Saints witness Amari-cle

A reasonably gentle work-out for the mighty Hatters saw a convincing 4-0 win against St Albans City, in our first appearance this season in the oldest football competition in the world.

St Albans harried and hustled as much as they could, closing down well in the first half, but it was all in vain, as some great finishing by new boy Amari Morgan-Smith put them to the sword.

Once again, as with Grays last year I had the bar to myself having shooed the children to sit down and let me read the programme in peace. Bearing in mind twice as many people came this year to last, about 3000 must have arrived in the last 15 minutes. Perhaps they had heard that St Albans had a bald pensioner in goal. Just as well we didn’t bother to put the floodlights on or we would have been dazzled by the glare off his scalp. For those of you not at the game some of you may recall the episode of Alan Partridge’s Knowing Me Knowing You where Alan hosted a Question Time type discussion and it was hijacked by Lieutenant Colonel Kojak Slaphead III of the Bald Brummies. Need I say more?

The only change to the team that routed Nailsworth Utd on Tuesday was Gnapka in for Drury.
There were some good moves, and we especially stretched them in the last 15 minutes when Dan Walker came on, but because St Albans were so content just to try to stop us from playing there were quite a few bitty periods. Keane and Howells dominated a very narrow and tight midfield and pulled the strings in distributing the ball. It was a pretty narrow game actually, neither Claude nor AMS got particularly wide – one of the reasons he managed to get the three goals perhaps? That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of crosses, just not much out and out touchline-hugging wing-play. On occasion the match was crying out for a player to find a bit of space on the wing. That’s the only criticism really, because it was a very professional performance otherwise. There weren’t many fouls in the game, unusual for a Beds-Herts clash but there didn’t need to be and the ref let the game run really well. The one stand-out stinker was when David Deeney, clearly wanting to leave some sort of impression at Kenilworth Road clattered Ed A-A but it was out of place in this contest and in that regard St Albans stand out as Hertfordshire’s most sporting football team.

The match started quietly and slowly and it took a while to start to dominate. Pilks had a header from a Howells free kick after about 10 mins – but it went straight to the keeper Bastock.

Barnes-Homer, who had an excellent game started the next move which led to the first goal, he sent Claude down the right and he played a cross right to the far post where Amari-Smith tucked it in neatly glancing the post. It was one of those where you weren’t quite sure how he managed to squeeze it in, but he did.

He had another chance shortly afterwards when I think it was Jakey Howells who played him in – he had a one on one with the keeper but popped it wide.

Danny Crow made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later, a quick free kick taken by Jake Howells gave him bags of room, so much in fact that some strikers would fluff the chance because of the unexpected time and space they are given. Not Danny Crow – a lovely bit of control and a swing of the right peg was enough to bury the ball past the flailing Bastock. It was well-deserved because once again old ‘Big Hips’ ran his heart out in the game before being given a rest with 15 mins to go.

Six minutes later it was 3-0 and the fixture was well and truly over as a contest. This time it was an exquisite pin-point cross from from MBH on the right which perfectly found the head of AMS who powered the header home with the dead-eye certainty of a Harford or Howard.

More chances came for Danny Crow, who on another day could have had a first half hat-trick. Claude had one saved and MBH shot over from 35 yards.

It was a good first half without being a great one, St Albans tried to close us down from the front and so snuffed out some of the creativity, but as the half went on and the goals went in we carved out more chances and they had less influence on trying to frustrate us. Poor St Albans had almost nothing to offer. Anything that went forwards was either too long and ended up in Tyler’s hands at the other end or was easily tidied up by the back four.

The second half started slowly with Danny Crow having a chance to bag a second after a good knock down by Krocha. The first change was made on about 55 mins with Dan Gleeson being replaced by Ed A-A. It was Ed’s long overdue opportunity this year and he did well. He did managed to get caught out of position on a couple of occasions after trying passes that didn’t come off, but I think that was because he was trying too hard to impress. He managed some good exchanges with Keane and Howells and got forward and supported Claude and AMS.

A minute later Danny Crow had another chance, AMS flying down the left and pulling it back for Crow to crack the ball onto the underside of the bar. No Russian linesman – no goal – but the thwack was loud enough to be heard in Dunstable. Imagine, if you can, being back at school playing football in games on a cold February afternoon everyone’s breath being visible and your fingers being so numb you can’t do your school shirt up and miss your school bus home. Imagine being on that pitch and the opposition being awarded a free kick. That free kick sails over your head and that wet, mud-splattered ball smacks into the old-fashioned square wooden goalposts, and the sound of that smack/crack/thwack of the ball carries across the football field, across the playground and is loud enough to be heard in the classrooms. It was that sort of thwack.

Time for Godfrey ‘on fire’ Poku to come on. He replaced MBH who had worked tirelessly all afternoon and who set up the excellent third goal. This meant a slight reorganisation. Jake went to the left and I would have thought that AMS would have gone up front, but the striker moved out to the right wing this time and Claude moved to centre forward. To be fair to AMS he was hardly out on the ‘wing’, because he was playing so narrow and pushed so far up he was almost the third of a front three – in the way that Brko did so successfully in the promotion season to the Championship.

Almost instant success came for Claude and it was his turn to hit the post, with Howells not quite catching the rebound and it being clear off the goal-line. With 20 minutes to go AMS showed that he can hit a good free kick on target from about 20 yards out (a rarity in these parts recently with the exception of the occasional cracker from Gallen) but the ball was saved by Bastock down to his left.

Dan Walker then made his second appearance of the week with just over 15 minutes left. Once again he was like a breath of fresh air giving a touch of additional pace. He did tend to migrate out to the left a bit but gave the tired St Albans defenders something new to worry about. He had a couple of clear cut chances and looked very lively again.

With time ticking on Poku was presented with a guilt-edged chance to score against his former employers, but demonstrated why he hasn’t pursued a career as a striker with an ugly sliced volley from the edge of the box which slewed well wide and surprised an elderly gentleman behind the goal, rather than the elderly gentleman between the posts.

The fourth goal finally came with six minutes left. Dan Walker once again stretched St Albans down the wing and pulled the ball back to Amari Morgan-Smith whose deft chip over the keeper suggested a coolness and ability far better than the level we are presently condemned to play at. Five goals in five games for goodness sake. What a start. The matchball was his.

With time nearly up Keano nearly did another cheeky ‘Oxford’ with a perfect inswinging corner. This time the keeper wasn’t miles off his line and anyway the ball was headed clear.

So, an entertaining game without Luton having to hit top gear. Long may that continue. Things are looking up again.

Scores on the doors:

Tyler didn’t have too much to do, can remember one shot and one corner from them so a 6 is pretty standard I guess.

Gleeson 6
Pilkington 7
Krocha 7
Murray 7

Gnapka 8
Keane 8
Howells 8
AMS 10

Crow 8.5
MBH 8

Ed 7
Poku 6
Walker 8.5

So that was that was that. The Luton ball is in the hat for the next round. I’m not sure when the draw is – Monday presumably. Let’s hope we get Hythe Town at home and then another nice home tie, and then either play Liverpool or Watford in the third round. What a lovely thought to go to bed with on a Saturday night.

Many thanks as ever for all of the comments on my posts and an especially warm welcome to those readers from the around the world who log on to read this. I trust your part of the world is warmer than Luton was this afternoon. Call me a sissy, but that’s the last game I go to without gloves until Easter.

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