St Albans City supporters looked on as champions Leamington paraded the Southern League trophy at The New Windmill Ground on Saturday but the Saints followers were given a treasured memory of their own as leading goal scorer Greg Ngoyi signed off with a spectacular 90th minute strike in City’s 2-1 defeat.
City were unfortunate not to grab at least a point from a low-key encounter but with their 30th Premier Division success of the season Paul Holleran’s side are worthy champions.
After forming a guard of honour for their hosts as they entered the pitch, St Albans started the game in good form.
Playing down the slope towards the Harbury Lane goal with a very cold wind that blew to their backs and across the pitch, City threatened the home goal with efforts from Curtis Shaw and Ngoyi but only Chris Henry, coming in from the left, forced Brakes keeper Laurie Walker into making a save.
City were also denied a clear shot on goal when Leamington defender Jamie Hood was penalised for a bit of shirt pulling on Ngoyi just as he passed to the completely free Henry.
After a tiring 120-minute cup tie less than two days earlier, City could have been excused for being leg weary.
In fact, they pushed the ball around with composure on the well-grassed Harbury Lane pitch and it was 25 minutes before the Brakes were afforded a shot on goal, which the clear Stefan Moore fired wide of both the advancing Nick Jupp and goal.
Leamington gave notice of their attacking strength when Joe Magunda played the ball in from the right to Liam Daly whose cleanly struck drive from fully 30 yards was superbly pushed away high to his right by the excellent Jupp.
A minute later, the 36th, the Brakes were given a helping hand when Dodd ran at Josh Urquhart on the City left and was sent tumbling to the ground just inside the penalty area.
Referee Kevin Morris wasted no time in pointing to the penalty spot and Dodd got the biggest Southern League attendance of the season into party mood when planting the ball high to Jupp’s left to open the scoring.
Just a minute from the interval and City’s task became virtually impossible when they conceded a second very soft goal.
Urquhart, one of the star performers from Thursday’s Herts Charity Cup success, found his fortunes dipping as he moved to intercept a through ball just as Jupp dashed towards the edge of the penalty area to collect the ball.
Unfortunately for Urquhart, he lost his footing under pressure from Moore and the ball ran kindly into the path of Ricky Johnson who stroked his 12th goal of the season into the most vacant of open goals.
Urquhart was sacrificed at half time as joint-manager James Gray brought himself on for his first game in ten weeks.
Gray joined Fabio Bufano in the middle of the defence as skipper for day Ryan Wharton moved across to right-back.
Leamington looked a different proposition at the start of the second half and threatened to give City a hammering to match last season’s final day of the season 6-0 drubbing at the then champions Brackley Town.
Inside the opening minute Jupp did well to punch over from Richard Batchelor following good work by Moore. From the ensuing corner three headers kept the ball dangerously close to the City goal but when Batchelor looked odds onto score the Brakes striker miscued the ball completely.
Right in the middle of the Leamington onslaught City did manage to cause a flutter in the home defence when a corner by Shaw bobbled its way through a crowded goalmouth before being hacked clear by Brakes skipper Hood.
Jupp had to be alert to gather a superbly controlled volley by Lee Chilton following Mace’s long raking cross, and the City keeper followed that up when catching Batchelor’s header from 18 yards.
Walker had to be equally watchful from a looping Bufano header at the opposite end of the pitch, the Brakes keeper eventually electing to tip the ball over for a City corner.
Having regained their composure City moved forward with a long patient build up that ended with James Kaloczi’s fierce drive being well beaten out by the diving Walker.
Ngoyi was next to test the home keeper with a decent effort from 20-yards while the City striker also skied another effort after turning swiftly inside the penalty area.
City looked certain to home goalless after Shaw, in a matter of seconds, had two driven efforts charged down by Walker.
But just a minute from time the Saints did manage to put a mild dampener on Leamington’s party with a glorious goal.
Layne Eadie played a short ball in from the left to Richard Graham on the halfway line. City’s Player of the Year threaded a pass up to Ngoyi who embarked on a direct run that ended with a blistering right-footed shot from 25-yards that crashed into the net high to the left of the leaping Walker.
Ngoyi’s 16th goal in just 22 games for the Saints may not have been sufficient to save the game but it gave the small band of City supporters at Harbury Lane hope for what may lie ahead in 12-months time.