St Albans City opted for gentle sparring on Boxing Day rather than anything more strenuous, as they slipped to their first defeat under the caretaker leadership of Harry Wheeler when going down to a 2-1 National League South defeat to Bishopâ€™s Stortford at a windy Woodside Park on Saturday.
Eddie Oshodi scores his first goal for The Saints.
The Saints enjoyed an encouraging spell during the opening half but fell away alarmingly and the Bishopâ€™s seized the opportunity to not only claim their first Boxing Day success in 14 years but, more significantly, put seven points between themselves and their struggling county rivals.
With seven points collected from the previous three games under Wheeler, City were confident of keeping the run going against Rod Stringerâ€™s side but made two changes from the side that drew at Basingstoke prior to Christmas.
With loan-defender Ben Nunn recalled by Boreham Wood, Eddie Oshodi moved across to right-back while new addition Jorell Johnson joined Ben Martin in the middle of the back four.
Johnson, who turns 20 next Saturday, is currently on a contract with Watford and is the seventh loan player signed by St Albans this season.
Striker Jernade Meade was relegated to the bench as Harry Crawford returned after completing a three-match ban.
But Crawford and fellow forward Louie Theophanous made little impact against the Bishopâ€™s backline with the duo receiving poor service from an off-colour midfield.
Conditions underfoot and overhead were far from ideal. A rough, muddy surface made flowing football more than difficult while a strong swirling wind gave added problems when the ball was in the air.
Stortford offered the threat of an early breakthrough with Mikel Suarez sending a diving header wide from a Kieran Bywater cross, while former Saint Elliott Buchanan had City keeper Joe Welch stretching to punch the ball away for a corner.
City continued to defend in depth and were thankful to blocks inside the six-yard box by Tom Bender and Johnson to deny George Allen and Anthony Church after Welch had been beaten to a near post corner.
Stortfordâ€™s Johnny Herd was next to get in on the act with a shot just wide after the left-back had begun a flowing move from deep inside his own half.
St Albans, on 19 minutes, at last gave the Bishopâ€™s their first moment of genuine concern.
Oshodi received a short pass from Sam Corcoran midway inside the City half and launched a long ball that Stortford goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons dashed out of his penalty area to clear but lost control as it bounced away sharply off his chest.
Crawford latched onto the loose ball and, after being forced wide by the desperate â€˜keeper, struck a fine right-footed shot from wide on the right that looked destined for the back of the net only for Bishopâ€™s defender Deâ€™Reece Vanderhyde to slide in to clear the danger from just five yards out.
But most of the goalmouth action during a low-key first half remained centred on the visitorsâ€™ goal with Stortford skipper Church firing just over and Welch leaping to catch a looping header from Chris Mâ€™Boungou.
Seven minutes from the break St Albans so nearly opened the scoring with their best move of the afternoon.
Welch caught a corner and quickly sent James Comley racing through the middle of the park before linking with Corcoran.
After going wide the ball was worked back inside to Corcoran who slid an excellent pass into the penalty area to Crawford who touched it onto Theophanous.
Cityâ€™s top scorer drove the ball low across Fitzsimons but it deflected off the keeperâ€™s right boot and flew just beyond the far post.
As the half drew to a close both sides had penalty appeals rejected; Stortford for a barge by Tom Bender on Bywater and City following the combined attentions of Mâ€™Boungou and Allen on Theophanous.
Any hope that City would carry their improved form of the latter part of the first half into the second period evaporated swiftly and nine minutes after the restart the home side deservedly took the lead.
City repelled a couple of dangerous looking Stortford attacks before Church swept the ball wide to Vanderhyde who clipped an excellent cross into the centre of the City penalty area.
Bywater found space between Martin and Johnson to send a downward header to the left of the diving Welch.
The City keeper appeared to have the ball in his grasp but then, inexplicably, let it slip through his fingers and trickle into the goal.
Cityâ€™s response was swift and on 61 minutes the two sides were back on level terms as Oshodi claimed his first goal for the club.
From a corner on the City left Comley floated the ball towards the near post where it glanced off the head of Bishopâ€™s defender Mâ€™Boungou and landed at the feet of Oshodi who made no mistake from just a few yards out.
Given their recent form St Albans would have been expected to push for victory during the time remaining.
But the initiative quickly switched back to the Bishopâ€™s with Allen heading over, Welch making a spectacular tip over from Frank Merriefield and the City keeper then saving a header from his own full-back, Oshodi.
On 78 minutes Stortford turned their growing territorial advantage into something more tangible with a second goal.
Skipper Church was credited with heading home from a Buchanan corner but the ball may have actually deflected wide of Welch off the head of City defender Martin following a feint touch by Church.
City had just one decent opportunity to stave off defeat during the final minutes but Theophanousâ€™ shot, following a good run by Meade, curled away from Fitzsimonsâ€™ left hand upright.
Saturdayâ€™s defeat leaves the Saints in 21st place in National League South.
This coming Monday, 28th December, St Albans entertain Chelmsford City at Clarence Park, kick off 3pm.
After making an early season attack on the play-off places Chelmsford have slipped down the table in recent weeks with a fourth successive league defeat suffered on Boxing Day. The Essex club are in 14th position but just five points clear of St Albans.
City are currently in talks with defender Tom Bender with a view to extending his stay at the Park.
The 22-year-oldâ€™s loan spell ends next week, but his contract with parent club Forest Green Rovers also ends at that time and the club from Nailsworth have intimated that they will not be renewing it.