An uncharacteristically hot Saturday for September saw St Albans City continue their pre-season preparations with a 0-0 draw at home to National League outfit Sutton United.
Despite facing opposition a division above themselves, some strong defensive work from the Saints kept the visitors at bay and secured a fourth consecutive clean sheet for the hosts.
City fans will remember Sutton’s left-back, Ben Wyatt, who once donned the yellow and blue of the Verulamium club.
The game began with Sutton on the attack, a first-minute shot flying well wide of the post by Toby Sho-Silva.
Another Sutton attack was dispelled in the third minute when James Kaloczi cleared the ball off the line following a cross from the right-wing.
The team in green continued to press forward while the Saints looked for the long-ball, with Chid Onokwai spinning in behind the opposition’s back-line.
There was a near break-through with eight minutes gone, when the ball pinballed around City’s penalty area. Sutton centre-half Coby Rowe missed the target this time, firing over the bar after a myriad of blocked shots.
With the Saints having survived the opening exchanges, their outlet was taken away. The pacey Onokwai suffering what looked like a calf strain and he was replaced by Mitchell Weiss with 17 minutes on the clock.
Shortly after the substitution, another right-sided foray by United saw Kenny Davis volley a shot into the ground which bounced just wide of the right-hand post.
On 26 minutes Chidyausiku shot wide when found behind enemy lines. The linesman’s flag for offside having little consequence on the outcome.
Just two minutes later, the Saints forward made up for his previous shortcomings and battled well down the right flank before delivering a good ball into the penalty area. Warner-Eley had his initial shot blocked from this position, but did well to manufacture another crossing opportunity only to find the gloves of Dean Bouzanis in the Sutton goal.
Next it was Johnson’s gloves doing the work, as Tom Bender almost headed the ball into his own net. A cross from the right was deflected towards the home goal by the defender, causing Johnson to save acrobatically before his defenders could clear the danger.
With 31 minutes gone, Callum Kealy was picked out with a ball over the top by the visitors. His shot drifted to the wide-left of the City posts.
The Sutton pressure continued with a wonderful chinking run by David Ajiboye. He picked out Sho-Silva through the middle, who’s shot is blocked. Superb forward play by the visitors, but the Saints survived once more.
Sutton kept the pressure on and the travelling number 11, a trialist for Sutton United, cut inside and shot powerfully from range. Another good save by Johnson denied the tricky winger.
Moments later, a game of head-tennis provided Tom Bender with the best chance of the first-half. His right-footed volley was saved at close range by Bouzanis and the game remained 0-0.
A strong finish to the first-half from the home team saw a Zane Banton free-kick result in a blocked shot by Mitchell Weiss before the referee blew for half-time.
Shortly after the break Sho-Silva had a shot blocked in a central position.
In the 54th minute, Warner-Eley got a shot away from range for the Saints, before being brought down by a Sutton defender. The shot was well over the bar but a free-kick was given by the referee.
Just seconds later, Bender hit a deflected left-footed strike from the free kick which sailed powerfully over the bar.
As the game ticked into the 59th minute Mitchell Weiss got down the left flank, his low ball across goal was parried by the goalkeeper and eventually dealt with by the Sutton back line.
Kyran Wiltshire and Soloman Nwabuokei were then replaced by David Noble and Shaun Jeffers.
Five minutes on, some sloppy passing around the back allowed Sutton to create an opportunity but Johnstone reacted well to deny United from taking the lead.
The resultant corner caused problems for St Albans’ defence and Silva hit a shot narrowly wide when trying to capitalise.
In the 67th minute Shaun Jeffers had a shot blocked following a good ball by Warner-Eley into the central area.
Shortly after this, Sutton’s David Ajiboye continued to cause problems with another dangerous dribble on the right-flank. His shot flew just over the bar after manoeuvring himself into a goalscoring position.
Mitchell Weiss then bent an effort from the wide-left position for Saints which narrowly avoided the top right corner.
A great save at close range by Johnson kept the teams level when a Sutton corner was headed down from a corner. A scramble in the Saints box then resulted in a free-kick given to the home team. The best chance of the second half so far.
Zane Banton was replaced by academy graduate Alex Lankshear before Johnson was replaced by Declan Jackson in goal. Hugh Dawson also came on for Luke Warner-Eley.
With seven minutes to go, Kaloczi almost scored into an empty net but it was cleared off the line by a Sutton defender before he could put the final touch on the move.
St Albans pushed for a winner late on with some good build up down the left. The ball narrowly avoided St Albans’ attacking players in the middle before the referee blew for a free-kick to Sutton United and the game finished 0-0.
By Pearce Bates.