30 December 2006.
St Albans (away)
ON THE ROAD WITH JIM TUCKER
ST ALBANS CITY 1 EXETER CITY 2
Saturday 30 December 2006
This looked on paper like a routine outing, but as T you will see it turned out anything but that. Three of us set off on the short trip around the M25 for City's first ever game at St Albans, taking the number of away venues I have seen them play at to 69. The ground reminded me of Dover, where we played Margate once, entering through the cricket club. All a bit surreal, but a sizeable terrace behind the goal and a decent pitch.
Just before the kick-off it all changed. Around 500 or so travelling Grecians had to stand in the open while it rained, and rained, and rained. Never were so many so wet for so long.
The team were clearly anxious to put two away defeats behind them, and get the season rolling again. Danny Woodards returned from injury, Wayne Carlisle replaced Andy Taylor, and up front Jamie Mackie was partnered by Bertie Cozic.
Great credit to the home club that in the first half, at least, the surface stood up well to the battering from the weather. If you are wondering how your correspondent was able to make notes in these conditions, well, he wasn't, and if this report seems more flannel than fact then I make no apologies!
The first half was a fairly balance affair,
both sides had some worthwhile attacks, but rather more fairly pointless ones.
Balls to Mackie down the middle seemed a favourite City tactic, but he too often got caught in the offside trap. Carlisle and Woodards were fully involved going forward, but Jon Challinor was a little quiet. He did get on the end of one delicious cross, but couldn't produce a finish. I don't think we had many other clear-cut chances before the break, but it is something of a blur in more senses than one.
As the fans got wetter and wetter they took it all in typical City-fan good humour, with plenty choruses of "Singing in the Rain" etc. At the back the defence looked reasonably solid, with Todd and Edwards in control most of the time. Paul Jones made a couple of reasonable saves, one of their strikers skidded a header wide, and another time one slipped his marker but made a complete hash of the header. So 0-0 at half- time, and no prizes for the weather forecast.
As we looked at the pitch during the break, it was noticeable that water was beginning to stand in the goal mouth and penalty area, and that was the start of the real problems. By 4 o'clock it was no longer raining, it was hammering, and little did we know that at loads of games, including at Watford's Vicarage Road just a few miles being called to the proceedings. Fair play to the referee for seeing this one out. But something else changed at the start of the second 45 minutes. City, attacking the end where there supporters were dripping, suddenly meant business. I have seen them step up a gear before this season, but not usually to any lasting effect. Not so this time, though. With Jamie Mackie now leading the attack in barnstorming mood, we began to look dangerous, and barely 5 minutes in opened the scoring.
A free-kick was won to the left, in front of the penalty area, and I expected Billy Jones to blast it. Instead, it was Wayne Carlisle who took the kick. The defender at the near post drifted out, and Wayne fooled the keeper by swerving his shot into that corner, when everyone was surely looking for a shot to the far post, 1-0, a reward for persistence, and now we didn't mind being so wet.
Once again, sorry to say, dreams of strolling on to a comfortable 3 points lasted about 10 minutes. St Albans have a reputation for tiring, being part-timers, but they showed little sign of that today. And when a move down the left ended in a cross to the far post, their number 7 Matty Hann got away from Billy Jones - not for the first time, it has to be said - to level at 1-1.
The conditions were now deteriorating fast, but both teams showed their resilience by keeping going, and looking for a winner. The duel between Mackie and home defender Magnus Okuonghae was intriguing, both giving all they had up to their ankles in mud and water. We almost took the lead when Jamie got free for a powerful shot to the top corner, which home keeper Paul Bastock did superbly well to punch away for a corner. And how nice to see the City striker nod his approval to his opponent as they waited for the dead ball kick.
By now Dean Moxey had replaced Challinor, and Cozic was taken off for John Richardson - up front! It was all about stamina now, and perhaps luck as well. Perhaps we would have to settle for a draw; perhaps we might concede again; perhaps...?
Then within a minute or two of the 90, a slip-sliding attack saw the ball evade their last man and reach Moxey beyond the left post. Just as the defenders waited for Dean to pull it back, he planted it firmly inside the other post to give City a 2-1 win.
We just about deserved the win, but there was no gulf between the teams. Nor, of course, was a game in such conditions much of a guide to form. But we did show guts and determination, and the fans demonstrated in numbers how much following the City means to them. This wasn't like our trip to Old Trafford, nor the day we scored 5 at Forest Green. But many a Grecian will say with pride of the day we won 2-1 at St Albans, "I was there".
St Albans City 1 Exeter City 2.
Saturday 30 December 2006.
Referee D Cann
Attendance 1314St Albans: Bastock, Seeby, Elphick, Okuonghae, Damien Batt, Norris (Simon Martin 90), Davis, Cracknell (Marwa 90), Hann, Clarke, Benyon.
Subs Not Used: Perks, Flynn, Theobald.
Goals: Hann 60.
Exeter: Paul Jones, Billy Jones, Todd, Edwards, Woodards, Challinor (Moxey 61), Gill, Buckle, Carlisle, Cozic (Richardson 83), Mackie.
Subs Not Used: Rice, Taylor, Ada.
Goals: Carlisle 50, Moxey 88.