Patience paid off for St Albans City at Woodside Park on Saturday as a second half blitz ended with a 5-1 rout of a new-look but still in free-fall Bishop’s Stortford in National League South.
The match was goalless for an hour but as the tally of shots on the home goal rose it did just seem a matter of time before the Bishop’s would crack.
And once Tom Bender had headed City in front then it was simply a matter of how many times Ian Allinson’s in-form Saints could plant the ball into the back of Tom Lovelock’s net; it was five but could have been plenty more.
The match was hugely significant for a number of City players.
Both Bender – with his first goal for the club – and Junior Morias announced their return from suspension by scoring, while Sam Merson netted his sixth in four games and Louie Theophanous took his recent run to a dozen goals in as many games.
Stortford, playing their first home league game under new managers Mark Hawkes and Steve Smith, handed debuts to four players and included several others that have made not even a handful of appearances.
With this defeat the Bishop’s slip to the foot of the table and having shipped eleven goals in the past two games there is, clearly, still a lot of rebuilding work to be done by City’s county rivals.
St Albans have no such problems and climbed back into the play-off positions with their biggest away win over the Bishop’s.
Allinson reinstated Bender at left-back and brought the experienced David Noble into the midfield after a spell out through injury. The former Exeter City player received his manager’s vote for being the best player on the park.
Morias had to bide his time on the bench for 68 minutes.
Barely two minutes had elapsed before City first threatened the home goal with Theophanous, clear of the Bishop’s back line, just unable to control Josh Hill’s high punt downfield as the ball dropped over his shoulder.
Had the ball bounced to Theophanous’ right rather than left after hitting his foot then an out of position Lovelock would have struggled to recover his ground.
Theophanous had six other efforts on goal as he looked to bolster his position as the Saints leading scorer this season.
Stortford’s central defender George Allen did well to block a point-blank effort from Theophanous after Ben Martin had headed a Noble free kick into the goalmouth.
In a swift turnaround the Bishop’s enjoyed a short spell where they applied pressure on the City goal.
However, a soft shot by Rohdell Gordon, easily blocked by Martin, was the closest they came to upsetting their guests.
After a quiet spell City got into their stride with more meaningful passing that opened Stortford up almost at will.
On 35 minutes Theophanous latched onto a loose pass by Gordon and with one-touch sent Merson away only for his attacking partner to roll a tame effort through to Lovelock.
A minute later a very patient build-up ended with Lee Chappell cushioning a Ben Herd cross into the path of Theophanous whose shot was blocked by the combined effort of Lovelock and Allen.
Bender, with a header, was next to be thwarted by the busy Lovelock but the ‘keeper was aided by a touch of good fortune to keep Bender out again just prior to the interval.
Chappell crossed from the City right to Bender at the back post. Lovelock, initially, caught but then fumbled Bender’s header, but was able to convince the match officials that the ball had not crossed the goalline as he spun round and smothered it as Hill closed in.
The half time interval did little to disrupt St Albans and Stortford were quickly forced to continue a rearguard action upon resumption.
Even so, the Saints did have an anxious moment when Aaron Greene’s cross from the left proved just too long for the incoming Femi Akinwande and Jamie Slabber.
Four minutes into the half and Lovelock pulled off an outstanding save when clawing a Bender header to safety following a Chappell corner.
As City turned up the heat Lovelock dived to his right to keep out a Noble free kick and then grabbed a Theophanous effort at the base of the same upright.
Theophanous then had a half-volley blocked for a corner and another attempted lob superbly caught by the home keeper following a long ball from Hill.
The Bishop’s resistance was finally broken on the hour when City captain Chappell arrowed a long throw from the Saints left to the edge of the six-yard box, from where Bender sent a header, or more accurately a shoulder, high to the left of the diving Lovelock for the opening goal.
Three minutes later and Stortford were in serious trouble as City added an excellent second goal.
A lengthy spell of keeping possession ended with Herd chipping a clever pass between Marvel Ekpiteta and Gordon to Scott Thomas who in turn pushed it onto Noble.
Standing some 30 yards from goal Noble lifted a measured left-footed cross towards the unmarked Merson who produced his trademark stunning leap to send a dipping header back across Lovelock from 12 yards to double City’s lead.
City keeper James Russell had his hands warmed for the first time on 65 minutes when Gordon cut in from the right and unleashed a powerful shot that was smartly pushed away by the diving custodian Two minutes St Albans took complete control with a third goal.
Merson won possession from Allen and fed Noble whose perfectly flighted pass found Theophanous on the edge of the penalty area.
Theophanous went to go wide before twisting inside the bemused Harry Hickford and firing left-footed across the diving Lovelock.
The match was now over as a contest and it was of little surprise when a fourth goal was posted on 84 minutes.
A long free kick by Russell was deflected out to substitute Dipo Akinyemi who came in from the left and squeezed a good ball through to Theophanous.
With an assured touch Theophanous slotted a low shot to the right of Lovelock for his 35th goal in 69 games for the Saints.
With just one goal in the credit column at home all season that Stortford pulled a goal back on 88 minutes probably came as big a surprise to them as it did St Albans.
Moving in from the right flank Akinwande received short pass from Elliott Ronto and beat Russell with a spectacular effort from close on 30 yards.
City’s afternoon appeared to have been tainted but three minutes into added time the four-goal advantage was restored.
Martin laid the ball out to the right to George Casey who guided a short forward pass to the feet of the unmarked Morias.
Since coming off the bench Morias had caused Stortford numerous problems and duly bagged the goal he had appeared eager to get with a clinically placed ground shot under Lovelock’s despairing dive.
City’s bid to strengthen their position in the top five of National League South returns to Clarence Park next Saturday, 29th October, with the visit of Truro City, kick off is at 3pm.
Tickets for City’s FA Cup tie with Carlisle United, which takes place at 2pm on Sunday 6th November, can be purchased during the Truro match.
Bishop’s Stortford: T.Lovelock, M.Ekpiteta, J.Herd, M.Richens, G.Allen, H.Hickford, R.Gordon (P.Rodgers 68), Z.Fagan (L.Sawyer 46), J.Slabber, F.Akinwande, A.Greene (E.Ronto 79), subs not used: J.Ekim, M.Toner.
Booked: Richens, Rodgers, Sawyer.
St Albans City: J.Russell, G.Casey, T.Bender, L.Chappell, B.Martin, J.Hill, B.Herd, Sc.Thomas (S.Lucien 70), L.Theophanous, S.Merson (J.Morias 68), D.Noble (D.Akinyemi 81), subs not used: M.Ball, R.Hoenes.
Goals: 60 0-1 Bender, 63 0-2 Merson, 67 0-3 Theophanous, 84 0-4 Theophanous, 88 1-4 Akinwande, 90+2 1-5 Morias.
Referee: Colin Lymer (Mayford).