With a five star display at the Spencer Stadium St Albans City regained control of their destiny on Saturday and with a 5-1 victory handed the Puritans of Banbury United an all too familiar drubbing.
For Banbury the match was the 13th in the past 15 outings for Ed Stein side that has seen them concede three or more goals.
While for City, aided by results elsewhere on Saturday, the target is now a maximum of four points from the remaining two league games to secure a place in the Southern League play offs.
After some staid performances of late City displayed none of the inhibitions seen in recent weeks and with a remarkable 24 attempts on the home goal could have won by a considerably more significant margin.
City went into the game without Ben Martin but in Tom Ward had excellent cover for their suspended skipper.
There were also recalls for Sam Corcoran and George Sykes as the Saints recorded their first win at the Spencer Stadium.
Without a goal in their previous two matches, City took just 57 seconds to breach the third leakiest defence in the Premier Division.
John Frendo, looking at his sharpest for some weeks, shrugged off Luke Feathers and tested keeper Scott Dutton with a low drive that the custodian did well to block.
Unfortunately for Dutton, the ball rebounded to Steve Wales who, via the inside of the keeper’s right hand post, claimed his third goal in five games.
Playing into a breeze on a dry though well-grassed pitch, St Albans sought to sew the game up early on but other than for a shot by the rejuvenated James Comley, which Dutton saved with ease, the threat on the home goal was limited.
Banbury, fresh from two consecutive wins but showing ten changes from the XI that started at Clarence Park back in August, grew in confidence as the half wore on with Melanius Mullarkey giving City left-back Lee Chappell several testing moments.
From one surging run down the wing, Mullarkey laid the ball inside to Albi Skendi who in turn fed Marvin Martin. With a stunningly powerful left-footed drive from 25 yards Martin forced Paul Bastock into requiring two attempts to complete a save.
On 26 minutes Mullarkey won Banbury’s first corner of the afternoon.
Martin floated the ball towards the back post where it was met by Fathers whose header from around ten yards would have been collected by Bastock had it not deflected into the net off Comley.
The Puritans now moved forward with some menace but were unable to penetrate the City back line.
Gradually St Albans regained the upper hand with Darren Locke going close to forcing home a Chappell corner while Corcoran scooped a shot onto the roof of the net.
Banbury’s challenge all but ended when Frendo confirmed his return to form with two goals in four minutes late in the half.
Sykes won a throw-in deep inside the Banbury half, on 37 minutes, and caught the home side napping by rushing to take the throw himself and picking out Frendo inside the penalty area.
With three defenders close by Frendo simply waited for the ball to bounce before striking a superb half volley from wide on the left that dipped over the flaying arm of Dutton and just under the crossbar to restore City’s advantage.
On 41 minutes City assumed total control.
Comley latched onto Howard Hall’s pass down the right and knocked a perfect early ball into the centre of the penalty area for the unmarked Frendo to place to the left of the exposed Dutton.
The Puritans keeper was soon back in the action as City pressed forward.
A long throw by Chappell was helped on by Sykes, and when Fathers misdirected header looped high in the air Wales stepped forward and looked to have scored with a header that Dutton excelled to tip over the bar.
City were rampant in the final minutes of the half as Ram Marwa had a header cleared from inside the six-yard box and Frendo fired a volley over the top.
The second half, particularly the opening 25 minutes, saw St Albans fire at the home goal at almost every opportunity. City had 17 attempts on the Banbury goal after the interval but only four were on target.
Frendo scuffed a volley wide on 49 minutes but a minute later Chappell, having already launched one shot into the nearby industrial estate, took a pass by Wales in his stride and neatly clipped his shot over the sprawling Dutton for his second goal of the season.
The one saving grace for Banbury during the half was the dire finishing of Sykes, which may not have been accepted in such good spirits had City been looking to save the match.
The on loan Barnet youngster showed great awareness in finding good positions, and certainly his fine workrate could not be faulted, but this was a day when his shooting boots appeared to be on the wrong feet.
The goals will come for the teenager, but this was not his day.
But, while Sykes sent his goal attempts off to various parts of the ground, City did deal the home side another painful blow with an excellent goal on the counter-attack on 65 minutes.
Bastock pulled off a spectacular one-handed save high to his left to keep out a header by Banbury captain Luke Cray, Corcoran cleared the remaining danger with a hoiked ball towards the halfway line.
Frendo and Comley exchanged passes before Frendo surged towards the penalty area only to over-run the ball.
With quick thinking the 39-goal striker back-heeled the ball into Comley, and the former Crystal Palace midfielder completed the job with an either cheeky or exquisite scoop over the diving Dutton for the fifth goal.
City had enough chances to beat the seven and eight goals Hungerford and Chesham put past Banbury earlier in the season, the best of which fell to Sykes, while Hall went close direct from a free kick.
After several good openings went begging City were unfortunate not to score late in the day when Comley held off Tanasheh Abrahams – a linesman flagged for a penalty but was overruled by referee Ian Rathbone – and squared the ball to substitute Warren Whitely whose goal bound shot was blocked by Dutton’s outstretched leg.
A match that had been played in a good spirit ended with an amazing melee that included most of the players and several of the supporting casts from the dug-outs.
It ended with bookings for Martin and Comley, his 12th of the season.
St Albans City are back in Southern League action on Easter Monday, 21st April, when Biggleswade Town are the visitors to Clarence Park. Kick off is at 3pm.
A win for the Saints and favourable results elsewhere will secure a play-off place for Graham Golds and James Gray’s boys.
The Saints will be forced into making at least one change as business commitments rule out central defender Darren Locke.