With an invigorating spell of three-goals in ten minutes St Albans City overturned a two-goal deficit away to Staines Town on Tuesday to record their first Conference South victory of the season and their first win at Wheatsheaf Lane for 17 years.
The Saints showed three changes from the side that went down meekly to Hayes & Yeading at the weekend and put in a performance full of commitment that suggests that they can look forward to the remaining 38 league games of the season with some confidence.
Victory was secured by a brace of goals from Steve Wales – the second of which was something special – and a typically clinical finish by John Frendo.
All three goals came between the 57th and 67th minutes as Staines buckled under a spell of sustained dominance by the visitors who had shaded the first half, yet trailed to a goal of sheer brilliance struck just seconds before the interval.
Overall the match was interesting rather than exciting but will have lifted a huge weight from the shoulders of Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds’ squad.
Staines showed themselves to be a side that is encouraged to play the ball around.
But they probably over did it and after going backwards and forwards often ended the patient build up by knocking the ball long and usually losing possession.
St Albans comfortably snuffed out this tactic for much of the game and, the two excellent goals aside; it was only in the closing stages that the Swans attacked with any real intent only to be frustrated by several good saves by Joe Welch.
As for City, the return of Frendo provided the goal threat that was lacking so badly on Saturday.
The well-tanned striker had an early effort deflected out for a corner while a second snap shot, teed up by Wales, was struck crisply but straight at home keeper Jack Turner.
Good chances were hard to come by during the opening 45 minutes with Staines, in particular, making little headway around the penalty area.
A good opportunity did come the way of Marcus Gayle’s side though when they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the City penalty area.
But the chance was lost when Josh Ekim fired the set piece in the defensive wall and Merrick James-Lewis scuffed the rebound wide.
Ashley Lodge went one better with a chance that came his way and scooped the ball high over the goal and out of the ground.
Those efforts notwithstanding, most attention was focused on the other end of the pitch although Turner had precious few saves to make.
The return of David Keenleyside to the side was well received by the very vocal City support at the game, and it was a cross by the former Harpenden Town player that almost led to the first goal.
Staines defender Chris M’Boungou headed the ball away but only as far as John Kyriacou and the one-time Limassol player shaved the crossbar with a cracking right-footed drive.
James Comley battled his way through a couple of challenges before the ball ran loose and was smothered by Turner, just before the sliding Lee Chappell could force it over the goalline.
A promising opening half for the Saints was shot to pieces on 44 minutes when Calum Willock scored an absolutely breathtaking goal with a right-footed volley, from an acute angle, that flew across Welch and into the far corner of the net at some rate of knots.
In the short time that remained before the interval Staines broke through again but a loose pass denied the unmarked Louie Theophanous a clear opening.
The second period began ominously for City with the Swans substitute Chace O’Neill blasting in a shot from 35 yards that Welch could only parry but, fortunately, the following up Theophanous was offside.
Keenleyside hammered a shot high over the top and Wales miscued another chance before Staines, on 55 minutes, scored a second excellent goal.
A long raking pass sent Willock scurrying down the Swans left flank.
After getting the ball under control Willock clipped a cross towards the edge of the six yard box where Theophanous shrugged off Chappell before scoring his third goal in two games with an audacious right-footed back-heel.
But just when City’s start to life in Conference South was turning sour the game was turned on its head by a rapid burst of goals at the opposite end of the pitch.
On 57 minutes Keenleyside, hardly the most fearsome header of the ball in the game, tussled with Sanchez Ming and Chris M’Boungou as a high ball fell just inside the penalty area.
The Staines defenders appeared to confuse each other and lost possession to the advancing Wales who poked a snap shot to the left of the diving Turner for the first City goal.
Four minutes later and the young Staines side was undone for a second time.
Attacking down the right, City, through Wales, got the ball out to Comley who calmly slid it into the penalty area to Frendo whose second touch was a perfectly placed left-footed low across Turner and into the bottom corner of the net.
With City rampant and Staines shell-shocked, there was only going to be one winner, and the Saints went close with a flowing move that ended with Sam Corcoran’s attempted lob over Turner just lacking sufficient power to reach the goal.
Staines responded by winning a corner that led to the home side having four shots blocked during a frantic goalmouth scramble.
It was Staines last chance to regain the lead before City closed in on their first Conference South victory since April 2011 with a spectacular third goal.
As with the opening Staines goal there appeared little threat as Comley touched a short pass into the path of Wales.
The former Chesham midfielder was just to the right of the penalty area some 17 yards from goal, a cross looked to be his best option.
Instead, the 32-year-old arched a stunning right-footed shot over the leaping Turner, who could only look on as the ball dropped just under the crossbar before coming to rest inside the far side-netting for his eighth goal in just 12 outings for the Saints.
Staines now upped their tempo but attempts to get the lively Ming away down the right flank were thwarted by excellent defensive work by the Saints.
But the right-back did manage to get in one effort on goal that Welch held cleanly.
As the game moved into its closing stages Staines at last applied genuine pressure on the home goal.
It did appear that City had brought some of the pressure onto themselves by trying to defend their slender lead, whilst substituting the tiring Frendo and Keenleyside with Elliot Buchanan and Loick Pires had not strengthened the side as had been intended.
Good work down the right by Ming led to a low cross to Theophanous whose well struck low angled shot on the turn was finger-tipped away for a corner by the diving Welch.
A long range effort by Pashaj went just over the target before Welch again got down quickly to touch a low shot, this time from Max Worsfold, around the post. City were hanging on, just.
St Albans could have added a fourth from a counter-attack involving the three substitutes.
Pires and Lee Clarke combined to send Buchanan away but the striker, after weaving his way into the penalty area, stuck a poor shot well wide that M’Boungou needlessly hacked away for a corner.
It mattered not in the end as City, with Ben Martin recalled and leading the backline, had done enough to see off a Staines side that finished eighth in last season’s Conference South table.