St Albans City survived a tetchy encounter at Kirby Road on Saturday to grab three unexpected Southern League points with a 3-1 victory over a Barwell side that pressed the self-destruct button.
City’s hosts had their eyes set on rising to third place in the table and for the best part of 30 minutes appeared likely to run out comfortable winners until having midfielder Richard Lavery dismissed when needlessly lashing an arm into the face of City skipper James Comley.
From that moment on St Albans, through sheer hard graft, gained the upper hand while the Canaries lost their self discipline. And late in the day Barwell’s frustration was laid bare with the sending off of Danny Newton following a shocking premeditated lunge into Comley.
Newton was making his debut for the Leicestershire club after being signed from Nuneaton Town.
With three consecutive defeats behind them St Albans preparations for a game against a side that had plundered ten goals in the two most recent meetings between the clubs were far from ideal.
Further setbacks were dealt when central defender Darren Locke, signed on dual registration from Wealdstone, was recalled by the Stones after just one game with the Saints.
Right-back Chris Seeby was also unavailable after declaring that his mind is not on the game at present and, after 235 games for the club, has decided to leave Clarence Park.
Josh Urquhart switched to cover for Seeby while Ryan Wharton resumed his partnership with Joe Bruce in the heart of the defence.
That trio were in good form while left-back Layne Eadie had the most difficult task of the day in trying to contain Barwell’s highly-rated flying winger Jamie Towers.
As Towers made a good start Eadie looked to be in for a tough examination but as Barwell faded so did Towers and the City defender felt confident enough to carry out his trademark attacking forays.
On a cold, grey, overcast day Barwell settled the quicker of the sides and another new boy, Danny Gaunt back at the club for a second spell, tested City keeper Nick Jupp with an early free kick that was gathered comfortably.
City’s first genuine threat on goal saw David Keenleyside sweep the ball out to Chris Henry. Cutting in from the left Henry slid the ball towards the near post where Greg Ngoyi stabbed his shot wide.
Barwell returned to the attack with a long free kick by keeper Liam Castle being cleared by Bruce as far as Scott Hadland whose shot from 25 yards flew a yard a so wide.
Castle was next in action to tip around the post a low drive from Ngoyi.
Jupp made an even better save to deny Dave Barnett who had been sent clear by Newton. But before City could clear the loose ball Barnett chipped a cross towards the back post. Towers attempted to control the falling ball before crashing to the ground after the mildest of challenges from James Kaloczi.
Sadly, it was just one of many incidents in which players went down all too easily, but referee Anthony Da Costa felt that there was sufficient contact to award a penalty that Towers, despite Jupp getting a hand to the ball, despatched into the City net.
A minute later Richard Graham was booked for breaking up a Barwell attack with a deliberate handball and moments later Jack Edwards wasted a good chance with a poor header to a Towers cross.
But just when the game looked to be completely under their control Barwell handed the initiative away with Lavery’s 28th minute dismissal; City were level within four minutes.
Graham and Comley battled to win possession close to the halfway line before Comley swept a wonderful angled ball out to Keenleyside who, with great composure, placed his first Southern League goal to the left of the diving Castle.
St Albans ended the half very much in the ascendancy with Ngoyi again just failing to turn in a low cross by Henry and then doing likewise to a Keenleyside cross.
City used their numerical advantage to good effect after the interval and other for a header wide by Scott Hadland from a Gaunt cross the visitor’s goal was seldom threatened.
The game itself became an increasingly bad tempered affair but City continued to look the most likely to add a second goal and Graham, following a cross by Keenleyside, forced Castle into his first save of the half.
Somewhat surprisingly, Keenleyside was replaced by Brad Wadkins on 66 minutes but just eight minutes later it was proven to be an inspired decision.
Newton attempted to run at the City defence before Wharton stepped across to hammer the ball downfield.
Barwell appeals for offside against Wadkins were rejected and the City sub sprinted down the right flank.
With precision Wadkins crossed low to Ngoyi who finally got his bearings right to score via the inside of Castle’s right hand post for his eighth goal in 12 games.
Ngoyi, however, was clearly offside following Wharton’s punt and whether the goal should have stood is highly debateable.
City now began to play with greater freedom. James Kaloczi, quite brilliant playing just in front of the City defence, forced Castle into a good save, as did Henry and Elliot Bailey while Eadie flashed a long range effort wide.
Any thoughts towards a Canaries fightback evaporated with Newton’s shameful assault on Comley and five minutes into added time St Albans wrapped up the points with another goal on the counter-attack.
Towers, in a tight spot, did well to turn a Tom Weale throw goalwards but when Eadie headed the ball away the Saints broke in style.
Urquhart drove a clearance down the City right that 18-year-old substitute Bailey, on his Southern League debut, latched onto and raced clear of Mark Albrighton.
After running 30-yards with the ball, City Youth player Bailey teed up fellow substitute and debutant Curtis Shaw who nonchalantly clipped the third goal high to the right of the exposed Castle.