St Albans City put their league woes behind them on Saturday, as Ben Martinâ€™s first goal in the FA Cup clinched a potentially money-spinning 1-0 win and place in the final qualifying round of the competition at the expense of a Petersfield Town side that came so close to earning a second shot at their more lofty opponents.
Ben Martin heads home the winner
Petersfield, who ply their trade in the Southern League Division One Central following promotion from the Wessex League in May, brought the best out of Cityâ€™s outstanding goalkeeper Joe Welch and came so close to dragging the two sides back to Clarence Park.
For St Albans this match was all about winning, how it arrived mattered little.
But one thing is for certain and that is that managers Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds were fully aware that the spotlight would be turned on them should Cityâ€™s poor league form be followed by an FA Cup defeat to lower league opposition.
An upset could well have happened at the Rams intriguing Love Lane home in spite of St Albans being in control of the game for long stretches.
Petersfield, playing at this stage of the competition for the first time in their 22-year history, forced Welch into pulling off three excellent saves and also got into good wide positions on numerous occasions only to be let down by a poor final ball into the City penalty area.
In fairness to the City defence, competently led by 32-year old Martin, all of the Rams better efforts came from outside of the penalty area, as City dominated inside the 18-yard line.
At the opposite end of the pitch the Town â€˜keeper Anthony Ender cut no less an impressive figure than Welch and did as much as anyone to keep the locals dreaming of cup glory.
City made two changes from the side thrashed at Whitehawk a week earlier with midfielders Gus Sow and Scott Thomas making way for Luke Allen and the debut making Graeme Montgomery.
Boreham Wood midfielder Montgomery is with the Saints on a three-month loan and on a difficult surface made a promising start to his City career by supplying the cross that led to the only goal of the game.
The pitch slopes sharply from one touchline to the other and the playing surface itself is uneven, it is a combination that has cup upset written all over it but for much of a lively and enjoyable opening 45 minutes City held the upper hand.
City though, did get off to an uncertain start when a long punt by Ender saw defender Ian Gayle and Town striker Howard Neighbour crash into Welch. Gayle picked up a knock that led to him making way for Darren Locke at half time.
But St Albans soon settled and in the 10th minute applied pressure with three consecutive corners that came to nothing.
The Rams won their first corner on 19 minutes but skipper Ryan Woodford headed wide from Joe Briggs set-piece.
Midway through the half Ender was called upon to make his first serious save of the afternoon following an angled drive from the City left by Montgomery.
Petersfield had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring when leading scorer Briggs floated a 30-yard free kick to the back post where an unmarked Michael Dixon, wastefully, headed back across goal and wide.
That chance marked a flurry of openings for the Hampshire side and that ignited belief in Love Laneâ€™s highest crowd of the season that a shock result could be in the offing.
Dixon got the better of John Kyriacou down the Town left and chipped a pass into the middle of the pitch where Alex Przespoleski sent a well-judged dipping volley just under the crossbar that the retreating Welch had to watch closely before tipping over for a corner.
Briggsâ€™ corner caused more problems for City as Woodford headed the ball back across the goal to where both Jamie Ford and Joseph Richardson dived in but just failed to apply the killer touch.
City hit back with a low ball into the box by Louie Theophanous being partially cleared to Harry Crawford whose shot struck Daniel Jackmanâ€™s left hand. Referee Chris Oâ€™Donnell, quite rightly, waved away City appeals for a penalty.
Now it was Cityâ€™s turn to press for a goal with Martin heading just wide and then having a half volley dramatically clawed away by Ender following consecutive corners by Montgomery.
But for as long as the game remained goalless City hopes of extending their cup run were in the balance.
That balance almost tipped against them when Przespoleski dispossessed James Comley just inside the City half and sent an audacious effort just over the visitorsâ€™ crossbar from around 50 yards.
Again Petersfield came forward as Woodford lifted a delightful ball over the City defence and out to Briggs on the right flank. This time Briggs came inside and from the edge of the penalty area forced Welch to leap high to his right to concede a corner.
Three minutes from the break Ender made a slight miscalculation when opting to punch away a long kick by Welch even though a catch looked safe.
Jackman headed the ball out for a throw to complete the clearance but City were straight back onto the attack as Theophanous took a quick throw to Chappell.
The City captain drilled a low pass to Montgomery who, after controlling the ball, went out to the left before twisting to send a cross deep into the penalty area.
Martin, standing at 6ft 7, rose high above Ford beyond the back post and headed into the goalmouth where Ender, distracted by Allen, delayed his dive, and belatedly fell to his right as Martinâ€™s header bounced its way just inside the keeperâ€™s right hand upright.
The high tempo was continued right up to the interval with Ender keeping out a firm drive by Montgomery.
The second half lacked the pace and thrills of the opening half but both sides still had good opportunities to alter the final outcome.
Attacking the car park end of the ground Comley played the ball up to Theophanous who sent a low first time effort towards the edge of the six-yard box.
Crawford stretched to send the ball goalwards only for Ender to dive to his right to beat out the point-blank stab at the ball with Allen hammering the rebound high and wide.
This sparked another purple patch for the Saints that saw Theophanous clip the crossbar, Jackman dive in to keep out a low shot by Allen and then Locke scoop the ball over from close-in before Kyriacou was denied by Ender.
Although Petersfield saw a good amount of the ball during the closing stages they only once threatened to save the tie.
That moment came on 78 minutes when Kyriacou was booked for a foul on Briggs on the Town right.
Przespoleski knocked the free kick into the penalty area where Chappell, some 12 yards out, lunged at the ball only to deflect it towards his own goal.
Fortunately for City, Welch was alert to the danger and dived full length to his right to beat the ball away for another corner that was dealt with without further mishap.
St Albans hard-earned victory at Love Lane takes the clubs share of the FA prize pool to Â£12,000 so far this season and into the 4th Round Qualifying for the third consecutive year â€“ a feat last achieved at the back end of the 1990â€™s.