Three goals, three dismissals, seven bookings and a mountain of criticism for the performance of referee Paul Forrester was the sum total of St Albans City’s intriguing 2-1 Bank Holiday defeat to Hampton & Richmond Borough at Clarence Park.
Jamie Thurlbourne is sent off.
The Luton-based match official dismissed the City duo of Jamie Thurlbourne and James Fisher – the latter after the final whistle – while Saints boss Steve Castle was also removed from the technical area by the card-happy Forrester.
The carnage that the referee was later to heap upon City’s best attendance so far this season was in stark contrast to the opening 25 minutes when both sides attacked freely and both defences looked suspect.
Three goals by midway through the first half seemed to be a taster of what was to come but as the referee’s decisions became increasingly questionable so the standard of the football plummeted – due, in part, to the players understandable frustration.
City made three changes following the defeat at Bishop’s Stortford on Saturday. Alex Bailey, after illness, returned at right-back, while Paul Hakim joined the attack at the expense of Danny Green. Luke Thurlbourne was moved from right back to midfield and gave his second impressive display of the weekend. Darren Quinton made way for the combative Thurlbourne.
Hampton manager Alan Devonshire also made three changes from the side that drew with Thurrock two days earlier.
The opening exchanges were exciting for spectators but uncomfortable for the coaches as both defences appeared porous. Inside three minutes Solomon Shields, set up by Gary Cohen, drilled the ball towards the top right hand corner only for Beavers keeper Matt Lovett to acrobatically tip the ball over.
Hakim was well blocked inside the penalty area by the already booked Marcello Fernandes and Fisher miscued when well placed as City looked full of attacking intention.
Hampton were looking lively whenever they got the ball forward but it was somewhat out of the blue on 12 minutes when Ian Hodges sent a glancing header past the flat-footed Paul Bastock from Barrie Matthews cross to open the scoring.
The play continued to fluctuate but City were dealt a savage blow on 20 minutes when Hampton’s second on-target effort followed its predecessor into the York Road goal. Craig Dundas was the man on target with a fine header to Bastock’s left following Ashley Smith’s free kick from out on the visitor’s right.
Fears of a St Albans collapse abated courtesy of a moments madness by Lovett who stupidly lashed out at Cohen with his left arm as the ball appeared to be rolling away for a goal kick.
The keeper was duly cautioned and after a prolonged delay, due to an injury to Hodges, Roberts arrowed the spot kick to Lovett’s right. The keeper got down to take the pace off the shot but was unable to stop Robert’s fourth goal of the season from crawling over the line.
The stage was now set for an afternoon of high drama in the late summer sunshine. Sadly it was not to be as the game became littered with distractions.
Hampton replaced Hodges with Lawrence Yaku on 36 minutes and City were forced to withdraw the ill Shields on 38 minutes with Mark Peters joining Ryan Frater in the middle of the defence, James Quilter moved forward to cover for Shields.
Ten minutes from the break Cohen, set up by Hakim, had a chance to score his first goal in 15 games but his effort, although well struck, went straight at Lovett.
Hampton showed the benefit of a strong squad when substitute Yaku struck a ferocious shot from 25 yards that cannoned against the crossbar with Stuart Lake’s follow up being smothered by Bastock.
The nature of the game turned on 40 minutes when Jamie Thurlbourne was dismissed for hauling down Dundas as the Hampton striker sought to break into the penalty area. City appeals that Peters was on the penalty spot, so Thurlbourne could not have been the last defender, were ignored by Mr Forrester.
Once all the brouhaha was over Smith sent the free kick wastefully in the general direction of York Road.
Two minutes later the match official was given another opportunity to correctly spell Thurlbourne as younger brother Luke was cautioned for dissent.
Mr Forrester made a further six entries in his little book before heading back up the A6 to home, all but one of which was for dissent as the players became increasingly bitter towards his performance.
As for the football, well there was precious little after the interval. Neither side seemed capable of keeping possession and Hampton, for a side with genuine promotion aspirations, really did appear uncertain of how to take control against a side of diminishing numbers.
Castle shuffled his pack for the start of the second half with Bailey switching to left back, Quilter continued his tour of the Park by going to right back and Cohen dropped to the right of the midfield. Fifteen minutes later Bailey was replaced by Danny Green.
Castle, on 65 minutes, was next to leave early after asking if there was any chance of some decision’s going City’s way. Unlike a certain Premiership manager Castle found plenty of room in the main stand to watch proceedings before opting for a position in front of the boardroom.
Peters and Hampton skipper Orlando Jeffrey were next to receive a yellow card, each for dissent, before Cohen sent a snap shot from 20 yards wide of Lovett’s goal.
By now the game was almost a farce but Bastock livened up proceedings with a couple of interesting interventions. The City keeper came rushing out of his penalty area to clear and survived strong Hampton appeals for handball as he did so.
Moments later the 39-year-old keeper was almost on the score sheet as he sent a looping free kick from on the halfway line – out by the byline – that Lovett, stretching, only just caught the right side of the goalline as the ball fell from in front of the sun.
Fisher was next to be booked for dissent, he was to suffer a worse fate later, while the closest City came to salvaging a point was when, in stoppage time, Lovett saved a Peters header from a Thurlbourne free kick.
Despite there having been four bookings, the removal of one manager, two substitutions and two delays while the physio’s attended to players, less than three minutes added time was played.
As the players walked off at half time Mr Forrester was engaged in a lengthy discussion with Frater. Forty-five minutes later Fisher used far fewer words when giving his opinion of the match official and now faces a three-match ban for using foul and abusive language.
Jamie Thurlbourne is likely to receive just a single match suspension for his dismissal, while Fisher’s yellow card is likely to be overlooked following his straight red.
Suspensions continue to play a big part in City’s season with Adam Everitt returning from his ban for Saturday’s trip to Chelmsford City. Missing from the City side that day will be Bastock who serves and one-match ban, and the unfortunate Shields who starts a three-match ban.