City manager Colin Lippiatt rang the changes at Victoria Stadium on Saturday then sat back to savour a welcome third victory at Northwich Victoria's impressive home as St Albans City moved into double points for the season with a three-goal first half salvo that leaves the Cheshire outfit still searching for their first home goals and points of the season.
Lippiatt bravely ditched wide men Matt Hann and Adam Wilde to push full-backs Damian Batt and Lee Flynn into more attacking positions supporting midfielders Tom Davis and Chris Seeby. City went for Paul Hakim and Simon Martin in attack - the latter starting a Conference match for the first time - with Lee Clarke tucked in just behind.
Picking one player above any others during the first half would be nigh on impossible but over the entire 90 minutes the back three of Gary Elphick, Dave Theobald and Magnus Okuonghae were outstanding and Paul Bastock immaculate as ever.
The game almost got off to a sensational start when a Danny Mayman cross was spectacularly sliced backwards by Davis from the edge of the penalty area and dipping just under the crossbar. It looked a goal but Bastock leapt high to his right to not only claw the ball away from goal but also smother it as Paul Brayson closed in as it fell to the ground. Three minutes later Bastock saved low from Vics skipper Stuart Elliot and the lively start was maintained with City's opening goal coming on nine minutes, and what a goal it was.
Seeby, having possibly his finest opening 45 minutes for the club, turned stylishly ten yards inside the Northwich half and played in Clarke who sent Hakim into the penalty area with delightful ball to the strikers right. Hakim could easily have gone down as he powered his way deep into the box before calmly firing across Ben Connett for his third goal of the season.
The first half was probably far more open than either bench would like with both defences stretched but doing well in the face of enterprising approach work. Northwich almost drew level on 21 minutes with a superb volley by Mayman, following Okuonghae's only misjudgement of the day, which struck the underside of the bar. City responded with Davis setting up Clarke for shot that Connett took comfortably but the keeper was thankful to see Davis scuff an effort wide on 29 minutes following excellent work by the lively Hakim.
The Saints second goal on 31 minutes was crafted quite superbly and had an unlikely executioner. Batt, outstanding before the interval, attacked down the right but seemed to be losing possession when Hakim stepped in, took the ball, and burst clear to drill low across the face of the goal to where Flynn ghosted in to notch his first goal in 30 games for the Saints.
Although anything but watertight at the back Northwich played their part in an entertaining first half but the dominance of the City defence blunted many promising attacks, two diving headed clearances by Elphick sticking in the memory.
Seven minutes from the break Clarke touched on a long Bastock kick to Martin whose cross was half volleyed back across goal and wide by Flynn. But the points were effectively sewn up on 41 minutes when Martin, some twelve yards from goal, laid off a Davis free kick from the right to Theobald who crashed the ball to Connett's left and into the roof of the net for his third goal of the season.
City lost Martin just prior to the interval with a back injury after a clash with Connett. Sozzo, who replaced Martin, also departed 15 minutes later with a leg injury. The disruption clearly unsettled City's balance but credit has to be given to the Vics for a storming second half performance. Having played second fiddle in the middle of the park earlier in the day Northwich dominated this area after the break with the introduction of Kevin Townson proving an inspired substitution.
Bastock made a stunning save from Paul Brayson's free header but the City keeper was helpless as a Jonny Allan shot thudded into an upright with Townson's powerful follow up curling narrowly wide. Mayman was next to go close with a rising drive while Seeby struck back with a thrilling run and crisp drive that Connett dived to his left to beat away.
Northwich returned to the offensive with Michael Byrne firing over while in quick succession Brayson had two shots charged down in quick succession courtesy of outstanding defending by Elphick and Okuonghae.
Just when it seemed as though the Vics spirited onslaught was petering out back they came again with Allan heading straight at Bastock before the same player received a wonderful pass from Townson only for the ball to once more thud into the frame of the City goal.