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St Albans City 2-2 Kingstonian

A team with seven wins out of seven attempts stood in the way of Kingstonian in their first journey of the season. St Albans had dispatched pre-season fancied sides Grays and Canvey Island with ease, and entered this match fresh from a four-nil walk over Harrow Borough. K's, of course, didn't exactly have the best away record under Steve Sedgley last season, but then life would be the poorer if everything were easy.

Changes were made to the visitors' side following Saturday's last minute faux-pas against Hayes, so in came Bashiru Alimi for his first start of the season and - making his debut - Julian Sills, with Jamie Leacock and Matt Flitter making way.

It took little time for the City to show just why they were sitting on top of the table, and why they have started to attract several additional followers in recent weeks. Just nine minutes were on the clock when a throw on the left was headed towards the middle by Gary Crawshaw, setting up Simon Martin to volley a superb effort beyond Lance Key's stretched left hand to give them the lead.

K's heads didn't drop though, and the equaliser almost came with an immediate repost. Greg Ball was obstructed on the left-hand side of the penalty area, and when Liam Collins swung in the resulting free-kick Tim Sills was unfortunate to see his header crash back from the crossbar.

Indeed, K's had a fine spell just after the opening goal. Phil Wingfield cut in from the left only to send his cross between Ball and Dave Clarke when both were well placed, and Wingfield combined well with Alimi to send Clarke scampering through to face goalkeeper Richard Wilmot on his lonesome, but the keeper did well to stop the midfielder's shot with his legs.

So it was no surprise when the equalising goal came. A hopeful Craig Lewington pass forward was deflected into the left corner of the pitch, but just as most in the crowd had given up, Tim Sills proved that he really does put in effort by racing into the corner and flicking the ball backwards with his heel. Wingfield was in support and his first time cross was met by the in-rushing Greg Ball who smashed the ball into the roof of the net for a well deserved equaliser.

The lead was almost regained by the home side not five minutes later though, when Rob Kean saw his first effort saved well by Lance Key, and his second effort - after he had beaten both Julian Sills and Max Hustwick in a race to get up off the ground - strike the post with Key well beaten.

Kingstonian had a fine chance of their own just before the break too, but they suffered a similar outcome. Wingfield played in Alimi on the left, and when he crossed it looked to all the world as though Collins would head home at the far post. Yet Dominic Naylor put enough pressure on to persuade him to head wide instead.

What had been a hugely entertaining first half was, if anything, improved upon in the opening moments of the second. Both sides looked determined to take all three points from this match, and those watching were all the richer for it.

First it was the visitors in the ascendancy with Ball firing not far wide when he might have played in Sills, and Wingfield volleying across goal when his cross had taken not more than three deflections to land back at his own feet. But St Albans came back strongly with Crawshaw firing just wide from the edge of the box after being set up by Kean.

A goal didn't look far away for either side, but it was the league leaders who got there first. A throw on the left found Beckett Hollenback, and his cross saw Lance Key in two minds. First he came, then he went back, and when Martin stepped between Sean Thurgood and Hustwick he managed to get his shot in between the keeper's legs to regain the lead for his side.

Yet still K's fought on. Greg Ball came close to securing his second equaliser of the night when he stole the ball from Hollenback and cut into the area only to shoot straight at Wilmot. He needn't have worried though, as Liam Collins showed him exactly how to do it not long after.

Hustwick found the winger on the right, just inside the opposition half. He ran a couple of steps forward, then looked up to see City ranks that were anything but massed. He continued his run, and by the time he got within striking distance he was still to face a serious challenge. Still, there was work to be done yet. But no matter. In a moment of pure class, Collins flicked the ball up and over Richard Wilmot with the outside of his right foot into the top left-hand corner of the net for a quite spectacular goal. His team-mates were suitably impressed, as presumably was everybody watching.

By now the match had become one that either side would have been devastated to lose. K's did their best to hand St Albans the lead once more though, when City were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box for a foul by Clarke and K's lined up their wall encouraging substitute Scott Oakes to shoot at the unguarded side of the net. This he did, but unluckily found the outside of the post as Key et al breathed again.

The last few minutes saw most of the pressure at Key's end of the pitch, with Alimi being called upon to help his goalkeeper out from his own goal-line when a shot from substitute Ryan Moran got through.

The match ended with K's on the attack though, which is a fairly good indication that either side really could have stolen all three points. Yet that would have been extremely harsh on whoever had come out as loser. Both sides showed that they will be right up there challenging when the silver is handed out in May, and with reports that K's were "by far the best side (they've) faced so far" things are certainly looking up for Kingstonian.

Tue 10th Sep 2002
Clarence Park
Isthmian League Premier
St Albans City2
Ball, Collins
1Lance Key
2Bashiru Alimi
3Sean Thurgood
4Max Hustwick
5Julian Sills
6Craig LewingtonCautioned
7Liam Collins
8Dave ClarkeCautioned
9Tim Sills14
10Greg Ball
11Phil Wingfield
12Neil Lampton
13Adrian Jones
14David Ocquaye9
15Mark Jones
16Jamie Leacock
Man of the Match
Liam Collins
Liam Collins
Match Report By
Gary Ekins