St Albans City followed up their recent five-goal Southern League drubbing of Arlesey Town with a wind-affected 3-2 Premier Division victory at Hitchin Road on Tuesday night that was soured by a sickening injury to defender Darren Locke.
St Albans were queuing up to shoot on sight during the opening minutes with John Frendo’s ambitious, and only slightly off target effort from the half way line, inside the opening six seconds setting the tone.
Mark Nwokeji, from Richard’s Graham ball in from the left, spun well deep inside the penalty area but, leaning back, clipped his shot just over Jack Bonham’s goal.
And with a howling wind to their backs it seemed just a matter of time before St Albans would take the lead.
The pressure was maintained with Frendo heading straight at Bonham from the excellent Lee Chappell’s well-flighted free kick, and City’s top marksman then flashed a snap shot into the side-netting following an error by Town defender Andre Maltay.
But when the goal did eventually arrive, on seven minutes, it was via an unexpected source and from an even more unexpected part of the pitch.
Ram Marwa laid the ball back to Darren Locke and, from ten yards inside his own half of the pitch, the central defender launched a clearance the length of the surprisingly dry pitch.
With just once bounce the ball ballooned then dipped over the embarrassed Bonham and into the goal.
It was an astonishing and certainly most fortuitous goal, but for Locke his evening turned sour very quickly.
Eight minutes from the interval Locke clashed heads with Stuart Farrell as the two challenged for a header and the now unfortunate Locke smacked the ground in absolute agony after sustaining a suspected fractured cheekbone.
Before leaving for hospital in an ambulance Locke was administered with a couple of doses of morphine to deaden the pain.
Locke’s early joy had actually been curtailed as early as the ninth minute when Arlesey, from their only on-target effort of the half, drew level.
James Hatch headed a Jamie Carey-Morrell cross into the six-yard where Paul Bastock, under pressure from Farrell, was unable to get a grip on the ball and Farrell quickly knocked it back across goal for Barry Hayles to ram in from close range.
That goal took the wind out of City’s sails somewhat and, in the most difficult of conditions, the match struggled to live up to its early promise, although St Albans continued to monopolise possession.
Arlesey had a narrow escape when the again impressive James Kaloczi won the ball and slipped it up to Frendo whose excellent diagonal pass allowed Matt Taylor to get behind the home defence.
As the ball dropped Taylor, some 25 yards from goal, hit a first time shot – just as he was clattered by the out-rushing Bonham – that landed barely a couple of feet wide of the mark.
Following Locke’s painful departure, which did at least allow skipper Ben Martin to return after injury, City again peppered the home goal with shots.
Frendo scuffed a chance narrowly wide, Marwa drove an effort that was way off target and, just before the interval, a Kaloczi header from a Chappell corner was headed to safety by Hatch.
The biting and ceaseless wind continued to have an impact on the play after the break and, on 52 minutes, following a Martin free kick into the home penalty area, Town defender Sam Willett, understandably, lost the flight of the ball.
Taylor nipped in to seize possession and after a swift swivel drove a right-footed shot across Bonham for his first Southern League goal in 14 months.
Suddenly, City were buzzing again and became encamped in the Arlesey half with a third goal chalked up on 58 minutes.
Arlesey defender Kevin M’Bala was harshly booked following a clash with Frendo and, from the ensuing free kick, Martin launched another long punt into the home penalty area.
Once again M’Bala and Frendo battled for the ball with The Blues player hooking it out to his left flank.
Taylor neatly controlled the dropping ball and struck a low cross through a crowded penalty area for Frendo to pounce at the back post to stick away his 31st goal of the season.
Urged on by a vocal support that outnumbered the home supporters, St Albans appeared confident of adding to the 110 goals that they have already scored this season only to suffer a jolt on 68 minutes when Arlesey pulled themselves back into contention.
Farrell chipped a ball into the City penalty area that bounced off teammate Christian Tavernier and rolled into the path of Hayles.
The veteran striker’s shot was blocked by a bit of Chappell’s anatomy that he would rather have not got in the way, and to add to his agony he could only look on as Hayles stroked home the rebound for his second goal of the night.
Now it was Arlesey’s turn to attack with positive intent but breaking down City’s resolute defence once more proved to be beyond Rufus Brevett’s side and Bastock, who started the night as City captain until Martin’s arrival, was called upon to make just one other save.
St Albans most anxious moment came when Tom Ward failed to control a through ball and allowed Farrell to break away only for the Town striker to be tackled by Bastock who then, calmly, picked the ball up.
Hayles, in between a couple of discussions with the referee, gave City plenty of problems and after shrugging off Martin on one occasion was only denied a hat-trick when Bastock parried away his shot across goal that threatened to sneak inside the back post.
City’s eighth away Premier Division win of the season has given the club its highest points tally from away games during any of the three years that the club has spent in the Southern League.
St Albans total of 110 goals for the season is the Saints highest since the 1999-00 season and the present campaign has already yielded more away league goals than any other season since the promotion winning campaign of 2005-06.
The Saints will look to break into the top three for the first time this season when Weymouth are the visitors to Clarence Park on Saturday, 8th February. Kick off is at 3pm.