantage via his knee following one of a series of high quality corners taken by young James Guthrie. It took the keen eye of linesman Andrew Williams to give the goal as Jupp caught the ball behind the goal line. Stearn added a third goal right on half time with a fine effort from outside the penalty area and Griffin scored the fourth goal on 63 minutes following Gurthrie’s perfectly flighted free kick.
During the interval Ridley was back in the public eye as he presented Julia Stone, the Hertfordshire representative for the Help For Heroes charity, with a cheque from proceeds from the friendly with HMS St Albans in March. After the game there were more presentations in the clubhouse with the usual end of season awards. Jupp, on the pitch just after the final whistle, collected the Supporters Player of the Year trophy (below) from Paul Martin – father of former Saint Ben Martin – and then the keeper popped into the clubhouse to receive the Players’ Player of the Year award from kit-man John Feneley . Other presentations, made by supporter Craig Grocott as well as Ridley and Eames, saw Matt Cutchey collect the Goal of the Season award (v Cambridge City 17th December) from supporter Craig Grocott) and Barry Hilliard the Wagstaffe Simmons Clubman of the Year trophy. Feneley was handed a special award to mark his 11 years as City’s kit-man. At the conclusion of the presentations a karaoke evening was held in the clubhouse while the players headed into town for their end of season celebrations.
There was little cause for celebration when City wrapped up their season on the final weekend of the month as champions Brackley Town handed the Saints a 6-0 drubbing at St James Park. The thrashing capped a poor end to the season that saw City scrape victory at Cirencester with a low-key performance followed by extremely disappointing displays against both Chippenham and Brackley. The optimism built up during the 12-game unbeaten run had been seriously dented. But for the small Northamptonshire town of Brackley, population approximately 13,600, it was a day of unbridled joy. Club officials drove to Worcester three days before the game to collect the magnificent Southern League trophy and, after the game, in a piece of excellent public relations allowed absolutely anybody to have their picture taken alongside the huge shield that has previously been won by the likes of Southampton, Millwall and, in 1900, Tottenham Hotspur – just a year before Spurs became the only non-league side to win the FA Cup. Prior to the kick off Brackley also distributed an array of cakes all topped off in the club colours while the matchday programme had a full colour 12-page supplement documenting the biggest season in the history of the club. City also provided a nice touch in forming a guard of honour as Brackley took to the pitch but in one-sided slaughter there was little danger of St Albans being party poopers. Brett Solkhon opened the scoring on 21 minutes before Elliot Sandy scored a hat-trick with goals in the 30th, 44th and 54th minutes. His second goal, right on half time, was a stunning solo effort rounded off with a cracking drive from 30 yards. City’s biggest defeat for 18 months was confirmed when Marvin Robinson headed in on 62 minutes and Steve Diggin curled home the sixth in the 83rd minute.
2011-12 Appearances & Goals
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Final Standings 2011-12