John Frendo, last season’s top scorer in the Southern League and Golden Boot winner, hammered out a four-goal warning to the Premier Division that he is back to his best as St Albans City brushed aside a youthful AFC Totton 5-2 at Testwood Park on Saturday.
Frendo provided a welcome cutting edge to some cultured approach play by the Saints as he became the first City player to score four times in an away league match for 27 years.
In addition to his four goals Frendo had another disallowed and also struck the woodwork as a revamped City side moved into the top five of the Premier Division.
St Albans made four changes from the side that laboured its way to a draw at Hitchin during the week.
Joint manager James Gray stood down while Darren Locke, Aryan Tajbakhsh and Chris Henry were all dropped. There was also no space in the squad for Ryan Ashe and Chris O’Leary.
Ben Martin returned from a hamstring injury to captain the side quite superbly from the middle of the back line.
Layne Eadie came in for his first start of the season and looked more than comfortable at left back.
David Keenleyside replaced Tajbakhsh on the right of the midfield and caused the home defence several problems.
But most attention focused on the attack as Greg Ngoyi lined up alongside Frendo for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Unfortunately City had only 17 minutes to see if the duo can play together before Ngoyi departed with a hamstring injury that is likely to sideline him for 2-3 weeks. Ngoyi’s misfortune allowed substitute Mark Nwokeji to represent City in a league match for the first time in seven years.
Totton showed one alteration from the XI that lost to a last minute Truro goal in midweek with Ryan Hill replacing Taylor Edwards.
The match kicked off in glorious sunshine but this area of Hampshire had been subject to heavy rain for much of the hour leading up to the game. The pitch, however, drained remarkably well.
The opening exchanges were even but City had gained the upper hand some time before opening the scoring.
Frendo fired the ball home on 24 minutes following a fine cross by Lee Chappell but a raised linesman’s flag curtailed the celebrations.
A minute later Frendo, who in addition to his goals also linked extremely well with his team-mates outside of the penalty area, drove a powerful shot that clipped the crossbar.
City’s pressure was beginning to tell and on 29 minutes Frendo stretched to get the ball out to Keenleyside. With a well-placed first time touch Keenleyside played the ball back into Frendo who beat home keeper Joe McCormack with the aid of a deflection off Dean Faithfull.
Totton went close with Michael Bada heading wide but it was no great surprise when City added a second goal on 41 minutes with a patient build up after Eadie had broken up a Stags attack.
The ball was moved forward quickly by Chappell to Frendo to Comley. After advancing unchallenged for 25 yards Comley slid an exquisite ball into the on-running Frendo who calmly guided it wide of the exposed McCormack.
Two minutes later Totton rallied and reduced the arrears. Referee Gary Parsons appeared to penalise Eadie somewhat harshly to hand the Stags a free kick that skipper Chris Ferrett curled from the right in towards the back post.
Under pressure, Eadie headed away only for Faithfull to return the ball goalwards where Luke Roberts was credited with getting the final touch from an outstretched leg to pull the home side back into contention.
But a measure of the difference between the two sides was emphasised in the first minute of added time when Frendo completed his hat trick.
Faithfull blocked a shot by Frendo but as the ball dropped back to earth Joe Noakes attempted an ill-advised headed back pass from 25 yards out that Frendo quickly latched onto and neatly side-stepped McCormack before scoring from close range.
Five minutes after the restart Alex Moth headed just over for the Stags but the outcome was pretty much finalised when Frendo scored his fourth goal on 52 minutes.
A City attack looked to be breaking down when Keenleyside lost possession but Totton were soon in trouble again when the impressive Richard Graham tackled Noakes inside the penalty area.
Graham’s options looked limited but, spotting a run by Frendo, nudged an excellent pass forward for Frendo to collect and cut inside the diving Faithfull before shooting under McCormack from inside the six yard box.
During the remaining 48 minutes St Albans had several chances to extend their lead as Nwokeji just failed to turn in an Eadie cross, and Frendo was twice denied by McCormack while an angled shot by Henry hit an upright and was turned in by Matt Taylor only for this to become City’s second disallowed goal of the day for offside.
A fifth goal was finally recorded on 81 minutes after Totton appeals for a penalty, for an alleged foul by the reliable Ryan Wharton, were correctly ignored by the referee.
City counter-attacked with Comley, Taylor, Graham and Eadie all involved before Graham’s second part in the move was to lift a perfect floated ball up to Henry whose cushioned first time volleyed pass teed up Nwokeji.
After bringing the ball down with his right foot the 31-year-old cracked home his first goal for the club with his left foot.
These may be troubled times for the Stags but they had cause for minor celebrations in the final minute when Rob Flooks headed a Hill corner into the goalmouth for Roberts to volley home from virtually on the goalline.
Other than the injury sustained by Ngoyi, the only blot on the day for City were three bookings collected by Comley, Frendo and Wharton. All were cautioned for kicking the ball away – dissent – although Frendo seemed to be particularly hard done by.
St Albans are next in action on Saturday 14th September when Isthmian League side Enfield Town are the visitors to Clarence Park for an FA Cup 1st Round Qualifying tie.
Former Saint Tony Kelly, who also played for the original Enfield, will be guest of the club for the day following the recent launch of his autobiography, Red Card.