Sunday, 10 July 2016

St Albans City 2 v 3 Stevenage

Saturday 9th July 2016
Pre-season Friendly
Clarence Park, St Albans
Admission: £10.00
Programme: £2.50
Attendance: 420
Match Rating: 3

With more choice of friendlies available this week than last, I decided to tick off another ground in the National League South today. It is a ground that I have wanted to visit previously, being apparently one of the dying breed of classic non league football grounds left, but I have been deterred with the club's notoriously eye-watering admission charges, currently £15.00 to watch a team struggling to stay in the second tier of non league football. A more reasonable charge to watch a professional team visiting spurred me to make the journey to Hertfordshire today.

Clarence Park is about a five minute walk from St Albans City train station, and is set within a municipal park of the same name, adjacent to a cricket club with an attractively traditional and imposing stand. Once past one of the turnstile huts, located at each corner of the ground although not all were open today, one indeed finds a refreshingly old fashioned non-league football ground, with rather basic facilities to further give the impression that £15 entry is excessive for National League South matches. There is a bowl of terracing stretching from end to end, around the corners and along one of the lengths, mostly uncovered apart from the area straddling the half way line which has cover. Along the remaining length is the highlight of the ground, a wooden structure containing narrow rows of seating, some of them wooden. It looks a lot more attractive than it is a good place to watch the action from, with tight legroom, supporting pillars and floodlight pylons potentially obscuring one’s view, and it is set some way back from the pitch. About a third of the stand has been allocated as a director’s lounge. As one would expect with its park location, attractive trees line the ground and it has a peaceful feel to it. The 24 page programme was pretty good for a pre-season publication, glossy and in full colour and covering all three of the club’s home pre-season fixtures. It did a good enough job in presenting each of the teams as well as providing interesting club information and opinion.

Today would be the first game of pre-season for both clubs. St Albans fought a successful battle against relegation from the National League South last season, finishing two points and two places clear of the relegation zone, in 18th place in the 22 team division. They have signed several players with Football League experience, and hopes are high that the club will have a much more comfortable season to come. Stevenage quite comfortably remained in League Two last season, finishing in 18th place in the 24 team division, and they too have made several new signings - although only one officially anonymous "A. Trialist" took to the field today.

On an overcast, muggy afternoon, this was an entertaining friendly played at quite a high tempo which, as the respective scorelines were to demonstrate, saw St Albans the better team in the first half, with Stevenage superior after the break. The home side took the lead on 16 minutes, when Matt Ball crossed the ball from deep towards the far post, and Louie Theophanous headed back across the keeper and into the net. They came close to scoring again two minutes before the break, but Junior Morais fired a free kick just over the bar.

Stevenage changed their entire team at half-time, and put in a much better performance than the first half team did. They took just two minutes to get back on level terms. Following play inside the area, Tom Conlon laid the ball back to Andrew Fox, who drilled the ball across the keeper and into the net. Against the run of play, St Albans went back into the lead. Ben Herd delivered a free kick into the danger area and Josh Hill headed the ball into the net. Their lead was to only last eight minutes though. New signing Jake Hyde met Dipo Akinyemi's cross with a glancing header which went in off the far post. Stevenage went into the lead for the time on 77 minutes, when Hyde found himself in oceans of space with just the keeper to beat as the defence claimed offside, and he coolly chipped the ball over the keeper and into the net. Stevenage had a couple of chances to extend their lead before the end, but they narrowly claimed the win.

St Albans could be pleased with their performance, particularly in the first half, although their performance was probably enhanced by a poor show from the Stevenage team in the first half. Stevenage looked much better and a more professional team after the break, and both managers will surely have learnt plenty from today's lively encounter.

Video footage of the Stevenage goals can be viewed by clicking here.

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