Report - Oxford City 2-3 St Albans City
Saints secure opening day victory
Oxford City started their National League South season with an uninspiring 3-2 home defeat at the hands of St Albans City. The scoreline could have been worse for the hosts with a late consolation from David Pearce failing to reflect the Saints' dominance of the second half.
The game turned on two St Albans goals, one either side of half time, as the visitors came back from a goal down to take control of the match.
The City lineup was affected by a number of key absences. Mamadou Fofana missed out as the club wait to finalise the player's registration whilst Lee Henderson was only fit enough to take a place on the bench. Justin Bennett also missed out with the injury he picked up late in pre-season.
This meant that Mark Jones's first team selection of the campaign comprised of Craig Hill in goal with Guri Demuria and Joe Oastler in the centre of defence, flanked by Freddie Grant and captain Godfrey Poku. Reece Fleet, Horatio Hirst and Eddie Jones lined up in midfield behind an attacking three of Ezra Forde, Matt Paterson and Zac McEachran.
The Hoops started brightly as Forde made inroads down the left wing but was unable to find Paterson with his low ball into the box. The visitors responded as Shaun Lucien went on an impressive run into the box from the half way line but his effort on goal failed to live up to the buildup.
Delicate interplay through the middle saw Freddie Grant burst into the Saints' penalty area where his progress was halted by a clumsy looking challenge from two defenders. City's appeals for a penalty were immediately waved away by the referee as the visitors went on to clear their lines.
The breakthrough came in the 24th minute. A lofted ball down the channel bamboozled St Albans' Tom Bender and his missed header allowed Paterson to steal in. The experienced striker made no mistakes with his finish, opening his City account with by lofting the ball over the onrushing 'keeper.
The goal spelt the end of City's best period of the game. St Albans began to apply more consistent pressure, winning two free kicks in promising positions but failing to make either count.
A rare attack for The Hoops saw Hirst and Poku combine, the ex-Saint pulling the trigger from the edge of the area and only narrowly putting it wide of the far post.
The visitors struck a deserved equaliser in first half stoppage time. Solomon Sambou found Shaun Lucien in space on the left hand side of the area and the forward slotted an extremely composed finish beyond Craig Hill.
The Saints carried their momentum straight into the second period, taking the lead within a minute of the restart. A heavy challenged dispossessed Poku on the right side of defence and, with the defender staying down injured, Sambou was able to turn goalscorer as he found the top corner from the edge of the area.
The second goal only emboldened the visitors more and the City defence struggled to deal with a number of balls into their box. A training ground routine from a free kick looked like offering The Hoops a way back into the game but substitute David Pearce's effort from a tight angle was a little too wild.
Both sides flirted with embarrassment in the 71st minute as the City defence somehow allowed a feeble square ball to squirm through to Lucien. The attempted finish was somehow worse than the defending, seeing the ball put wide from at most half a yard. Fortunately, the assistant's offside flag allowed both sides to forget the whole debacle with no harm done.
Lucien looked to redeem himself very shortly after with a fiercely struck effort from the left side of the area which forced a strong, two-handed save from Craig Hill.
The Hoops could not, however, hold firm forever and were very much the masters of their own demise. The defence once again lost the ball in their own half and substitute Sam Merson was clinical, taking one touch before blasting the ball beyond Hill to make the game safe.
Merson was almost able to double his own tally moments later but Hill did well to stand up to his attempted lob.
Deep into stoppage time, Pearce was able to grab a consolation as he tapped home fellow substitute Craig Fassanmade's cross at the back post. This was however too little, too late for City with the referee blowing for full time immediately after the restart.
Oxford City: Hill, Poku (Henderson 87), Grant, Oastler, Jones, Demuria, Hirst, Fleet, Paterson, McEachran (Fassanmade 87), Forde (Pearce 55).
Subs not used: Ngathe, Tutton.