Red-hot title favourites Ebbsfleet United moved to the top of National League South with a competent 2-0 victory at Clarence Park on Saturday over a St Albans City side that is striving to find cohesion a week into the new season.
Danny Kedwell scores past Joe Welch from the spot.
For their first three fixtures of the campaign St Albans were dealt a tough hand with all three opponents expected to be near the top of the table come the end of the season.
What these games, two defeats and a draw, have clearly demonstrated, is that there is little prospect of City upsetting the odds and rising high. Similarly, it would be ridiculous to discard City as relegation fodder but a first win of the season would go some way towards settling a few nerves.
City shuffled their pack following the defeat to Oxford City the previous Monday.
Injury ruled out central defender Darren Locke, which paved the way for the return of Ian Gayle on a one-month loan from Dagenham & Redbridge. John Kyriacou was relegated to the bench as James Comley moved across to right back.
Simon Thomas was recalled to partner Louie Theophanous in attack but the duo seldom worked closely together and their partnership is very much a work in progress.
Theophanous, in fact, was substituted midway through the second half after making little impact against what is likely to be the toughest defence in the Division this season.
Hilliard was also called off early as he too has yet to find the form that persuaded City to take him from St Neots Town.
After a bright start the match drifted for long stretches with the Fleet in complete control for much of a disappointing second half.
To believe that St Albans, or indeed most teams in National League South, can seriously compete with Ebbsfleet given their massive financial clout, is fanciful, but City certainly gave it a good shot for the opening 45 minutes.
After the break it was a different story and conceding a goal within five minutes of the restart knocked a lot of the stuffing out of the home side.
Ebbsfleet set off a high tempo and suggested that City could be in for a most testing afternoon. Yet, after Matt Godden called home keeper Joe Welch into action early on, it was City who applied the first spell of sustained pressure.
Sam Corcoran broke from deep in the City half and swept the ball out to Luke Allen on the right and from his excellent cross to beyond the back post Hilliard won the first corner of the day.
Hilliard took the corner; Jordan Parkes headed it away only as far as the edge of the penalty area where Simon Thomas sent a half volley just wide of Brandon Hallâ€™s right hand upright.
Allen, who had a productive first half, caused Ebbsfleet more concern with a cross that clipped the top of the crossbar before bouncing wide of the goal.
City continued to press with a long throw by Lee Chappell, a cross by the City captain, and another cross by Hilliard keeping the Fleet at bay. But throughout this spell Hall was not called upon to make a save.
Ebbsfleet maybe should have opened the scoring when Parkes headed over from close in, the ball possibly grazing the crossbar on its way out for a goal kick. That miss was something of a collectorâ€™s item given that Parkes had scored in eight of his previous nine games against the Saints.
An under-hit back pass by Kenny Clark almost let Simon Thomas in but Hall got out in time to block the City striker.
Corcoran, who worked as tirelessly as anyone to create something for the Saints, picked up his first his first booking for the season, for a foul on Parkes, and from the ensuing free kick Parkes curled a shot just over the home goal.
City replied with Simon Thomas feeding Comley and from his cross Hilliard headed wide at the back post.
Welch made an excellent save to deny Godden but the Fleet player was offside anyway, and the midfielder was out of luck again soon after when his fine shot on the turn was superbly tipped over by Welch although a goal kick was awarded.
The half ended with Allen having a cross-shot tipped over by Hall but the encouragement City gained from holding their own during the opening 45 minutes was wiped away on 50 minutes when the Kent side took the lead.
St Albans hesitated as they waited for an offside flag against Godden, but as he pulled up Parkes tore down the left flank only to be held back once inside the penalty area by Comley.
Kedwell struck his right-footed spot kick to Welchâ€™s left as the City keeper dived in the opposite direction and the Fleet had victory in their sights.
A minute later and Godden, following a low cross by Kedwell, should have made it two but shot into the side-netting.
City had chances thereafter but there was a lack of conviction about their attacking intentions.
Martin headed wide from a Chappell free kick while Chappell slashed a shot out of the ground following a pass by Simon Thomas.
With a scintillating run down the United right wing Fleet substitute Danny Haynes won a corner off Scott Thomas in the 75th minute that led to the second, and decisive, goal.
Parkes took the set piece â€“ although there is some doubt as to whether ball was inside the arc by the corner flag when he struck the kick.
Fleet skipper Tom Bonner flicked the ball into the goalmouth were both Dean Rance and Kenny Clark tried to force it home. City looked to have repelled the attack until Jack Greenâ€™s attempted clearance on the goal-line thudded into the knee of Gayle and ricocheted across the goal and inside the far post.
An unfortunate own goal and a bitter way for Gayle, who was outstanding all afternoon, to mark his return to Clarence Park.
Cityâ€™s misery was made complete soon after when Comley departed with blood streaming from his nose. And with two successive defeats and three games without a win Comley was not the only one to leave the Park having felt as though they had suffered a bloody nose.
St Albans search for their first win of the season takes them to Sussex on Tuesday with a National League South fixture against Eastbourne Borough, who gained their first win of the season on Saturday with a 1-0 success at Wealdstone.
Wealdstone are one of just two teams currently below St Albans in the table.