St Albans City joint-manager James Gray pulled no punches when criticising his side following a dismal performance and 2-1 Conference South defeat to county rivals Bishop’s Stortford at a surprisingly cold Woodside Park on Saturday.
The City boss strongly hinted at a large summer clear out at Clarence Park, claiming that ‘there are too many Fancy Dans’ in the side.
After taking an early lead and probably shading a first half not lacking in goalmouth incident but certainly lacking in quality, the Saints fell away in alarming fashion after the break as Stortford climbed above their guests for the first time this season.
Victory for the Bishop’s secures their place at this level for another season, while even in defeat St Albans too had something to celebrate as a 4-1 reversal for Farnborough at home to Wealdstone means that City are now also free from the threat of relegation.
It is a far cry from the days when City took an interest in grabbing a play-off place, but a run of one win in ten Conference South match – and three in 17 – has seen the Saints plummet down the table.
On current form the end of the season cannot come soon enough for St Albans.
With just two defeats in their previous ten matches Stortford went into the game in good spirits and some pre-match presentations that included one of £45,000 to the Bishop’s Stortford Community Football only further cheered the home support.
City were without Omar Beckles due to a family bereavement, which allowed a quick recall for James Comley following his international duty with Montserrat.
Comley stepped in at central defender and did a decent job on a day few Saints emerged with credit.
With Jamal Lowe on one flank and Jo N’Guessan on the other, City appeared to be keen to take the game to their hosts but the duo seldom saw the ball in wide positions.
And after two appearances 19-year-old Stevenage loanee N’Guessan has shown little to suggest that he is a potential replacement for the out of favour David Keenleyside.
N’Guessan, teed up by Lowe, had the first goalscoring opportunity of the day but skied the ball in the general direction of photographer Rob Walkley.
Stortford ought to have taken the lead on eight minutes when Greg Pearson broke free down the right and crossed low into the goalmouth where Anthony Edgar was left with a simple tap in but, amazingly, miscued the ball to his right and City keeper Joe Welch was able to smother the ball on the goalline.
Lowe and John Frendo combined to give N’Guessan a second clear opening but two poor touches allowed Stortford James Bransgrove to rush out and block a weak effort at point blank range.
The one positive point to be said about N’Guessan early on is that he did at least get into goal scoring positions, but his finishing was wayward for a third time after Simon Thomas had flicked on a Howard Hall throw, but a deflection off Frendo did force Bransgrove into making a good save.
The reprieve was short-lived though, as from a familiar Lee Chappell long throw Thomas glanced the ball wide of Bransgrove and into the net although Darren Locke moved in to hammer the ball into the net just in case Thomas’s header had not crossed the goalline.
As City’s attacking intent withered Stortford posed a few problems with Edgar testing Welch from a free kick while a long range effort from Joe Tabiri forced Welch to dive full stretch to concede a corner.
And it was from a corner that the Bishops equalised on 26 minutes.
Bobby-Joe Taylor swung one of several good corners into the goalmouth for Kenzer Lee to head the ball goalwards.
A couple of ricochets later and Rickie Hayles was on hand to drive the loose ball home from seven yards.
It was a blow from which City never really recovered but they ought to have regained the lead on 40 minutes following a good move started by Sam Corcoran just in front of the home dug-out.
The midfielder played the ball up to Frendo who held onto it well before sliding an excellent pass into the path of the over-lapping Chappell.
The City captain squared the ball into the six-yard box to Thomas who stretched to stab his shot wide by the narrowest of margins when the goal in front of him was completely unguarded.
As the players left the field at half time there was some jostling in the tunnel between the two teams.
Unfortunately for the visitors, that is where they left their fighting spirit and put in a second half performance that was simply woeful.
Within 30 seconds of the restart Pearson sent Sheldon Sellears through but his early shot was well blocked by the legs of the sprawling Welch.
Eight minutes into the half City made a surprising substitution when Frendo gave way to Danny Green.
Frendo may have struggled to fully make his mark in front of goal in Conference South this season, but to sacrifice him for an honest midfield toiler when there was another striker on the bench was curious in the least.
The goal that settled the outcome arrived on 59 minutes with City’s defending at a corner very much called into question.
Taylor drove the ball to beyond the back post where Tabiri headed it back into the goalmouth for Pearson to get in front of James Kaloczi to head home at close range.
City responded with a brief spell of pressure but the home goal was under no genuine real threat.
Any threat City did possess was limited to the lively Lowe but as the game slipped away St Albans opted for an increasingly long ball game and looked all the worse for it.
A chance to put City well out of contention went begging when good approach play by Ben Marlow and Taylor ended with Sellears heading the ball into the goalmouth where, pressure from Comley and Danny Green, denied Pearson a clean strike on goal.
A spell of City pressure late in the game saw a Corcoran shot deflected away for a corner from which Howard Hall headed just wide from Chappell’s set piece.
With time virtually up Comley fired a long cross into the penalty area that Thomas headed into the goalmouth.
Substitute Michael Malcolm dived in to head home but instead took a whack to the head from Hayles and the ball looped high for Bransgrove to catch.
St Albans are back at Clarence Park on Easter Monday when in-form Eastbourne Borough are the visitors for a Conference South fixture. Kick off is at 3pm.
Bishop’s Stortford: J.Bransgrove, A.Miller, BJ Taylor, J.Tabiri, K.Lee, R.Hayles, S.Sellears, B.Marlow, G.Pearson (M.Barrington 83), J.Walker (A.Church 67), A.Edgar (F.Merriefield 78), subs; C.Peters, A.Furlonge.
Booked: Pearson (45).
St Albans City: J.Welch, H.Hall, L.Chappell, J.Kaloczi (M.Malcolm 70), D.Locke, J.Comley, J.N’Guessan (J.Green 70), S.Corcoran, J.Frendo (D.Green 53), S.Thomas, J.Lowe, unused subs; S.Wales, J.Kyriacou.
Booked: Locke (85).
Goals: 10 0-1 Thomas, 26 1-1 Hayles, 59 2-1 Pearson.
Referee: Michael George (Dilham, Norfolk).