St Albans City were given a fright on Halloween as crisis club Weymouth brushed off playing for most of Saturday’s Blue Square South encounter at Clarence Park with just ten men to grab the lead before presenting the Saints with their first home win for ten weeks.
City left the pitch with nothing more than relief at completing the double over the stricken Dorset club after putting in a performance lacking in purpose, conviction and killer instinct.
Bottom of the table Weymouth had lost their previous seven matches and Saints boss Steve Castle pondered whether it was a case of too much time on the ball against the depleted Terras that bamboozled his side.
But that the game should peter out so lamely was a surprise given that it began in a relatively lively fashion. Weymouth, to their credit, played a neat passing game early on although it was not difficult to see that their confidence was fragile.
St Albans were also at their best early on and once ahead, and facing just ten men, were clearly uncomfortable at being in the rare position of favourites.
City showed two changes from the side that had a wasted journey to Lewes in midweek. Godfrey Poku came into the midfield in place of the injured Solomon Shields, while Justin Clayton returned from Southend United to replace Mark Peters in the middle of the defence.
James Quilter was surprisingly included after fears that he had fractured a bone in his shoulder at Lewes and Drew Roberts joined Gary Cohen in attack as Luke Thurlbourne was rested from the midfield as a disciplinary measure.
Weymouth started with the same XI that went down at home to Bath City in midweek, a match in which defender David Obaze was dismissed.
Attacking the York Road goal City first threatened on 11 minutes when James Fisher sent Cohen away down the left flank. Cohen’s cross was cleared out of the penalty area but only as far as Poku whose shot from around 25 yards came to rest on top of the roof of the net.
Weymouth hit back with Kyle Critchell exchanging passes with Chris Allen before sending his long range shot comfortably over Paul Bastock’s goal.
But Critchell’s contribution to the afternoon’s entertainment was curtailed four minutes later when he went in late and high on Poku. Referee Matt Foley, who has upset Weymouth in the past and earlier this season controversially sent off two City players at Welling, promptly dismissed the Terras captain.
On 21 minutes City almost added to the Terras woes when Cohen turned swiftly on the edge of the penalty area but his attempted chip over keeper Ryan Harrison drifted just over the crossbar.
Given their off the field problems – the club went into administration during the week and is facing possible closure – Weymouth could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel but, instead, stunned the locals by taking the lead on the half hour.
Allen clipped a free kick in from the Weymouth left that eluded Jake Reid but was smartly headed to the left of Paul Bastock from 12 yards out by Obaze for his third goal of the season.
Referee Foley, already unpopular with the visitors for his dismissal of their skipper, further angered the Terras when booking Jordan Rose for blocking a free kick that Roberts should never have taken so quickly.
But Harrison kept the Weymouth spirits high when making an excellent save to his left to deny Fisher his first goal at the Park since February.
Ian Hutchinson’s side desperately needed to get to the interval with their lead intact if they were to pull off a surprise victory but with two goals inside three minutes City turned the match on its head.
Fisher had a hand in both goals as the Saints won for the first time since last October when conceding the first goal of the game.
The equaliser on 35 minutes had a touch of good fortune about it as Poku, after receiving a short pass from Fisher, shot low from 25 yards with the ball deflecting off the outstretched leg of Jamie Frampton and to the left of the fully extended Harrison for Poku’s first goal for the club.
Frampton’s afternoon continued to crumble two minutes later as he tripped Fisher just inside the penalty area. Roberts, playing his first full league match for seven weeks, swept the resulting spot kick to Harrison’s right to confirm his position as the Saints leading scorer this season.
Everything was now set up for City to really take full advantage of Weymouth’s mounting problems. But, to their embarrassment, Castle’s side failed to produce another on-target shot during the remaining hour or so.
Alex Bailey, who again started wide on the right of the midfield, almost added a third with a good ball into the six yard box that Frampton did well to clear but this was a moment of rare excitement.
A calf strain led to the exit of David Galbraith during the interval with Jonathan O’Donnell returning to the side just two days after his 18th birthday. O’Donnell was soon attacking the Terras goal with an ambitious effort that was charged down while Fisher, too, had a couple of early second half shots blocked.
Weymouth were determined to blunt a City attack that has hardly proved fearsome this season and left just one man up front. It was an understandable tactic but a lack of awareness allowed O’Donnell to take a short pass from Poku and twist with great agility before sending an excellent shot from 30 yards just over Harrison’s goal.
Mr Foley made another bizarre intervention on 66 minutes when booking Cohen for an alleged foul on the keeper despite the City striker clearly being in front of Harrison as a low cross came in from the City right.
Adam Everitt was substituted a minute later after picking up a groin strain with his place being taken by Bailey. Ryan Maxwell came off the bench to take Bailey’s position on the right of the midfield.
By now, and for the remaining time, the football was pedestrian and the danger of City conceding an equaliser while looking incapable of extending their lead was all too apparent.
Even when a goal was a possibility, as O’Donnell broke clear when obviously impeded, Mr Foley intervened to give a free kick instead of letting the teenager continue his thrilling run. Roberts, who worked hard throughout, played the dead ball short to Ryan Frater whose right footed shot from 25 yards went a yard wide of Harrison’s right hand post.
The game ended with a suitably mystifying piece of refereeing as Allen was cautioned for, presumably, taking a free kick before the referee was ready.
As Clarence Park emptied the first fireworks of the night could be seen across the city but what the future holds for Weymouth could be far scarier than anything the evil spirits could muster on Halloween night.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, J.Quilter, A.Everitt (R.Maxwell 77), G.Poku, J.Clayton, R.Frater, A.Bailey, J.Fisher, G.Cohen, D.Roberts, D.Galbraith (J.O’Donnell 46), subs; M.Peters, T.James, R.Dedman.
Weymouth: R.Harrison, J.Frampton (N.Loader 86), S.Radcliffe, S.Brice, D.Obaze, K.Critchell, C.Allen, J.Rose (J.Metters 84), J.Llewellyn, J.Reid, S.Dixon (D.Smith 75), subs; I.Hutchinson, A.Byfield.
Goals: 0-1 Obaze 30, 1-1 Poku 35, 2-1 Roberts (p) 37.
Booked: Cohen, Rose, Allen.
Referee: Matt Foley (Rotherhithe).