St Albans City’s spectacular end to the Conference South season was maintained right through to the final minutes of the final day of the campaign on Saturday, when three late goals secured a fourth straight win and a 3-0 success over Hayes & Yeading United.
City were some way below their best but a dogged determination to end the season on a high and head off for a short break to Ibiza in buoyant mood laid the foundations for their biggest away win over either Hayes or Yeading since defeating the Ding by the same score 19 years ago.
St Albans were forced into making two changes from the side that beat Ebbsfleet, with Omar Beckles and John Frendo stepping in for Jo N’Guessan – whose loan from Stevenage had finished – and the injured Simon Thomas.
For much of the afternoon this was a match containing little of interest but there was still, in addition to the three goals, much to admire about the Saints performance.
Joe Welch underlined just what an inspired signing he has proved to be with a couple more excellent saves, while James Comley, Sam Corcoran and Beckles again stamped their class and influence on the side.
The home side went into the game looking to keep a third clean sheet in a row and clinch a third consecutive win, not to mention complete the league double over their visitors.
Tristan Lewis’s side hoped to extend their winning run without the services of former Saint Adam Everitt, who was serving a suspension after picking up 17 bookings during the season.
A miscued pass by Beckles offered an early opportunity to George McLennan who fired wide from 25 yards. The on loan Reading player was equally wasteful with a free header later in the half.
City’s first goal attempt saw Corcoran shoot over the home goal.
Greg Morgan looked set to have a clear chance for the hosts but Lee Chappell, playing on the left of the midfield, darted back to clear for a corner.
The Reds ought to have taken the lead when Luke Williams curled a perfect free kick to the edge of the six yard box only for Christian Smith’s header to strike the arm of Welch, who had spread himself instinctively.
Fortune was on City’s side from another Williams free kick on the Hayes right when the ball struck John Kyriacou by the back post and bounced across the face of the goal to Lewis Ferrell, who fell to the ground as he missed his kick.
St Albans had a series of passes through the middle of the home defence intercepted and took 30 minutes to win their first corner, and followed that with their first effort on target – an overhead kick by Michael Malcolm.
Neither side could be faulted for effort but a header over the top by Beckles from a Chappell corner did little to deny that this was very much turning into an ‘end of season’ encounter.
The second period continued in much the same manner and it took a header, narrowly over his own crossbar following a Chappell long throw, by United skipper Dean Inman to almost show the strikers the way to goal.
City maintained the pressure with a deep cross by Corcoran being clipped back into the goalmouth by Beckles with United defender Smith rushing back to head away for another corner.
Ten minutes into the second half City made an attacking substitution when John Kyriacou, part of a three-man defence, was replaced by winger Jamal Lowe.
Another Chappell long throw almost set up Jack Green but keeper Grant Smith grabbed the ball before the 17-year-old could pounce.
The brothers Green left the pitch within five minutes of each other with Jack being replaced by Steve Wales.
Elder brother Danny, who gave another highly effective industrious performance, made way for James Kaloczi after being injured in a collision with Morgan.
A slick eight-pass City move ended with Wales playing the ball in from the right and Frendo touching the ball to Malcolm before taking a return pass only to have his low shot blocked by Grant Smith for a corner.
As the half went on St Albans began to dominate and Frendo went close again when turning well and shooting into the side-netting.
Twelve minutes from time and City finally broke through following a foul by Williams on Frendo.
Chappell took the resulting free kick some 28 yards out.
The ball flew high into the air off the wall and while the United players stood off and looked at the dropping ball, Malcolm found space to nonchalantly flick it across the keeper with his right boot to end a barren spell of 12 games without a goal.
Maidenhead United’s lodgers had a clear opportunity to restore parity almost immediately.
Substitute Robbie Matthews rescued an over-hit cross by Morgan and sent it back across goal to the incoming Morgan whose firm drive was deflected wide off the face of the sprawling Welch.
The game was becoming increasingly open and City, on the counter-attack, could have added a second only for Frendo to head tamely through to Smith following an excellent cross by Malcolm, who was enjoying possibly his best game in a City shirt.
And it was on the break that City added their second goal on 89 minutes.
Lowe pinched the ball off Dominic Green midway inside the City half and set off on a long run to receive a return pass into his path from Wales.
Lowe shot across Smith from an acute angle only for the ball to thud into the base of the back post.
The rebound flew past Malcolm but Wales was on hand to slam his tenth goal of the season high into the net in his 50th game for the club.
Far from sitting back City went in search of more goals. The reason being that their goal difference for the season now stood at minus-one, and a positive figure would secure the squad a financial bonus.
Six minutes into added time and City wiped out their negative goal difference for the first time since early December.
Morgan cut out a through by the excellent Beckles, only for Lowe to regain possession and touch the ball onto Kaloczi.
Quick passes by Corcoran and Wales set Lowe up for a shot that was blocked. The ricochet went to Wales who completely scuffed his left-footed shot.
Again the bounce was kind to City and the free Frendo moved forward to collect the ball, go wide of Smith and slide his 60th goal for the Saints into the back of the net in his 97th appearance.
The home side complained that City’s top goal scorer for a second successive season was offside, but their appeals fell on deaf ears and Ferrell and Christian Smith were booked for prolonging their dispute.
Ending the season with four straight wins lifted the Saints to 13th in Conference South; 24 points clear of relegation and 16 points shy of a play-off position.
Hayes & Yeading United: G.Smith, J.Fenlon, E.Monthe, C.Smith, L.Ferrell, D.Inman (J.Thomson-Wheeler 76), G.Morgan, D.Green, D.Kearney (R.Matthews 64), L.Williams, G.McLennan (R.Murrell-Williams 69), subs; G.MacDonald, C.Kitscha.
Booked: Inman (19), Ferrell (90), C.Smith (90).
St Albans City: J.Welch, J.Kyriacou (J.Lowe 55), L.Chappell, D.Green (J.Kaloczi 71), D.Locke, J.Comley, O.Beckles, S.Corcoran, J.Frendo, M.Malcolm, J.Green (S.Wales 66), unused subs; M.Taylor, H.Hall.
Booked: Beckles (17), Corcoran (55), Comley (65).
Goals: 78 0-1 Malcolm, 89 0-2 Wales, 90+6 0-3 Frendo.
Referee: Ian Fissenden (Gillingham).