A spectacular storm off the pitch and some personal outbursts on the excellent Clarence Park surface failed to knock St Albans City off track on Saturday as the Saints reinforced their claim for a Southern League play-off place with a comprehensive 5-0 destruction of Arlesey Town, for whom Barry Hayles was dismissed before half time.
Hayles was sent off for comments made to referee Carl Pearse regarding a free kick awarded in City’s favour in the build up to the second goal shortly before half time.
Former City and Fulham striker Hayles had already been spoken to twice before by the referee whose patience finally snapped as he sent the 41-year-old packing.
And moments after the final whistle another Fulham old boy, Rufus Brevett, now manager of Arlesey, took his complaint too far and is facing a trip to the Football Association to explain his actions after being reported by Mr Pearse.
Prior to his premature exit Hayles had been enduring, or more likely, enjoying a tough physical battle with the Saints central defender Tom Ward.
But once Arlesey went down to ten-men the match became as one-sided as any seen at the Park for many a long day. Even so, it was only with three goals inside the final four minutes that St Albans posted a scoreline that reflected their near total dominance.
Attacking towards the Hatfield Road goal the Saints almost netted a freak goal after ten minutes when Ram Marwa, on the edge of the penalty area, blocked an attempted clearance by Kevin M’Bala and sent the ball flying, at some speed, towards Jack Bonham’s goal and into the side-netting.
Already City were playing a patient game but from a more incisive move Matt Taylor, after taking a return pass from Mark Nwokeji, burst into the penalty and forced Bonham to save low down.
Taylor had a highly productive opening half that saw him also clip a clever back-heel from a James Comley cross onto the top of the crossbar, but also spoon a clear opening high over the target following another perfect Comley cross from the opposite flank.
City were gifted the opening goal on 19 minutes when Nwokeji was sent tumbling inside the penalty area following a rash sliding tackle by Kevin M’Bala.
From the ensuing penalty John Frendo’s shot struck Bonham’s right hand post before coming to rest just inside the opposite upright for City’s 100th goal of the season.
Taylor had claims for a second penalty rejected when the ball appeared to strike the arm of Harold Joseph but before Arlesey could clear their lines Richard Graham forced Bonham into making save.
Other than for a wayward header by M’Bala, Arlesey had offered little threat to the home goal until Hayles, fouled by Ward, took a quick free kick and from Luis Medina’s return pass fired over the City goal.
A peaceful half exploded on 41 minutes when M’Bala was pulled up for a pull on Frendo as the duo battled for possession just outside the Town penalty area.
City wasted no time in taking the free kick with Frendo slipping the ball up to Comley and with a rasping right footed effort the City captain fired high to the left of Bonham to give a two-goal lead at the interval.
Hayles had a case to complain about the free kick but had clearly pushed the patience of the referee too far and Arlesey went down to ten men.
City almost added a third before the break when a long ball by Ward and slip by Joseph let Nwokeji in but Bonham saved well with his legs.
During the half time interval James Gray, City’s joint-manager, told his side to keep possession during the second period. It was an instruction that the players carried out to the nth degree as the ball kept going across the park, backwards, forwards and then backwards again.
Total possession was achieved but a lack of positivity around the penalty area saw numerous attacks either fizzle out tamely or be let down by the lack of a shot as the perfect position was sought.
That said, Bonham did pull off a series of fine saves to keep City at bay.
M’Bala’s troubled day almost worsened when his tackle on Kerrea Gilbert, just as the City right-back attempted to cross the ball, led to it spinning up and striking the face of the crossbar.
Nwokeji was next to miss out when he just failed to reach Lee Chappell’s cross from the left, while Bonham saved well from Frendo after the striker seized on Sam Willett’s misdirected back pass.
From one of City’s longest spells of unbroken possession the Arlesey goal came under heavy attack with Bonham making an excellent double save from Chappell and a final push away as Comley drove in the loose ball.
While the deficit was still just two goals Arlesey remained in the hunt and substitute Stuart Farrell, teed up by a Joseph N’Guessan cross, could have made things very interesting with a close range volley that went, wastefully, over the home goal.
Late in the day the Town side also tested City keeper Paul Bastock with two long range shots.
But most of the action remained close to the Arlesey goal and after Marwa fired just wide the debut making former Wealdstone striker Peter Dean sent Lowe clear only for Bonham to again use his legs to good effect.
And when Frendo skied a close range effort over the target from a Chris Henry cross it did appear that there would be no addition to the scoring.
Indeed it did seem as though the major talking point of the second half would be the weather, which saw the ground engulfed in an almighty storm of heavy rain and hailstones, and a strong wind that repeatedly bent the corner flags right back to the ground.
Just for good measure a massive flash of lightning lit up the surrounding area heading towards Hatfield.
Thankfully though City did find their shooting boots and went three-up on 90 minutes.
Chappell floated a good pass down the left to Dean who, in turn, sent Henry down the touchline.
The winger cut past Christian Tavernier and arrowed a low cross to the edge of the six yard box where a delighted Graham swept home his first Southern League goal for 13 months.
Two minutes later Lowe won a corner and from Chappell’s in-swinging set piece Ward helped the ball on for Frendo to swivel and hammer a left-footed half volley into the roof of the net from six yards out.
The rout was completed a minute later when Lowe played the ball short to Henry on the City right.
Henry ran across four Town defenders lined up along the edge of the penalty area before poking it on to Graham.
The Irishman chipped a superb first time ball towards the far post where the incoming Lowe chested it down before hammering it past the hapless Bonham.
As soon as the game restarted Mr Pearse blew for full time and was quickly confronted by an irate Brevett whose prolonged protest led to him being ordered from the pitch.
St Albans City return to action on Tuesday with a first ever trip to Burnham in the Premier Division. Kick off at the Buckinghamshire club’s Wymers Wood Road ground is at 7.45pm.
The match sees the club with the second highest average support in the Division visit the club with the second lowest support.