St Albans City’s away-day blues continued in deepest East Sussex on Saturday when Whitehawk reclaimed third place in Conference South by winning an uninspiring encounter 2-1 at The Enclosed Ground, Brighton.

A visit to the home of the Hawks in East Brighton Park is an intriguing experience, as the aspirations of a club, by virtue of the players Whitehawk have under their wings, is in stark contrast to the limited facilities for supporters and poor playing surface.

One touchline is overshadowed by the grassy banks of the Sussex Downs while the remaining three sides of the ground are a mix of work in progress and remnants of the Hawks days in the County League. It is a reminder of how far Whitehawk have progressed in a short space of time.

But after taking in the large seating areas behind the two goals, the most striking feature is the poor quality pitch.

With such an array of good quality players the Hawks would benefit from a surface worthy of the team Steve King has accumulated at a cost foreign to most sides in Conference South.

As for the game itself it was a hugely disappointing 90 minutes, as St Albans tested their talents against the best footballing side in the Division.

Whitehawk, although pushed hard during their 3-2 win at Clarence Park, showed themselves to be a gifted outfit on that occasion but, on a pitch that had large areas covered by sand and others splattered by mud, it was almost impossible for the home side to play to their full capabilities.

The weather was set fair throughout the game but wet conditions down on the south coast over the preceding few days led to a morning inspection that, fortunately, did not lead to a postponement of St Albans first visit to Brighton.

City welcomed back skipper James Comley at the completion of his recent three-match ban.

By handing England C international Comley his usual midfield position City were able to drop the again impressive Omar Beckles into the central defensive position vacated by Ian Gayle’s return to Dagenham & Redbridge.

Whitehawk, looking to stretch their unbeaten home run to a tenth league game, made a good start with Sam Gargan beating Darren Locke by the corner flag and whipping over a low cross that Beckles cleared from inside the six-yard box, as Danny Mills waited to pounce.

City responded with Steve Wales winning the first corner of the game. Lee Chappell swung the ball in from the Saints right with Beckles heading over Craig Ross’s goal.

An entertaining afternoon looked to be on the cards as the home side opened the scoring on five minutes with a well-worked although ultimately fortuitous goal.

The somewhat talkative John-Paul Kissock cut in from the Hawks left and fed Scott Neilson who, in turn, laid the ball into the path of the overlapping Lee Hills.

From Hills’ looped left-footed cross to just beyond the back post, former Saint David Ijaha cushioned a pass to Mills just inside the six yard box.

Mills completely miscued his first attempt but the ball, most cruelly from City’s point of view, bounced back to him off Comley’s chest and this time the Hawks leading marksman made no mistake.

The game struggled to live up its early promise although Joe Welch had to be watchful to collect a low drive Neilson and then block a firm drive by Nick Arnold, who also tested the City keeper direct from a 30-yard free kick.

In between times Hawks custodian Ross had to be equally attentive to push away a shot by Comley that rose sharply off the rough pitch.

Forced by the playing conditions, Whitehawk played more of the long ball game than they would prefer but a well-constructed move ended with Welch saving from Gargan following good work by Hills and Mills.

Seven minutes from the break City threatened to dent the Hawks promotion bid with a scrappy equaliser.

From just inside the Whitehawk half Chappell floated a free kick into the penalty area that Tom Cadmore missed and Ross misjudged. Beckles nipped between the duo and headed the ball into the vacant Hawks net.

But City’s foothold in the game lasted just five minutes before Whitehawk restored their deserved advantage and again the pitch played its part.

From out wide on the Whitehawk right Neilson drove a free kick into the City penalty area that kicked up in front of Welch who could only parry it to Osei Sankofa.

The Hawks captain pushed the ball wide for the incoming Neilson to drive a blistering shot just inside Welch’s near post for a memorable goal on the former Grimsby Town players’ home debut.

The second half was mostly a drab midfield tussle with Whitehawk dominating most of the play, that said John Frendo got in a decent strike soon after the restart that Ross held with minimal fuss.

An excellent ball over the City defence sent Neilson clear but a rushed shot saw the ball sail high and wide of the target.

City went agonisingly close to drawing level for a second time when Chappell’s cross from the left bounced up inside the penalty area and was met by Kaloczi whose header went back across the goal and narrowly wide of the post.

Although the game petered out somewhat lamely there were still a few incidents of note, including a 12th booking of the season for Corcoran who was hastily replaced by Matt Taylor.

The City substitute, who turned 20 earlier in the week, sent over one particularly good cross and showed up well during his 15 minutes on the pitch.

The defeat extends City’s run of poor away results to just two points collected from the past seven away games, but the side remain in 14th position in the table.

After the game Jimmy Gray, joint-manager of the Saints, admitted that his side had come up short against their Sussex hosts. Gray also confirmed that Charlie Smith has returned to Luton Town at the end of his loan spell.

City are back on home soil next Saturday, 28th February, when they will try once more to complete their first double of the season with the visit of Wealdstone to Clarence Park, kick-off is at 3pm.

Prior to then, on Thursday, the Club will host a Fans’ Forum in the clubhouse that starts at 7.30pm.

Amongst the topics up for discussion is expected to be the threat by owners John McGowan and Lawrence Levy to quit the club should the council fail to support either a redevelopment of Clarence Park, or the locating of a new home for the Saints elsewhere in the city.

Whitehawk: C.Ross, N.Arnold, L.Hills, D.Ijaha, O.Sankofa, T.Cadmore, JP Kissock, S.Torres (A.Abdulla 68), S.Neilson, D.Mills, S.Gargan (PS Kujabi 64), unused subs; C.Nanetti.

St Albans City: J.Welch, H.Hall, L.Chappell, J.Kaloczi, D.Locke, O.Beckles, S.Wales (M.Malcolm 59), J.Comley, J.Frendo, S.Corcoran (M.Taylor 78), J.Lowe (M.Soetan 59), unused subs; D.Keenleyside, D.Green.

Booked: Comley (27), Corcoran (75).

Goals: 5 1-0 Mills, 38 1-1 Beckles, 43 2-1 Neilson.

Referee: John Busby (Wallingford).

Att: 262.