A second brace of the season for leading goal scorer Lewis Toomey carried St Albans City to a hard earned Southern League victory over troubled-torn Kettering Town at a sun-covered Clarence Park on Saturday.
City never quite hit the heights but with Toomey’s deadly finishing the Saints did just enough to hand John Beck’s Poppies their first away Premier Division defeat of the season.
St Albans victory could have been more comfortable had Toomey not been denied a hat-trick through a marginal offside decision but by the same token Kettering can feel hard done by when a Ben Gerring header was disallowed for an alleged foul by Warren Byerley on Nick Jupp when, quite clearly, it was a case of the City keeper holding the Poppies striker.
Kettering, beset with financial problems and handicapped by a 10-points deduction for entering a c.v.a., started well with Jamie Griffiths forcing Jupp into an early full length save.
Moussa Diarra, who otherwise played well alongside James Gray, caused consternation in the home ranks with a wild sliced clearance that Byerley seized upon and sent a shot bouncing across the face of the goal.
A promising City move saw Sean Shields, who was generally underused, slip a pass inside to Ryan Watts with the defender’s shot coming to rest in the side netting and Kettering hit back with Will Blazio heading just wide from a Ryan Hervel corner.
City’s patchy start almost became a nightmare when Barry Hayles got involved in a tussle with Griffiths and was shown just a yellow card when appearing to catch the Kettering player when raising his arms to shrug him off.
City Youth midfielder Matt Taylor was in the starting line up for the first time, due to Micah Hyde’s continued absence, and went close to marking the occasion with a goal when controlling the ball on his right thigh before volleying just over the target.
St Albans opened the scoring on 23 minutes with a superb finish by Toomey, who went to the right of the advancing Poppies keeper Laurie Walker and hit the ball into the roof of the Hatfield Road net, after being very smartly played in by Chris Henry’s astute pass on the edge of the penalty area.
Within seconds Kettering should have pulled level only for Byerley to scuff his shot and Hervel and David Moyo to get in each other’s way, thus allowing Gray time to get across to block Hervel’s eventual shot.
Solid defending at both ends of the pitch limited clear chances for the remainder of the half but City continued to be the more threatening with David Ijaha firing over from 25 yards and Shields forcing Walker to dive to his left with another effort from outside the penalty area.
In the final minute of the half Shields played the ball out to Toomey on the right and darted into the goalmouth to receiving a good return cross but good work by Gerring denied the winger a clear shot on goal.
City began the second period encouragingly with Diarra having a header saved and a swift counter-attack, led by Ijaha, ended with Shields forcing Walking into another excellent low save.
Eleven minutes after the restart City doubled their advantage with an exceptional goal.
As a Kettering attack broke down Taylor, close to his own penalty area, received a short pass from Henry and ran towards the flank before hitting a wonderful ball down the Saints left hand touchline with the outside of his right boot.
Toomey beat Ed Palmer to the ball and slipped it inside to Hayles before taking the return pass just inside the penalty area and beating Walker with a perfectly placed shot to the keeper’s left for his eighth goal of the season.
It did appear at this stage that City could chalk up a sizable victory but Kettering hit back with admirable determination.
Jupp made a fine save from Giffiths before Gerring, following an Andrew Burns corner, had his ‘goal’ erroneously disallowed for a foul on the City keeper. Gerring and Byerley both picked up yellow cards for letting referee Andy Aylott know what they thought of the decision.
On 75 minutes St Albans thought the game had been made safe when Toomey pounced to strike the ball home after Diarra had headed on a Richard Graham free kick only for a raised flag to extinguish the relief.
There was a suspicion that Toomey had been kept onside by Poppies defender Oscar Radford.
Six minutes later Kettering added increased intrigue into the closing stages with a superbly created goal.
Burns and Moyo combined to get the ball wide to Joel Gyasi and from his deep cross Griffiths headed the ball back from beyond the far post and a well struck left-footed half volley Poppies skipper Palmer reduced the arrears.
Following a long ball from the back by Gray, Toomey got in a firm drive that Walker saved well and moments later it was the home goal that came under threat only for Griffiths to tamely poke the ball wide following another good cross from Burns.
With the seconds ticking away St Albans squandered one more chance to repel the Poppies fightback only Hayles, after exchanging passes with Toomey, to surprisingly shoot over the York Road goal.
Kettering’s final hope of preserving their unbeaten record against the Saints, which had spanned eight games, went when Byerley miscued wide and Radford, from a Burns corners, flicked his header just wide of the target.
City’s win lifts the side into fifth place in the Southern League and this coming Tuesday, 18 September, David Howell will be in charge for his 50th league game as the Saints face Gosport Borough at the Hampshire’s club Privett Road home, kick off is at 7.45pm.