A spectacular save by the record breaking Paul Bastock and a 35th goal of the season for John Frendo combined to return St Albans City to winning ways at a wet Clarence Park on Monday as a gritty Chippenham Town succumbed to a 1-0 Southern League defeat.
City’s joint-management team of Graham Golds and James Gray did not hold back after seeing their ten match unbeaten run come to an end on Saturday and made four changes as the Saints sought to defeat Chippenham for the first time.
Right-back Kerrea Gilbert, midfielders Richard Graham and Matt Taylor, and striker Peter Dean were all sacrificed as City did more than a bit of tinkering with the line up.
Howard Hall came into the back four while James Kaloczi bolstered the midfield with Chris Henry recalled to the flank and Mark Nwokeji joining Frendo in attack.
Gentle rain wafted down onto Clarence Park as the game got underway but this was soon replaced by constant and more substantial droplets. Once again though, the excellent drainage at the Park was up to the task and the game was never in danger of not being completed.
Hall wasted no time in announcing his return and looked to set up Nwokeji for an early chance.
Aaron Oakley moved across to clear but Hall immediately regained possession and whipped over a low cross that Henry, under pressure from Harley Purnell, just failed to turn in from inside the six-yard box.
With that attack the tone for the half had been set; St Albans had little trouble in creating openings but capitalising on them was another matter altogether.
The Bluebirds conceded a free kick for a foul on Nwokeji just outside the penalty area on nine minutes, and the from the ensuing set piece, beautifully curled in by the left foot of Frendo, keeper Ben John was saved by his right hand upright.
But before Town could completely clear their lines, Ram Marwa and Nwokeji combined to free Henry whose cross from the left this time evaded Frendo in front of the Hatfield Road goal.
Chippenham were just about hanging on and a linesman’s flag came to their rescue as Nwokeji drove the ball against the crossbar.
St Albans only goal from their previous two matches had come from the penalty spot and there was a growing sense of frustration as skipper Ben Martin headed wide from a James Comley corner.
But on 20 minutes normal service was resumed as the City faithful rose to acclaim Frendo as he expertly volleyed home his 35th goal of the season following Henry’s superb left-footed cross from the right touchline.
As City looked to take a firm grip on proceedings Nwokeji was out of luck with two chances in quick succession. Both openings were created by Comley.
The first, a quick throw, saw Nwokeji denied by the sprawling John while the second saw the striker in two minds as Comley’s long ball landed on the edge of the penalty.
Nwokeji chose to try to control the falling ball but could only help it through to the keeper.
As City’s early dominance began to fade Chippenham mustered a few attacking moves of their own.
But other than for a speculative effort by skipper Alan Griffin, with his back to goal and which was easily gathered by Bastock, the home goal was put under little serious threat.
City, though, were far from finished and Lee Chappell – a leading contender in the Player of the Year stakes – caused frequent trouble when venturing down the left touchline, while Henry flashed a shot wide following a half-cleared Comley corner.
The Saints almost added a freak second goal when Kaloczi nudged another Comley corner back into the goalmouth where Rob Dean’s attempted clearance smacked into Frendo, with John doing well to save the ricochet right on the goalline.
John then pulled off a wonderfully acrobatic save to clutch the ball as Frendo attempted to lob him from the edge of the penalty area.
Frendo, whose goals have led to him receiving some pretty rough treatment in recent games, left the field shortly before half time for a change of shirt and treatment to a cut lip following a clash with Greg Tindle.
While Frendo was off the pitch Chippenham, wearing borrowed shorts after turning up in the same colours as St Albans, went close with a shot across the face of the goal by Lee Phillips.
The second half was very much a disappointing one from the St Albans viewpoint, as they struggled to match their earlier form, but the Bluebirds gave a much improved account of themselves and the destiny of the points remained in doubt until the final whistle.
City were not quite a spent force though and Hall glided down the flank before striking an excellent ball into the middle that Henry again failed to put away when lunging forward, while Frendo went close with a snapshot.
On 57 minutes Chippenham sliced City open when a good piece of control by Joe McClennan was followed a swift exchange between Dean and Griffin.
Despite being pulled back by Marwa, Dean stretched to shoot to Bastock’s left only for the evergreen keeper to excel to tip the ball onto the post.
McClennan seized on the rebound and slid the ball into the goalmouth from where Phillips, quite inexplicably, managed to scoop his shot over the crossbar.
City hit back with Chappell striking a free kick straight into John’s midriff while Frendo rolled a shot just wide of the target.
Henry did manage to put the ball into the back of the net but a touch by an offside Marwa rendered the goal invalid.
St Albans could have been excused for closing the game down but, instead, it remained open and Chippenham were very much still in the hunt. That all three substitutes City sent on were forwards outlined the manner in which they wanted to secure victory.
The open nature of the game continued with Jamal Lowe twice going close for City before presenting Kaloczi with a chance that John smothered.
At the opposite end of the pitch the well-placed Town substitute Luke Hopper shot gently through to Bastock.
The closing stages were probably more frantic than City would have wished for but a 10th home win strengthens the Saints grip on third place in Premier Division and moves them five points clear of fourth placed Stourbridge.
St Albans return to Southern League action on Saturday, 22 February, when Redditch United are the visitors to Clarence Park, kick off is at 3pm.
Another record fell during the win over Chippenham, as Paul Bastock edged past Mark Pearson’s total of 301 appearances to become the goalkeeper to have played more games for the club than any other.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, B.Martin, J.Kaloczi, J.Comley J.Frendo (P.Dean 80), M.Nwokeji (E.Bailey 75), C.Henry (J.Lowe 68), subs; D.Green, R.Graham.
Chippenham Town: B.John, H.Parnell, P.Monks, B.Smith (C.King 84), A.Oakley, G.Tindle, J.McClennan, R.Dean, A.Griffin, L.Phillips (L.Hopper 75), T.Leigh (J.Guthrie 66), subs; J.Simpson, K.Kauppinen.
Goal: 20 1-0 Frendo.
Referee: Lee Forrester (Luton).