A first half goal by the debut making Sam Hurrell clinched a 1-0 win for St Albans City at a sunny Clarence Park on Saturday and helped to carry the Saints into the top ten of Blue Square South whilst also nudging Bognor Regis Town to the foot of the table.
Hurrellâ€™s 22nd minute goal capped a fine opening quarter to the game for Steve Castleâ€™s side but Cityâ€™s third successive league win was ultimately due to two astonishing missed chances in added time by the financially crippled visitors from the south coast that did not field a single player from the side that defeated St Albans back in April.
Buoyed by somewhat laboured victories over Newport County and Basingstoke Town, the Saints looked in fine fettle early on against Mick Jenkins side but once ahead City fell away in alarming fashion and could not have complained had the Rocks grabbed a late equaliser.
That Bognor failed to extend their unbeaten run against St Albans to a fourth match was undoubtedly due to a toothless attack. But this is an area in which City have hardly excelled themselves with the Saints strikers claiming just one goal in the clubs last nine games.
With injury ruling out Alex Bailey, Ben Bowditch and Hassan Sulaiman, and James Quilter less than completely recovered from an ankle injury, Castle took the opportunity to play Hurrell on the left of midfield with Jonathan Hunt pushed inside. Hurrell impressed the City management in that position during the behind closed door friendly win over Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road in midweek.
Ryan Frater was in the starting XI for the first team this season following his return from injury and with him back to join Ben Martin at the heart of the defence James Fisher resumed at right back. Scott Cousins completed the back four but almost failed to last the 90 minutes following a nasty clash of heads with Frater during the second period.
Luke Thurlbourne was another back from injury and gave a polished performance in the middle of the park. Castle has expressed concern about playing Gary Cohen for a full 90 minutes but gave the former Grimsby Town man a start on the right of the midfield. Unfortunately Cohen had a relatively quiet afternoon although he did show flashes of his capabilities.
The two-pronged attack featured Simon Martin and Paul Hakim but the duo only increased Castleâ€™s woes with neither being a threat on Bognor goal. Hakim also picked up an injury that allowed Lee Clarke to come off the bench for much of the second half.
Bognor are a club beset with problems and with City quickly slipping into a good passing game there appeared little chance of the Rocks slowing their slide to the bottom of the table. The Saints early dominance won three quick corners but the first effort of note saw Simon Martin head well wide from a James Fisher cross.
Little was seen of Bognor as an attacking entity prior to the break although Paul Bastock had to move swiftly from his line to thwart Tom Clarke at the expense of a corner on 14 minutes. It was to be the Rocks only corner of the half and Bastock snuffed out any danger from it with a fine catch as Clarke drove the ball deep towards the back post.
A short corner routine on 18 minutes saw Thurlbourne and Hunt exchange passes before Huntâ€™s cross was punched out of the penalty area as far as Hurrell. The 20-year old, the first winner of SKY Oneâ€™s Football Idol show in 2005 â€“ for which he was awarded a one-year contract at Chelsea â€“ knocked the clearance square to Fisher whose scooped effort went harmlessly wide.
But Cityâ€™s confident start was rewarded on 22 minutes when Thurlbourne, on the left, played the ball up to Simon Martin whose delightful touch was collected by Hurrell who rode one challenge before neatly sliding the ball to the right of the advancing Chris Tardif for the deciding goal.
Given the way City were performing at the time, smooth passing football all over the pitch, it seemed that the floodgates had opened. Instead St Albans stumbled around for the remaining 68 minutes and almost surrendered at least two points.
Even so, the Saints did get the ball into the net later in the half when Cohen stabbed home from close range following a Hurrell cross from the cricket pitch side of the ground but referee Adrian Sannerude cut short Cityâ€™s celebrations for a foul by Hakim on Tardif.
Despite coming back into the game as the half wore on Bognor were unable to seriously worry the City defence. And with Frater and Ben Martin winning everything in the air there appeared little prospect of Bognor, after the break, being the first of eight visiting sides to score at the Hatfield Road end of the ground this season.
In fact, it was City who should have scored again soon after the restart when two errors by Paul Hinshelwood allowed Hakim burst through from the halfway line. But as Cityâ€™s leading scorer dithered over a shot Tardif was able to charge forward and block the delayed effort with his legs.
Hakim, without a goal since August, injured an ankle in the process and was shortly replaced by Clarke who went into the midfield with Cohen moving up front and Hunt to the right of the midfield.
Cohen was soon involved in goalmouth activity as he went down in the penalty area due to a collision with Hinshelwood as the duo chased a Hurrell cross. Cohen disagreed with referee Sannerudeâ€™s decision not to award a penalty and duly collected his second booking of the season.
Diminutive Bognor striker Jordan Hughes superbly spun around and raced away from Ben Martin before teeing up Carl Pettefer for a soft shot that caused Bastock little concern. Hughes caused Bastockâ€™s problems of a different nature later in the game when he caught the City keeper with an elbow that left the Saints custodian with bruising the length of his right collarbone.
With both sides mustering just two on target shots each all afternoon, Rocks striker Steffan Gaisie tried a different approach on 72 minutes when he attempted to guide the ball home from a Kane Wills cross with the use of his hand. To Gaisieâ€™s embarrassment he still missed the target yet somehow was not shown a yellow card for his indiscretion.
Although Bognor were by now the most coherent outfit of the two sides an equalising goal was still nothing more than a remote possibility. But Tom Clarke almost defied the odds with a cracking drive from 35 yards that dipped just over Bastockâ€™s goal.
As the errors mounted it was with some relief that Cohen conjured up a piece of magic to win the ball off two Bognor players by the corner flag and dart into the penalty area. Sadly no further excitement was forthcoming as Gary McDonaldâ€™s excellent tackle denied Cohen a shot at goal.
Lee Clarke was kept busy playing a position many supporters believe he should occupy permanently rather than in attack but still managed to get goal scoring opportunities on two occasions. From the first, after a cross by Hunt had been headed away, Clarke drilled the ball well wide of the York Road goal while his second attempt, from a Cohen cross, saw his header sail over the visitors goal.
City created one more good opening prior to added time with Clarke twice involved in the four-man build up that ended with Hurrell scuffing a shot well wide from 20 yards. The points looked safe but during ten seconds short of six minutes of added time Bognor could, and should, have saved the game.
The best chance saw Hughes free substitute Louie Castues down the Rocks right. From his perfect low ball across the six yards box Tom Clarke somehow failed to apply the firm enough contact required to register his first goal for the club.
Another equally clear opportunity went begging when a ball over the middle of the City defence sent Wills clear. After breaking into the penalty area the midfielder hesitated and allowed Frater to get in a challenge that forced the ball on to Hughes who proved just as wasteful and failed to test Bastock.
Bognorâ€™s final attempt to stave off dropping to bottom of the pile saw Wills clip a half volley comfortably wide while City closed with a good attacking move that ended with Hunt shooting just wide.