St Albans City 0-1 Fleet

The Fleet’s 13th trip to Clarence Park was anything but unlucky as Dominic Poleon’s 15th goal of the campaign gave the visitors a ninth win on St Albans soil – and more importantly a double over the Saints this season.

It’s the fifth time Poleon has dusted himself down from the bench to find the back of the net in 2021/22 and his 70th minute strike enabled Fleet to leapfrog Oxford City into fourth place in a game of few clear chances. With upcoming opponents Dorking Wanderers drawing against Hampton & Richmond Borough, it makes for a truly exciting clash at the Kuflink Stadium next weekend.

But that’s next week and for Dennis Kutrieb it was all about bouncing back from the midweek defeat at Braintree. To that end, he made three changes as Elliott Romain, Christian N’Guessan and Shaq Coulthirst returned in place of Poleon, Sefa Kahraman and Lee Martin.

St Albans were also seeking to shake off the disappointment of a late defeat on Tuesday but having lost 5-0 to the Fleet earlier in the season, they set up with a gameplan to be tighter and less generous in possession and it succeeded in squeezing much spectacle out of the first-half.

The home side were purposeful early on in a strong wind, however, with Fleet occasionally rocky as the yellows looked for a quickfire opening. Joe Martin was a little harshly in the book with only six minutes gone for a foul on Zane Banton and City asked a few questions as John Goddard buzzed around the box while Shaun Jeffers and Mitchell Weiss just failed to get on the end of a corner.

Chris Solly flicked on a Fleet corner in the opening 10 minutes from which Coulthirst fashioned an audacious attempt that was blocked in the six-yard box before Will Wood’s shot from distance was stopped in its tracks by Michael Johnson.

Solly’s tactical awareness and Wood’s tireless running were the standouts in that period for the Fleet and the skipper was on hand again to block from top scorer Jeffers.

The home side’s best opportunity came on 25 minutes when Mitchell Weiss’ vision from the left picked out Banton at the far post who had time to size up the goal but Jack Paxman did ever so well to get back and put him off, Louie Moulden able to mop up from that.

A Ben Chapman free-kick threatened the home goal next, and Coulthirst and Wood then looked set to tuck one away but the referee decided a foul on the goalkeeper would spell the end of that opportunity for the Fleet. And the visitors ended the half strongly, Rakish Bingham and Elliott Romain both forcing saves from Johnson before Wood’s free-kick headed towards the top corner until hitting Callum Green and somehow veering off target.

The second-half began in more lively fashion with Paxman energetic but St Albans soon threatened when Michael Clark’s excellent long ball down the left found Banton, N’Guessan and Martin were there to relieve the pressure. Weiss and Banton again kept the Fleet defence on their toes as they sniffed around the danger area before Kutrieb introduced Poleon just past the hour mark.

But it was N’Guessan who came close first, wrapping his foot around an excellent shot that edged inches wide of the post. And having established a decisive foothold in the game, Fleet – who were passing the ball about adeptly for several minutes in the lead up to their goal – chose the perfect moment to go ahead.

It came on 70 minutes when N’Guessan played Bingham in. His one-touch ball forward saw Poleon’s strength get him goalside of Tom Bender and from then on it was trademark top-scorer as he got enough on his last touch to send a fine finish past Johnson and over the line.

City threw on a triple substitution with 10 minutes left and appealed for a couple of half-hearted penalties, most notably when Jeffers went down right at the end but the referee thought little of those. Returning Fleet sub Greg Cundle drew another save from Johnson after Bingham’s pass but there was little else of incident and the visitors were more than happy enough with that as the three points was bagged in preparation for next week’s big clash.

EUFC: Moulden, Solly, J. Martin, Jombati, N’Guessan, Chapman, Paxman, Wood (Cundle 75), Romain, Bingham (L.Martin 83), Coulthirst (Poleon 63). Subs: Kahraman, Haigh
SACFC: Johnson, Bender, Wiltshire, Clark (Jones 79), Jeffers, Banton (Sole 79), Dawson (Noble 79), Weiss, Mukena, Goddard, Green. Subs: Lankshear, Diedhiou
Attendance: 1,460

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