Ward’s cross-cum-shot flashed across goal and into the bottom corner in the second minute of first-half stoppage time before Darren Locke turned Jack Bridge’s cross into his own net. The St Albans centre-back made amends for his error by pulling one back shortly after, setting up a nervy end to the match in which the Saints came close to earning a share of the spoils.
City boss Mark Hawkes kept with the same startling line-up that beat Whitehawk 2-1 last weekend as Jack Bridge and Tom Lovelock, who both made their City debut in that victory, retained their places. Winger Rohdell Gordon returned to the bench following a niggling injury, meaning that youngster Jake Gordon dropped out of the match day squad.
Saints’ James Kaloczi was almost punished for a clumsy foul on Southend loanee Jack Bridge that forced ‘keeper Joe Welch into a fine stop early on. Joe Ward, who netted from a similar position in that Whithawk win, watched on as his dipped effort was equalled superbly by the outstretched custodian as the hosts ramped up the pressure.
That pressure almost proved too much when Jack Bridge collected the ball in the box, only to be denied a first City goal by a flying block from full-back Howard Hall.
An inviting chance for Michael Cheek - created through his own guile and skill with a neat flick - was sliced on the 20-minute mark as the Saints, who went into the match two games unbeaten, struggled to compose themselves in the final third.
Disappointing efforts from Charlie Smith and Howard Hall failed to truly test Tom Lovelock in the City goal, although the impressive Jamal Lowe looked threatening on the right-flank throughout.
The first time the City defence came close to caving in was through Lee Chappell’s tremendously long throw. The run-up would have better suited a Heathrow runway but it nonetheless initiated a brief moment of panic. Mark Haines took a clattering in the process of clearing it away and, after missing January through a fractured eye-socket, the City coaching staff looked a little concerned.
But they had little concern right on the stroke of half-time when the St Albans defence was caught napping following a short corner. The Clarets’ 27 league matches prior to this encounter witnessed a league-high 97 goals, so it was perhaps inevitable that the deadlock was broken in the first-half. Joe Ward drove to the by-line after Lee Sawyer’s inventive set-piece and his cross-cum-shot arrowed across goal and into the bottom corner just seconds prior to the whistle.
The Saints, who were without ex-Claret Sam Corcoran and James Comley, who earned an England ‘C’ call-up just prior to the reverse fixture in October, were handed a further blow four minutes shy of the hour mark.
Jaanai Gordon, on-loan from West Ham United, chased Jack Bridge’s teasing cross into the box and, by doing so, forced Darren Locke to prod the ball into his own net as City’s lead was doubled.
The visitors reacted to that damaging setback by bringing on Manny Soetan at the expense of Charlie Smith and it looked to be an inspired substitution. Darren Locke made up for his earlier gaffe when he poked home from inside the six-yard box as the Clarets failed to deal with a simple ball in the area.
That appeared to rattle the home side and the Saints smelt blood, sending on another substitute in the face of Steve Wales. Jamal Lowe – perhaps surprisingly – made way and Mark Hawkes intelligently responded by moving to five at the back, a formation that the Clarets used well last month.
Centre-back Yado Mambo replaced striker Jaanai Gordon in an attempt to shore up the defence as Michael Cheek operated as the lone striker for the final twenty-minutes.
Extra bodies were certainly required in the final stages as Saints committed men forward, putting Tom Lovelock under sustained pressure. The defence held out well and City thought they were almost rewarded for their stellar efforts when Mark Hughes had the ball in the net, only to be denied by referee John O’Brien.
A goalmouth scramble soon followed and the Saints will be scratching their heads as neither John Frendo, was practically non-existent throughout the game, nor James Kaloczi could force it over the line.
Four minutes of stoppage time was signalled and skipper Lee Chappell had one last throw of the dice as his long throw caused all sorts of problems, with Tom Lovelock’s reaction save earning the Clarets maximum points and they will head into Tuesday’s away encounter with local rivals Concord Rangers full of confidence.
1. Tom Lovelock
2. Rob Girdlestone
3. Michael Toner
4. Mark Hughes (C)
5. Mark Haines
6. Harry Hickford
7. Lee Sawyer
8. Joe Ward
9. Jaanai Gordon
10. Michael Cheek
11. Jack Bridge
12. Leon Redwood
14. Yado Mambo (On for Jaanai Gordon, 71)
15. Sam Gregory
16. Christian Smith (On for Jack Bridge, 88)
17. Rohdell Gordon (On for Lee Sawyer, 84)
St Albans City:
1. Joe Welch
2. Howard Hall
3. Lee Chappell (C)
4. Omar Beckles
5. Darren Locke
6. Ian Gayle
7. James Kaloczi
8. Charlie Smith
9. John Frendo
10. Michael Malcom
11. Jamal Lowe
12. Charlie Gorman
14. Steve Wales (On for Jamal Lowe, 70)
15. David Keenleyside (On for Omar Beckles, 81)
16. Manny Soetan (On for Charlie Smith, 61)
19. Matt Taylor
Referee: Mr John O’Brien (London)
Assistant referees: Mr Alex Gray and Mr Jonathon Creswick
Bookings: Chelmsford City: Michael Toner (39, persistent fouling), Harry Hickford (65, dissent), Mark Haines (70, foul)
St Albans City: Omar Beckles (40, foul), James Kaloczi (89, dissent)
Scorers: Chelmsford City: Joe Ward (45+2), Darren Locke (56, OG)
St Albans City: Darren Locke (66)
HT Score: 1-0
City Man of the Match: Mark Hughes