Elliot Bailey was the toast of Clarence Park on Saturday as the teenager’s first goal on home soil since last April kept St Albans City’s Southern League promotion bid on course with a dour 2-1 Premier Division victory over Redditch United.
Redditch, defeated in all of the previous five meetings between the two clubs, seemed to be resolutely holding out for a point when, with just 14 minutes remaining, Bailey peeled away from his marker and calmly volleyed a Lee Chappell long throw past static keeper Bradley Catlow.
On the balance of play City probably did just enough to warrant the three points, but for the second time in six days maximum points were plundered in an ugly fashion, and a rapid return to the form of a couple of weeks ago is required if they are not to squander a play-off place.
Playing towards the York Road goal City, with Sam Corcoran making a long anticipated debut in midfield, made an encouraging start but Redditch hit back strongly and forced six corners inside the opening 12 minutes.
One of the better features of a disjointed City performance was the way in which Chappell attacked with purpose down the left flank and drove in several dangerous low crosses.
One such cross on 13 minutes was knocked back out for a Saints throw in front of the main stand.
Chappell’s long throw has proved a useful weapon in the Saints armoury this season even if it has produced few goals; that all changed in this match.
As the ball was propelled by Chappell over a cluster of five players at the near post, Catlow waited for it to bounce up into his arms but the United custodian had not allowed for the predatory instincts of John Frendo, who swooped forward and stooped to head home his 36th goal of the season.
Frendo will miss City’s next three games, through suspension, and at a time when the side has suddenly found goals difficult to come by his absence could seriously hinder St Albans promotion charge.
Although City keeper Paul Bastock was not overly burdened with shots directly at his goal, Redditch did look useful going forward and the City back line did not appear as solid as is usually the case.
Omari Sterling-James was a constant thorn in City’s side but the one-time Walsall trialist blazed one good chance high and wide after Bastock failed to get any distance on an attempted clearance.
But the Reds were not to be denied for long and on 23 minutes drew level.
A good touch by Jermaine Hylton sent Sterling-James clear of Chappell and racing into the penalty area.
The 20-year-old showed great composure as he waited for Bastock to commit himself before sliding the ball wide of the prone keeper.
The goal provided the cue for a red flare to be ignited behind Bastock's goal and for smoke to drift onto the pitch.
A minute later Redditch again broke swiftly and when Edwin Ahenkorah helped Sterling-James low ball across the face of the goal Jamie Molyneux just failed to make contact at the back post.
Having started brightly, by now St Albans were struggling to string any coherent moves together although a fine first time cross by Chappell was headed just wide by Frendo.
One of the more free flowing moves saw Howard Hall attack down the right and slip the ball inside to one-time Chelmsford City midfielder Corcoran.
As Catlow raced from his line, Corcoran lifted the ball over the keeper towards Frendo whose back post header was partially blocked Tyrone Williams.
Peter Dean, unsuccessfully, claimed a penalty, for a foul by Sam Youngs, as he attempted to drill home Oshungbure weak clearance, the ball ran on to Ram Marwa whose clean strike was safely gathered by Catlow.
The closest City came to securing an interval lead was from a Frendo free kick that the tall Catlow caught under the crossbar.
Sadly, the manner in which the opening half fell away badly was just a taster for a second half almost devoid of good passing football.
Even so, a promising Redditch move saw Sterling-James lay the ball wide to Hylton who cut inside smartly only to shoot straight at a grateful Bastock.
A good chance went begging at the other end when Comley sent Hall down the right but his low cross was missed at the near post by Frendo with no one offering support behind.
Catlow, who appeared a steady pair of hands in the United goal, did well to save at the feet of Chris Henry following a good ball into the penalty area by Frendo.
And the keeper was alert again soon after when whipping the ball from Bailey’s toe after his first touch, from Graham’s fine long pass, just failed to completely kill the ball.
But with just 14 minutes remaining Bailey’s touch could not have been truer as he drifted away from Joel Caines and sent an exquisite volley, with the instep of his right foot, high to Catlow’s right for his first league goal in four months.
Chappell presented Henry with an opportunity to mark his 100th appearance with a goal, but after cutting in from the left saw his low shot parried once more by Catlow.
Redditch caused nerves to jangle in the closing minutes, firstly when Youngs twisted and fired over from 20 yards.
Soon after, Hylton flew past Hall, then cut inside the retreating defender, before drilling the ball across the goal and being denied as corner even though it appeared to flick Ben Martin’s head and be diverted wide of the far post.
City’s 11th home Premier Division win of the season takes their points tally to 64, the highest since winning promotion to the Conference National in 2005-06.
St Albans return to action this coming Tuesday, 25 February, with a first league meeting with Biggleswade Town. Kick off at Langford Road is at 7.45pm.
In addition to Frendo, James Comley will also miss the trip to Biggleswade as he serves a one-match ban.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, H.Hall, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, B.Martin, S.Corcoran (C.Henry 58), J.Comley (J.Kaloczi 86) J.Frendo, P.Dean (E.Bailey 69), R.Graham, subs; K.Gilbert, M.Nwokeji.
Booked: Comley, Chappell.
Redditch United: B.Catlow, T.Williams, J.Caines (J.Mutton 86), L.Oshungbure, C.Flanagan, N.Jackson, O.Sterling-James, S.Youngs, E.Ahenkorah (M.Loveridge 83), J.Hylton, J.Molyneux (H.Headley 58), subs; O.Recci, S.Hornby Booked: Jackson, Headley, Oshungbure.
Goals: 13 1-0 Frendo, 24 1-1 Sterling-James, 76 2-1 Bailey.
Referee: Paul Evans (Hartwell, Northants).