St Albans City scored their first goals of pre-season on Tuesday evening, but it wasn’t enough to beat an energetic Barnet side at Clarence Park.
Managers Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds will be very happy with what they saw on the night, especially during the first half, and will be hoping that it is a sign of things to come, with the new league season just over three weeks away.
The Saints commenced the game with a team which, bar Ashlee Jones standing in for Joe Welch, could be the side which starts the season away at Gosport Borough on August 8th. Simon Thomas returned to the starting line-up after an absence, while trialist Luke Allen continued his impressive form in midfield, and James Comley continued to marshal the heart of the defence alongside Darren Locke.
City started the game brightly, and demonstrated a real swagger and energy which had been lacking in previous friendlies. The home side could have been a goal to the good inside the opening two minutes, but Michael Malcolm, playing alongside Thomas up top for the first time during pre-season, failed to capitalise upon Luke Allen’s well placed through ball, and could only find the side netting from around eight yards out.
St Albans kept up the pressure, and found a lot of joy with Lewis Hilliard and Luke Allen running at the heart of the Barnet defence. However, Sky Bet League Two side Barnet demonstrated why they have been in full pre-season training for over two weeks now, and took the lead in the tenth minute.
Sam Muggleton, having just seen a previous long throw cleared by the City defence, launched a dipping throw into the area, which caught out Jones in the home net, looping over the goalkeepers net, and straight into the path of Michael Gash, who calmly headed home to give the visitors the lead against the run of play.
Despite going a goal down, to City’s credit, the energy and spirit returned almost immediately, and again Gray and Golds’ team found themselves knocking at the door of Bees.
It did not take long for the equaliser to come. Michael Malcolm received the ball on the edge of the area, and played a perfect pass into the path of Simon Thomas, who powered into the area, and he found the far near corner of the goal, low to the left of the diving McKenzie-Lyle.
The home side could have taken the lead on the half hour mark if it wasn’t for some spectacular goalkeeping from the Barnet man. Simon Thomas, having scored his first goal of the summer, went in search of another, and found himself on the end of a delicious cross, which he looked to have powered past McKenzie-Lyle. However, the Barnet youth academy product had other ideas, and he got the most important of palms to the effort, knocking the ball away onto the base of the post. Sam Corcoran latched onto the follow up, and he played it into the feet of former Hemel Hempstead Town midfielder Luke Allen, who saw his powerful drive palmed over by the acrobatic McKenzie-Lyle.
It felt like it was only a matter of time until the Saints found another breakthrough, and less than four minutes later, the home side took the lead. Luke Allen, currently on trial with the club following his departure from Hemel, picked up the ball on the right, and played a perfect pass along the face of the Barnet area into Malcolm, who without hesitation, guided the ball with the deftest of touches into the opposite side of the net. It was a much deserved goal for a side which had out-played Barnet during the opening forty-five.
With the management team having seen plenty of positives, Gray and Golds made wholesale changes at half time, with the only survivor being Jones in the City goal. These changes, while giving the managers an opportunity to asses more of the squad, seemed to slow down City’s play, and they were never quite able to re-create the form seen in the first half.
The away side soon found a foothold in the game, and it was an ex-Saint who scored the equaliser after the hour mark. Shaun Batt, who joined Barnet less than a week ago, rifled an excellently curled effort into the top corner, leaving a stranded Jones to wonder what had just flown past him.
Barnet scored the winning goal less than four minutes later, when 17 year old jack Taylor received the ball after a poor Longe-King clearance, and he struck a first time effort from over 25 yards out which dipped over Jones and into the net.
While Billy Medlock and Kieran Bishop both went close for the Saints before the full time whistle, the Bees held on for victory.
An excellent opening forty-five minutes will have been especially pleasing for the managers, as they now prepare to travel to Billericay Town on Saturday, looking for City’s first victory of pre-season.