St Albans City warmed up for the Boxing Day showdown with Southern League leaders Hemel Hempstead Town by moving into the top five of the Premier Division with a 4-0 thumping of Banbury United at a wet Clarence Park on Saturday.
City maybe did not quite hit the heights of the performance that accounted for a previously unbeaten Leamington in their last home match but they were a class above a hardworking but well beaten Puritans side managed by former City assistant manager Ed Stein.
Richard Graham was, once again, the star as the rejuvenated Saints celebrated their first match under the no-longer caretaker but now permanent management duo of Graham Golds and Jimmy Gray by recording a third successive league win.
While Golds and Gray have taken a lot of credit for turning around the fortunes of the Saints, they have been aware that, until now, it has been achieved with the players of former manager David Howell.
But on Saturday City turned on the style with two new boys catching the eye.
Leading the attack was Greg Ngoyi with the former Hendon and Wealdstone striker marking his debut with a goal and going close on a couple of other occasions.
Substitute David Keenleyside, signed from London Colney but also a player with St Albans Sunday League side Skew Bridge, had to bide his time until replacing the again influential Sean Shields on 74 minutes.
In the time remaining Keenleyside relished his opportunity and a series of exciting surges down the right flank culminated with the 21-year-old teeing up Lewis Toomey for the fourth goal on his return from a prolonged lay off.
The match was one of just two in all three Divisions of the Southern League to survive the ongoing rain and provided ample vindication in having the pitch verti-drained some six weeks ago. Without such work then this match would almost certainly have joined those on the postponed list.
St Albans made one change from the side that won at Bedworth the previous weekend with Ngoyi stepping in for Tremayne Charles.
Banbury made three changes from the starting XI that defeated AFC Totton in midweek.
City were quickly into their stride and Banbury’s on loan ‘keeper from Luton Town, Lewis Kidd, dived to his right to push away a fine drive from Shields.
Given what was going on around the rest of the country the pitch held up remarkably well and City were able to play the short passing game that has been impressed on the team by Golds and Gray.
A spell of pressure ended with Ngoyi curling an effort just over and the 25-year-old also went close when Shields cut the ball back from the goal line.
Banbury also showed a willingness to get forward and it took a fine flying save by Jupp to deny Chris Lait after the midfielder had been put through by Albi Skendi.
The Puritans should have opened the scoring on 20 minutes when Skendi flighted a wonderful ball in from the left only for the incoming Kynan Isaac to miss his kick as the ball bounced up at the back post.
A minute later and Banbury were made to pay for that miss as City forged into the lead with a spectacular goal.
City attacked down the right with Henry ending a powerful run by crossing low into the six-yard box. The ball was blocked with Ngoyi blasting the rebound wide and out of the penalty where Shields took possession and quite majestically skipped past Adeyinka Talabi.
Shields’s driven cross was also blocked, by Luke Cray, but dropped perfectly for Graham to open the scoring with a sublimely controlled volley from 15 yards that dipped viciously over the flummoxed Kidd.
Banbury squandered another two decent openings when Isaac did well to battle his way between Layne Eadie and Curtis Ujah before darting past Jupp only to see his cut-back to Lait fired over the crossbar, while the well-placed Cray put another effort tamely through to Jupp.
The match moved firmly into City’s grasp on 39 minutes when the efficient Matt Taylor passed to Shields who darted into the penalty shifting from left to right foot before sending in a low pass that Ngoyi gleefully guided into the York Road net via his right instep.
St Albans appeared quite happy to sit on what they had after the interval and although they continued to be comfortable in possession some indifferent crossing restricted the goal scoring opportunities.
Banbury, though, did have a chance to get back into contention with a promising move down the right led to Lait having a shot that Jupp required two attempts at collecting.
From St Albans point of view the first incident worthy of note came in the 62nd minute with the return of the popular Toomey.
City seemed to perk up almost immediately and Henry burst into the penalty area but had the ball whipped from his toe by Scott Bridges as the goal beckoned.
With 16 minutes remaining Keenleyside and James Comley were ordered out of the sanctuary of the dug-out to replace Shields and Taylor as the rain became more sustained.
Three minutes later City scored another memorable goal as the Puritans accepted that a fourth consecutive away defeat was now inevitable.
Toomey nodded the ball into the path of Graham who, instinctively, drove a long defence splitting diagonal ball inside the right side of the Banbury defence that Henry clipped left-footed and first time beyond the advancing Kidd.
St Albans were now back in the mood and a spell of sustained pressure saw Keenleyside tease the visitor’s defence before tapping the ball to Henry and surging into the penalty area to take the return only for his right-footed shot to drift just the wrong side of the upright.
A fourth goal, that arrived on 89 minutes, had looked to be on the cards at any time and again was well worth waiting for.
Chris Seeby knocked the ball down the right flank for the free Keenleyside to clip first time into the middle where Toomey swept the ball under the diving Kidd from 10 yards.
Joining Golds and Gray in the technical area was Harry Wheeler who officially leaves his position of assistant manager at Potters Bar Town to be head coach at Clarence Park on 5th January.
St Albans visit to Hemel Hempstead on Boxing Day has a 3pm kick off at Vauxhall Road.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, L.Eadie, D.Ijaha, C.Ujah, M.Diarra, Se Shields (D.Keenleyside 74), M.Taylor (J.Comley 74), G.Ngoyi (L.Toomey 62), C.Henry, R.Graham, subs; F.Bufano, N.Hardy.
Booked: Ujah, Toomey.
Banbury United: L.Kidd, L.Cray, M.Martin, W.Blossom, G.Allen, H.Agyeman-Prempeh, C.Lait (N.Shariff 60), W.Plowright (S.Bridges 29), A.Skendi, K.Isaac, A.Talabi (A.Dumbleton 74), subs; R.Plowright, T.Ryan.
Referee: Jason Richardson (Pinner).