Crisis, what crisis? St Albans City shrugged off a player shortage and turmoil off the park to chalk up an emphatic 3-1 Southern League victory at Bedworth United on Saturday courtesy of a clinical Sean Shields hat-trick.
Shields, with his second triple of the season, becomes the Saints leading scorer this term and is the first City player in 18 years to score two hat-tricks on opposition soil in the same season.
For the opening 45 minutes, on a difficult sodden surface at The Oval that cut up as the game wore on, City continued with the flowing passing football that accounted for Leamington the previous week.
With Richard Graham and David Ijaha imperious in midfield City dominated proceedings prior to the interval and when Bedworth came more into the game after the break there was no way past the again impressive central defensive duo of Moussa Diarra and Curtis Ujah, the latter promoted to captain for the first time.
City were missing Ryan Watts and Barry Hayles from the win over Leamington after the duo became the latest players to leave the club.
Caretaker managers Graham Golds and Jimmy Gray are thought to be facing a tough battle to stop at least two more players joining the exodus from Clarence Park during the coming week.
Layne Eadie, troubled by a knee injury for the past three months, did a fine job when stepping in at left-back for Watts.
In the absence of Hayles, and with Simon Martin reduced to a seat on the bench by a slight groin strain, St Albans could not field a recognised striker. Instead, whenever the need arose, Shields, Chris Henry and Tremayne Charles were allowed to roam between the midfield and attack.
Amongst the only three substitutes City named was James Comley who is back at Clarence Park for a second spell. Comley went to Kettering Town during the summer but has been hit by injury since then.
Starting with a strong wind to their backs the visitors were soon controlling the play and inside four minutes Shields gave notice of what was to come when cutting the ball back from the goal line to the lively Henry whose shot was charged down.
Inside seven minutes a Graham corner was sliced high by Greenbacks skipper Andrew Gooding with keeper Andrew Kemp punching the falling ball to Ijaha whose shot looped over the crossbar.
Bedworth hit back with a positive run by Richard Wesley who teed up Mitchell Piggon for a shot he fired over the City goal.
One of the striking features of the first half was the vast open chasm that Eadie had in front of him as Bedworth left that side of the pitch remarkably unattended.
This allowed Eadie and Henry to run at will down the left flank and on 10 minutes Henry fed Shields who cut into the penalty area and past the stumbling Rikki Baines before firing low inside Kemp’s near post.
The Greenbacks drew level seven minutes later when Ashley Spencer did well to win a low cross from Piggon and laid it into the path of the overlapping Wesley who shot across Jupp for his third goal of the season.
City, though, regained the initiative on 19 minutes when sloppy defending allowed Shields ample space to drill the ball through Kemp’s legs for his tenth goal of the season.
The home side again responded well with Tom Byrne getting wide of Eadie only for Piggon to fail to turn in the low cross.
The amount of ground Bedworth conceded within their own half was never better exploited than when Eadie, after taking possession close to the halfway line, advanced 15 yards before drawing a spectacular save out of Kemp with a cracking drive.
And Kemp again came to United’s rescue when diving to his left to push away a well-placed curling effort from Shields following Graham’s ball through the middle of the home defence.
But two minutes from the break Kemp had to pick the ball from the back of his net for a third time after Shields, receiving an exquisite pass from Henry on the edge of the penalty area, ran at Nathan Haines before switching the ball onto his left foot and again firing between the legs of the diving keeper.
United ended the half with a flurry but a shot comfortably wide by Spencer was the closest Steve Farmer’s side came to reducing the deficit.
Facing the wind after the interval St Albans appeared content to sit on what they had but on 51 minutes went close, through Shields, to adding a fourth goal.
Chris Seeby, currently in fine form at right back, fed Charles who in turn found the deadly Shields. After tormenting Haines, Shields checked from his right to left foot and looked to have successfully chipped Kemp only for the keeper to acrobatically flick the ball onto the crossbar.
Kemp also did well to hold a deflected shot from Ijaha before Jupp demonstrated his quality between the sticks when beating out Haines’s fiercely struck free kick from 20 yards.
The game petered out as a spectacle during the final 30 minutes but referee Ian Rathbone livened up proceedings when brandishing his yellow card four times in as many minutes.
These included bookings for Ijaha and Ashley Spencer following a clash that sparked a bout of push and shove involving 20 players.
The win lifts City back up to sixth place in the Premier Division but it was not a completely successful weekend for the Saints who withdrew their Reserve side from the Herts Intermediate Cup, apparently due to a shortage of players, just one day before a 3rd Round tie with AFC Hertford.
Bedworth United: A.Kemp, R.Baines, R.Wesley, A.Gooding, L.Recci (A.Dean 79), N.Haines, T.Byrne (D.Blenkinsopp 63), Ashley Spencer, T.Lorraine (Andrew Spencer 75), M.Piggon, B.Polk, sub; A.Cooper.
Booked: Ash Spencer.
St Albans City: N.Jupp, C.Seeby, L.Eadie (J.Kaloczi 75), D.Ijaha, C.Ujah, M.Diarra, Se. Shields, M.Taylor, R.Graham, C.Henry, T.Charles (J.Comley 63), sub: S.Martin.
Booked: Ijaha, Jupp, Comley.
Referee: Ian Rathbone (Northampton).