If incessant rain and news of a proposed 20% hike in admission was not sufficient to down the spirits of the hardy St Albans City supporters at Clarence Park on Saturday then a 2-0 Southern League defeat to a workmanlike Chippenham Town must have surely provided the final kick where it hurts.
To the credit of those that did brave the dismal conditions a reasonable atmosphere was created by a rousing sustained burst of chanting during the second half but it did seem that even The London Philharmonic Orchestra supported by a Welsh Male Voice Choir would not have saved City seeing their poor run extended to just one win in nine games.
St Albans performed with greater energy than witnessed the previous week at Bideford but the open exciting football of the early weeks of the season has long since gone to be replaced by a toothless and easily contained attack.
City welcomed back from injury Richard Graham and the Irish winger improved the attacking options for David Howell’s struggling side with several decent crosses but it wasreally only after the Bluebirds had opened up a two-goal lead that City created any testing pressure on the visitor’s defence.
Howell made one other change with teenager Matt Taylor coming into the midfield as Micah Hyde and Juan Onieva made way from the XI that started at Bideford.
Chippenham arrived at the Park in poor form having won just one of their previous seven Premier Division encounters, and failed to score in five of those seven games. They left having completed a trio of victories in all three meetings between the two clubs.
The Bluebirds from Wiltshire looked determined to put their poor form behind them and sought to get forward quickly but it was City, through a scuffed shot over the top by Taylor following a half-cleared Sean Shields cross, who had the first worthwhile effort of the day.
Town had a fortunate escape when Graham beat keeper Ben John to a through ball and, after going wide, slid the ball to the edge of the six yard box where Chris Henry, under pressure from Ashley Williams and Alex Kite, failed to get his shot on target.
Chippenham forged ahead on 24 minutes courtesy of some dire City defending and a quite sensational finish by Tom Knighton, a recent addition to the Bluebirds squad from Yate Town.
A long ball into the home penalty area tempted Nick Jupp to come to collect but a misunderstanding led to Danny Gordon heading the ball up in the air and as it fell Knighton produced a spectacular overhead scissor kick that looped over the backtracking Jupp and into the York Road goal.
It was a moment to treasure regardless of which end of the pitch it occurred.
City’s response was muted with John saving a tame header from James Gray that was drifting wide anyway, while the Saints first shot on target came from Chris Seeby on 43 minutes but was comfortably taken by the keeper.
Right on half time James Guthrie went close to increasing Chippenham’s lead with an angled drive that went not far wide of the goal following a precise through ball by Knighton.
The second half took time to get going but the tedium was broken by linesman Russell Palmer rushing off to change his flag after breaking the first one while a more serious breakage occurred just outside the ground when the Chippenham coach reversed into a tree and had its back window taken out by a branch.
Although winning, Chippenham were generally well contained by the City defence and when Guthrie did get into a good position on 64 minutes Jupp saved well as Town won their first corner of the day.
St Albans saw a good amount of the ball in the Bluebirds half after the break but creatively was woefully short until Henry charged down the left and crossed to Barry Hayles whose volley was blocked, as was Taylor’s follow up effort.
City finally looked to have found a way through when Henry, freed by Taylor, drove a low cross to the back post where Shields spooned what appeared to be a certain goal over the crossbar before looking, with some justification, at the pitch which saw the ball bobble just as he swung his leg.
Town substitute Alan Griffin was thwarted by the combined efforts of Jupp and Simon Martin following a Harris free kick but the same combination came up trumps on 75 minutes when Harris’s free kick was flicked on by Steve Casey for Griffin to stretch a leg in front of Moussa Diarra and hook the ball past Jupp.
With defeat virtually certain City produced a belated flurry of activity in front of the Town goal with Martin going close from a Graham corner while Henry was denied by the diving John with Graham’s follow up blocked by Tyrone Mings’ desperate lunge.
David Howell batted away speculation regarding his future after the game but with the man who appointed him and believed to be his staunchest supporter in the boardroom, Ian Ridley, having resigned earlier in the week the pressure does appear to be building on the former captain of the England semi-professional side.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, R.Watts, D.Ijaha (M.Hyde 71), D.Gordon, J.Gray (M.Diarra 78), Se.Shields, M.Taylor, B.Hayles (S.Martin 71), C.Henry, R.Graham, subs; T.Charles, N.Hardy.
Booked: Seeby, Gordon.
Chippenham Town: B.John, A.Kite, T.Mings, A.Williams, S.Casey, A.Harris, S.Lye, J.Guthrie, L.Ballinger (I.Harvey 80), T.Knighton (D.Griffiths 83), L.Phillips (A.Griffin 68), subs; T.Osman, N.Rudge.
Booked: Harris, Griffin.
Goals: 24 0-1 Knighton, 85 0-2 Griffin.
Referee: Nic Evans (Huntingdon).