Barry Hayles, dropped for the first time since joining St Albans City, came off the substitutes bench to fire the two goals that returned the Saints to winning ways with a 2-0 Southern League victory over Redditch United at a virtually deserted Valley Stadium on Tuesday.
City were worthy winners of a poor game and will just be pleased to have put their recent run of indifferent results behind them as they climb back into the top five of the Premier Division.
St Albans have played far better at times this season than they did at the Valley Stadium yet lost and manager David Howell conceded that he was looking more for the side to bounce back to winning ways rather than put on a good performance.
Howell, bitterly disappointed by his team’s performance at the weekend, ‘rested’ Hayles and Chris Seeby from Saturday’s starting XI and brought in Simon Martin and Chris Henry.
Martin was a straight swap for Hayles while Henry went to the left wing, something that enabled Ryan Watts to return to his left-back slot with Danny Gordon switching across to right back.
On a pitch showing wear having been flooded and then frozen, St Albans, without overly suggesting that a goal was just around the corner, began promisingly against what appeared to be a very young Redditch side.
After making a succession of wayward passes Simon Redhead’s team began to play with greater confidence and fully deserved to go in at half time on level terms.
Redditch, in fact, probably came closest to scoring when the impressive Joel Grandison dug the ball out from under his feet and forced Nick Jupp to pull off a flying one-handed save low to his left at the cost of United’s only corner of the game.
St Albans created an opening inside the opening 15 seconds only for Lewis Toomey to send a scuffed effort weakly through to home keeper James Wren.
And Toomey’s evening came to a premature end ten minutes later when a pulled hamstring in his left leg led to an early reprieve for Hayles.
Henry was lively in the opening exchanges, going close with a drive that sent the two City supporters behind the goal scurrying for cover and then winning the first corner of the game before drilling a fine effort just over the crossbar.
Visiting keeper Nick Jupp enjoyed one of his most peaceful 90 minutes of the season with his first half work restricted to diving forward to intercept a potentially dangerous cross and then making an excellent save low to his left following Grandison’s shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Redditch had undoubtedly worked their back into the game long before the interval but City started the second period in renewed attacking mode and pinned the home side down with three corners in quick succession, each taken by Sean Shields.
Redditch, though, held firm and Grandison, capitalising on a loose header by Gordon, fired over the City goal.
But Redditch’s resolve did diminish on 54 minutes when assistant manager and left-back Asa Charlton overran the ball and in stretching to make amends went in high on Gordon.
Referee Adam Matthews duly showed the red card for what was the only bad tackle of the game and even this offence appeared to contain no malicious intent.
St Albans certainly controlled the game following Charlton’s departure but seldom bothered Wren with a shot wide by Shields coming the nearest to worrying the keeper with more than an hour gone.
But all that changed on 66 minutes following another Shields corner from the City left that skipper James Gray headed goalwards.
With Hayles right in front of him Wren saw the ball late and could only pat it down in front of him, which simply presented Hayles with a straightforward poke home right-footed from just a yard out.
Three minutes later a good block denied Shields after the winger had been teed up by Martin.
Redditch had one golden opportunity to pull level when Stuart Hendrie, after exchanging passes with Grandison, burst clear down the Reds left and crossed low to the back post where the unmarked Simon Johnson inexplicably missed the ball completely right in front of goal.
The result was put beyond any doubt on 87 minutes and it was very much a case of the home side striking the self-destruct button.
Not for the first time, Redditch had a free kick in an enticing position on the edge of the City penalty area but Grandison’s shot was partially charged down by Curtis Ujah with David Ijaha clearing the ball to midway into the Redditch half.
Callum Flanagan sent a lofted back pass to Wren that the keeper miscued to around 35 yards from goal and as the hardworking Mark Hands, for once, dithered, Hayles strode forward to seize possession and when Wren committed himself too early Hayles carefully pushed the ball into the open side of the goal.
Redditch United: J.Wren, G.Moran, A.Charlton, C.Flanagan, A.Hickman, W.Richards, S.Hendrie, M.Hands, C.Deards (S.Johnson 73), J.Grandison, J.Quaynor, subs; D.Bridgwater, L.Oshungbure, S.Jenkins, B.Catlow.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, D.Gordon, R.Watts, D.Ijaha, C.Ujah, J.Gray, Se.Shields, M.Hyde, L.Toomey (B.Hayles 15), S.Martin (C.Seeby 85), C.Henry, subs: M.Diarra, J.Onieva.
Goals: 0-1 66 Hayles, 0-2 87 Hayles.
Referee: Adam Matthews (Stroud).