St Albans City slipped to a second home defeat in four days on Tuesday as Conference South champions Eastleigh romped to a 4-1 victory in a friendly fixture that for much of the very warm evening was closer than the score-line may suggest.
For long stretches of the game City held their own but the striking difference between the two sides was to be found in front of goal.
Whereas the Spitfires from Hampshire were decisive and confident going forward, St Albans lacked penetration and, after looking full of goals in the early summer friendly matches, are now appearing to be relying on John Frendo continuing his outstanding form of last season to see them through.
Speaking after the game, joint City manager James Gray praised the performances of forwards Warren McBean, Elliot Buchanan, Jack Ward and substitute Loick Pires, and whilst Buchanan and Ward showed some nice touches outside the penalty area none were a threat inside it.
McBean, on the other hand, had four decent opportunities but not once forced a save out of the Eastleigh keeper.
City took to the pitch in their new shirts for the first time and during the early exchanges competed pretty much on equal terms with the full-time Spitfires, although goal scoring opportunities were at a premium.
The opening goal arrived on 24 minutes when Tom Ward upended Michael Green just inside the home penalty area.
Ben Wright fired the resulting penalty to Tom Coulton’s right as the City keeper dived in the opposite direction.
St Albans were back on level terms three minutes later when a Jack Ward cross from the left was headed away only as far as the edge of the penalty area, where a controlled right-footed volley by Danny Green took a deflection on its was past the diving Eastleigh keeper Lewis Noice.
Coulton, in for the injured Joe Welch, once again proved himself to be a more than capable understudy and just after the half hour made a spectacular save to his left as a Jack Midson shot from 20 yards skimmed the head of a team mate inside the penalty area.
From possibly their most incisive move of the half City could have forged ahead but McBean, following excellent approach play Sam Corcoran and Lee Chappell, headed wastefully high over the York Road goal.
St Albans made six changes during the second half, and Eastleigh seven, but despite some good contributions by the City substitutes the threat to the visitors goal faded.
Gray’s main complaint about the Saints performance was their vulnerability when losing possession deep inside the Eastleigh half.
The point was never better illustrated than in the 58th minute when a swift counter-attack ended with Stuart Fleetwood threading a superb through ball towards the edge of the penalty area for Midson to take in his stride and beat Coulton with classy strike with the outside of his right boot.
Five minutes later and Eastleigh took a stranglehold on proceedings when a misunderstanding between Tom Ward and Coulton led to the Spitfires being handed an unnecessary corner.
Green, from out on the Eastleigh right, floated the ball towards the near post where substitute Tony Lee added the third goal with a deadly glancing header.
Ward’s day was almost made complete shortly after when he sliced an attempted clearance towards his own goal but, fortunately, Coulton was alert to save.
St Albans were not completely without chances but when it mattered, close to goal, Eastleigh were a yard or more sharper than their hosts.
The sharpness of the Spitfires, who included one-time Saint Ben Strevens in their ranks, was highlighted when Pires put a good ball up to Steve Wales who controlled it well, but by the time he fired for goal Chris Todd had dashed across to block.
Eastleigh completed the scoring on 76 minutes when Fleetwood, a Wales Under-21 international, supplied the pass from which the well-travelled Craig McAllister calmly slotted the fourth Spitfires goal into the York Road net.
By this time the game was being played in a murky light and when several attempts to switch on the floodlights failed referee Anthony Serrano, with just over six minutes remaining, called a premature halt to proceedings.
City face their first competitive match of the season on Saturday (2nd August) with a 1st Round Herts Charity Cup with Ware, kick off at Wodson Park is at 3pm.
John Frendo is set to return from holiday in time to lead the attack as the Saints look to extend their unbeaten run against their county rivals to a 20th match.
St Albans City: T.Coulton, J.Kyriacou (H.Hall 66), L.Chappell, S.Corcoran (L.Clarke 69), T.Ward, D.Locke, D.Green (M.Lette Jallow 66), J.Comley (M.Taylor 69), W.McBean (L.Pires 63), E.Buchanan, J.Ward (S.Wales 46).
Eastleigh: L.Noice, W.Evans, C.Todd, D.Beckwith, M.Green, C.Stanley, B.Strevens, J.Raison, J.Midson, J.Constable, B.Wright, subs used; R.Flitney, Y.Odubade, S.Fleetwood, C.McAllister, J.Smith, H.Weeks, T.Lee.
Referee: Anthony Serrano (Hemel Hempstead).