Goals from Chris Henry and James Kaloczi edged a woefully out of form St Albans City a step closer to the Southern League Premier Division promotion play-offs on Saturday with a thoroughly unconvincing 2-1 win over bottom dogs Bedford Town.
Everything was in place for the Saints to put their recent jitters behind them and really hammer out a warning to those sides desperate to steal their cherished play-off place.
Clarence Park, sun-kissed throughout, looked a treat. Another tremendous attendance filed through the gates.
Anticipation was high for John Frendo to score a hat-trick, while Bedford would lie down and be thrashed.
Unfortunately the script the City players had was somewhat different and in the closing stages, in fact for much of the second half, it was the Eagles that looked the more coherent and confident outfit.
Joint-City manager James Gray was like a simmering volcano during his post match interview, and his frustration was understandable after watching his side limp over the finishing line against a team that suffered its 18th consecutive league defeat.
St Albans kicked off with two changes from the starting XI that ground out a goalless bore with Biggleswade earlier in the week.
Tall striker George Sykes, signed on loan from Barnet on Friday, joined Frendo in attack, while Henry lined up on the left wing. Elliot Bailey and Danny Green were the players to make way.
City, attacking the Hatfield Road end, began in positive mood with right-back Kerrea Gilbert having an early effort charged down.
Five minutes in and Gilbert was again in the thick of the action as his cross clipped the face of the crossbar.
Lee Chappell returned the ball into the goalmouth where Sykes placed shot with his instep was blocked by Stuart Wall. The ball ran loose to Sam Corcoran but his rushed shot spooned high over the goal.
Five minutes later Chappell set up Tom Ward by the near post, and after a neat piece of control and swift turn the central defender pulled an excellent save out of keeper Lee Crockett.
It did just seem to be a matter of time before the leakiest defence in the entire league would crack and on 18 minutes City did forge ahead.
Half hearted appeals for a penalty, for a trip by one-time Saint John Sonuga on Sykes, were waved away by referee Wade Norcott, but before Bedford could fully clear their lines City were bearing down on goal again.
Corcoran hooked the ball forward, Wall beat Frendo in the air but the ball ran onto James Comley who moved it quickly out to his left and into the path of Henry.
With his second touch Henry drove a left-footed shot low into the middle of the goal.
The floodgates appeared to be edging open when Ram Marwa played the ball up to Frendo whose misdirected touch sent the ball perfectly out to Chappell.
But Chappell, with a blistering drive, was denied his first goal on home soil by the upright and Crockett did well to palm Frendo’s follow up for a corner.
Soon after, Henry won City’s fifth corner of the match and Frendo looked to have added a second goal from it after Crockett, under pressure from Ben Martin, failed to hold the ball.
But the referee had other ideas and awarded the Eagles a free kick. If the decision was against Martin then it was harsh, but if it was for a push by Sykes on Stefan Powell then it was reasonable.
From that moment on, having dominated possession thus far, City gradually disintegrated, whereas Bedford grew in confidence.
Jamie Nicholls, freed by Jerry Nash, tested Paul Bastock with a powerful drive that the City keeper could only parry before smothering at the second attempt.
City lost Comley on 39 minutes, due to a tightening of his leg muscles, but that did at least allow Kaloczi to come off the bench and be one of the Saints better performers.
The Eagles gave notice of their threat within a minute of the restart when Paul Cooper broke away down the right and cut the ball low into the middle to Kerran Birch, who wastefully scooped his shot to the back row of the terrace.
If there was any uncertainty as to where the points where heading then it should have been dispelled on 62 minutes, as City moved into a two-goal lead.
Gilbert and Marwa exchanged four short passes before Marwa laid the ball inside to Kaloczi.
A quick turn took Kaloczi clear of Powell and when at the edge of the penalty area he swayed wide of Wall before claiming his seventh goal of the season from some 15 yards out with a firm right-footed drive to the left of the keeper.
The 19-year-old is St Albans second highest scorer in the league this season.
From one more Henry inspired move City so nearly struck for the third time.
Breaking clear down the tight, Henry fired low into the penalty where Town defender Luca Seminerio, in attempting to clear, drove the ball straight into his keeper.
As the rebound headed away from goal Kaloczi moved in but a goal was not forthcoming when Seminerio, seemingly knowing little about it, blocked the shot on the goalline and allowed Crockett to fall onto it.
Bedford tried their luck with a couple of efforts that failed to worry Bastock, but while Kaloczi was off the pitch having treatment to a bloodied nose, substitute Sam Macrae, on 77 minutes, reduced the deficit with a well-struck effort from 12 yards.
As City rocked, Bastock had to save low down from Birch, and then, in the final minute, was forced to rush swiftly towards the edge of the penalty area to collect the ball after Powell had sent Birch clear of the City defence.
City responded with a long clearance by Bastock that saw the generally anonymous Frendo challenge Crockett to the bouncing ball on the edge of the penalty area.
When Crockett failed to hold the ball, substitute Bailey attempted to it into the goal but his under strength effort was comfortably intercepted by Macrae.
As unimpressive as the performance may have been, St Albans remain on course for a play-off place but take a break from league action this coming Monday, 17th March, when what is expected to be a much changed line up will face Hitchin Town in the semi final of the Herts Charity Cup.
Kick off at Clarence Park is at 7.45pm.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, K.Gilbert, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, B.Martin, S.Corcoran (D.Green 55), J.Comley (J.Kaloczi 39), J.Frendo, G.Sykes (E.Bailey 72), C.Henry, subs; H.Hall, P.Dean.
Bedford Town: L.Crockett, P.Cooper, L.Seminerio (A.Kabeya 72), J.Nicholls (S.Macrae 53), S.Wall, J.Sonuga, J.Davis (A.Thomas 66), S.Powell, S.Alalade, K.Birch, J.Nash.
Goals: 18 1-0 Henry, 62 2-0 Kaloczi, 77 2-1 Macrae.
Referee: Wade Norcott (Harlow).