Brave Crusaders beaten by late late goal
St. Albans narrowly squeeze past Hungerford with an injury time winner
St. Albans City 3
Hungerford Town 2
Report by Ciaran Morrison.
A late goal for St. Albans broke Hungerford hearts in a thrilling encounter on the opening day of the season at Clarence Park. Ramone Rose gave Hungerford an early lead when he smashed the ball in on four minutes as the ball ran loose to him in the area. Saints Captain David Noble drove wide for the hosts before Tom Bender missed a glorious chance to level from close range. However the hosts were to get a fortuitous equaliser when goalkeeper Jokull Andresson appeared to be fouled by Ralston Gabriel but the referee waived way the appeals and the ball dropped kindly for the attacker to score from an acute angle. St. Albans then started to apply pressure to the Crusaders backline but they held on as first Solomon Sambou curled over and then Ben Herd had two similar opportunities which he failed to convert.
Just five minutes after the restart Alfy Whittingham was needlessly bundled over in the penalty box and the referee pointed straight to the spot. Harvey Bradbury stepped up to coolly convert into the bottom corner. Alex Fragata, who had a great second half, spurned several opportunities on the counter attack as his pace left the hosts backline floundering and Richie Whittingham almost made it 3-1 when his drive flashed just wide of the post. However, on 81 minutes the Saints were handed a life-line when a fantastic header smashed back off the crossbar with Andersson beaten before the ball found its way over to Gabriel to score his second of the match. The debutant striker could then have had a hat trick when played through on goal but his weak effort was easy for the goalkeeper to save. Substitute Sam Merson looked to have wasted the last chance of the match for the hosts when he volleyed over from inside the penalty box; however, there was still time for late drama as Hungerford needlessly conceded possession in the final minute of added time and the hosts stole it at the end through Dave Diedhiou's header.
So close and yet so far for the Crusaders, with eight players making their club debut, but a great deal of positives to take away on a baking hot day.