To what degree are footballers affected by events off the pitch?
Did England fail in South Africa because of the John Terry scandal?
Have the Liverpool players forgotten how to play football because of Tom Hicks and George Gillette?
How much did the lure of a trip to Kenilworth Road in a fortnight spur St. Albans City on to beat Kingstonian?
Having witnessed a very different performance from both sides on Monday night, the evidence would seem to show that these outside influences can have a marked effect – unless manager Steve Castle worked some magic between Saturday and Monday.
St. Albans were outclassed and outfought at the weekend, finding their lower league visitors more than a match for the Blue Square South side and will have been mightily relieved when the referee’s final whistle was blown with the scoresheet still blank. But some time in the next 48 hours, the tables were turned and the replay was a complete role reversal for both sides.
The difference in Saints was striking; closing down the opposition more quickly combined with more movement and a general increase in energy forced the home side on to the back foot and led to many misplaced passes by those in red and white. Kingstonian were struggling to get the ball forward and, when they did, the final ball was often misplaced by yards.
Despite their dominance, Saints had hardly created a real chance in the opening quarter of an hour and it was actually the Kingstonian fans who had the first cause for excitement as Ryan Frater in the St. Albans defence appeared to handle the ball in his own penalty area after 18 minutes. The referee waved away the protests but it did look like the Saints captain was extremely lucky. There was, however, no luck involved in what followed as the away side were immediately on the break and, when the ball fell to 17 year old Pelayo Gomez on the corner of the penalty area he looked up, spotted Tolfrey off his line and curled a beautiful shot into the top left hand corner leaving the keeper with no chance. It was the kind of goal which would bring gushing praise in the Premier League and the Spaniard Gomez, on work experience from Brentford, may well have a bright future.
It was certainly no more than Saints deserved, given their start to the game and Kingstonian must have been wondering what hit them after dominating just two days before. The cracks began to show as some arguments broke out in the K’s midfield and it wasn’t until the 25th minute that they managed their first shot on goal, Lee Hall driving his shot over the bar.
On 33 minutes, a superb flick by Gomez put James Fisher in on goal but his shot went wide of the left hand post and minutes later Peter Smith was allowed to run a long way by the K’s defence, his pass finding Rob Martin whose shot slammed against the top of the bar. By now the St. Albans supporters were enjoying their football for the first time in the tie. They were disappointingly quiet on Saturday but their merry band behind the goal began to sing their hearts out, prompting the home fans to loudly enquire as to their whereabouts at their previous meeting.
Kingstonian finally clicked into gear just before half time though and, after Bobby Traynor had dithered and dallied long enough to allow Bastock to smother his shot after a square ball from Lodge, they somehow managed to level the tie at 1-1. Matt Gray was the Man of the Match on Saturday but had had very little influence on the game so far until he slid an excellent ball in behind for Traynor whose shot was saved by Bastock. The ball ran to Lodge, who was brought down by Fisher just as he steadied himself to shoot and Traynor slotted the penalty home to put smiles on the faces of the K’s fans for the first time that night.
Kingstonian had looked a beaten side for most of the first half but somehow they were on level terms and the early stages of the second half gave the home fans some hope that they would be the ones travelling to Luton for the next round, substitute Ben Martin clearing off the line from Tom Bird after only 5 minutes.
Their efforts failed to produce a goal though and, with 18 minutes left on the clock and the game looking increasingly likely to go to extra time, Gomez once again made the difference as he made the most of a defensive mix up and slotted home to make it 2-1.
In the minutes that remained Kingstonian huffed and puffed but, despite three corners in quick succession which caused all manner of panic in the Saints six yard box, they failed to take the game to an extra 30 minutes and St. Albans will be playing Luton Town in two weeks time – a fact celebrated in an odd manner by the jubilant away fans, singing about their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel north on the Thameslink line. They obviously don’t get out much.
A few K’s fans were heard to complain after the game about how they always get their hopes up but it never quite happens. Who knows, maybe next year they will be the ones who will benefit from a possible-giant-killing-local-derby being dangled in front of their side before kick-off? It certainly seemed to give St. Albans some impetus.