Ben Martin bounced back from receiving criticism following his performance during St Albans Cityâ€™s FA Cup exit at Grimsby to power home the header that secured a vital three points at Clarence Park on Saturday, as the Saints took a step on the path towards National League South safety with a 1-0 win over in-form Wealdstone.
Ben Martin powers home the winner
Seconds after having a well-controlled snap-shot deflected wide for a corner the towering former City captain met a Graeme Montgomery corner to send a blistering header screaming past Jonathan North and into the Hatfield Road net.
Martinâ€™s first league goal in 14 months could hardly have come at a more opportune moment as Gordon Bartlettâ€™s side had held the upper hand during the opening 25 minutes on a windy and wet afternoon at the Park.
City made just one change from the Grimsby game with Harry Crawford recalled at the expense of former Wealdstone player Billy Gibson.
Wealdstone arrived at the Park in good form despite losing two cup ties in the past week.
The Stones were unbeaten in their previous seven league games and had not lost on their three most recent visits to St Albans. In fact, the north London club had not tasted defeat at Clarence Park for two months shy of 45 years.
With such records behind them maybe it was not such a surprise that Wealdstone started positively and attacked confident with the rain and wind to their backs.
But the opening exchanges typified the entire 90 minutes with honest endeavour and plenty of attacking intent not being taken into the opposition penalty areas, as respectively goalkeepers Joe Welch and Jonathan North had precious few on-target goal attempts to deal with.
Wealdstone may have started brightly but it was City, through a flashed effort wide by Louie Theophanous, who made the first direct threat on goal.
Theophanous, along with Lee Chappell and Crawford, was involved in a slick City move that ended close to goal when the experienced Dale Binns made a crucial intervention as Kevin Krans looked set to score.
From a Binns throw on the Stones left Shaun Lucien twisted to find space to slide a ball into the penalty area for Bradley Hudson-Odoi to cut inside Chappell but shoot straight at Welch when the free Jefferson Louis was calling for a short, square pass in front of goal.
The match was fast and looked to have goals in it. But Wealdstoneâ€™s prospects were damaged by poor service from the flanks where all too frequently good positions were wasted with the ball being either sent behind the home goal or far beyond the back post.
Cityâ€™s strength in the air, with Martin putting a shaky start behind him and forming an excellent partnership with the again outstanding James Comley, also ensured that the Saints kept their first clean sheet in the league for two months.
Martin deserted his defensive duties on 25 minutes and, after a Sam Corcoran free kick had been cleared only as far as the edge of the penalty area, let fly with a crisp left-footed half volley that took a slight deflection as it fizzed just wide of Northâ€™s goal.
But the Stones keeper was left groping at thin air seconds later as Martin fired City into the lead with a sumptuous header from Graeme Montgomeryâ€™s corner.
At the time of the goal Wealdstone were down to ten men due to skipper Tom Hamblin having pitch-side treatment.
Once ahead City attacked with greater vigour although North, like Welch, had little direct threat to contend with.
The half ended with 15 players converging for some petty pushing after Ben Nunn had been cautioned for bringing down Scott Davies just outside the home penalty area.
Davies recovered sufficiently to send the resulting free kick high and wide of the home goal.
Wealdstone began the second half as they had the first with a good amount of possession but making little headway when confronted by the City back line.
Stones substitute Joshua Hutchinson did well to control a ball in from Oliver Duffy and get in an early shot but the ball was comfortably collected by Welch.
Throughout the game the City keeper - who collected the October Player of the Month award after the game â€“ had chosen well when to catch and when to punch the ball away.
Midway through the half City made a brave double substitution with the experienced Montgomery and Krans making way for teenager Jack Green and new signing, from Hadley, Jernade Meade.
Meade, 23, is a former Arsenal youngster who made one starting appearance for the Gunners in a Champions League match.
He caught the eye when Hadley visited the Park last season and for good and bad reasons he had supporters talking about him again on Saturday.
Two shots from Meade, both last seen heading in the general direction of York Road, were not impressive but his first contribution was to drill in from the left a cracking low cross that caused the Stones problems.
His second involvement saw him collect Greenâ€™s pass and chip the ball in from the goalline.
North could only push the ball onto the crossbar and as it fell Crawford dived in but failed to make contact.
Wealdstone broke swiftly and Hutchinson touched the ball wide of Welch as the City keeper came charging out of his penalty area. But as Hutchinson looked to cross Comley moved across to block the ball for a corner.
Bartlettâ€™s boys saw a lot of the ball during the closing stages but, in keeping with what had gone before, still could not pierce Cityâ€™s excellent back four.
North had just one shot of note to deal with late on when Green attempted to curl an effort into the corner of the net.
Cityâ€™s victory lifts them to 20th in the table and next Saturday, 21st November, they visit one of the two sides below them in the table with a National League South fixture at Weston-super-Mare. Kick off at Winterstoke Road is at 3pm.
Central defender Darren Locke will be available for the trip to Somerset after sitting out a one-match ban against Wealdstone. Midfielder Luke Allen will also be added to the squad.
Following Saturdayâ€™s game joint City manager James Gray revealed that right-back John Kyriacou has joined Southern League outfit Cambridge City on a dual registration.