St Albans City’s promotion bid from the Southern League suffered a second blow in five days on Wednesday as nine-man Corby Town comfortably overcame a woefully out of sorts Saints, for whom goalkeeper Paul Bastock was sent off during a 2-0 defeat at Steel Park.
City were already a goal down at the time of Bastock’s 76th minute dismissal for striking Greg Mills as the ball went into the penalty area following a corner.
Corby were down to ten men themselves at this time with Nathan Stanton dismissed for rash challenges on Danny Green and James Comley that earned the Town substitute two yellow cards.
Five minutes from time Claudio Hoban picked up one of the most stupid sending offs of the season when shown a yellow card for an outrageous dive having earlier been booked for kicking the ball away.
Referee Shaun Berry was castigated for sending three players off in a match that contained barely a single bad foul, but the Northampton-based match official, whilst overly fussy regarding where throw-ins should be taken from, got all of the big decisions correct and should be applauded for such.
St Albans were still reeling from an inept showing at the weekend that was certain to lead to changes.
But any plans that joint managers Graham Golds and James Gray harboured were thrown into disarray when a car containing James Comley, Richard Graham and Mark Nwokeji ground to a halt en route to Corby.
The injured City captain Ben Martin was despatched to collect the weary travellers who arrived at the stadium just five minutes before kick off.
Having started badly, City’s evening continued to disintegrate and there can be few complaints at the final score.
The tempo of the first half was a welcome improvement on Saturday’s languid showing against Truro but the quality was poor.
City’s passing football of a few weeks ago has been replaced by an edgy, lacking in confidence, get it forward quickly style that is leading to possession being surrendered at will, and sides such as Corby will be only too willing to reap the benefits.
With Comley, Graham and Nwokeji all ruled out from the starting XI, City’s line up was unbalanced from the off.
Defender Howard Hall filled in on the right of a midfield that also included Danny Green, Sam Corcoran and Ram Marwa.
Peter Dean seemed to be playing quite deep for a striker leaving young Elliot Bailey virtually isolated and left to feed from scraps from the poor service he received.
The playing surface at Steel Park was far better than St Albans had anticipated although around a quarter of it was boggy, heavily sanded and difficult to perform on. That, however, is no excuse for the Saints dire showing.
Corby made the early inroads with the lively Hoban sending one effort a yard or so wide before repeating the trick with a header.
Sandwiched between those two efforts, Corcoran fired comfortably wide for City and it was not until the 25th minute that either goalkeeper was called into action, when Bastock made a routine save to deal with an Aman Verma free kick that went straight through to the keeper.
A good chance went begging for the visitors when Dean cut a ball back into the penalty area to Green whose shot across the face of the goal seemed to surprise Bailey, who was unable to stick out a leg and apply the killer touch.
City struggled to get to grips Hoban throughout the first half and on 40 minutes he cut in from the Corby right flank and drove in a good effort from 18 yards that the diving Bastock pushed away for the first corner of the game.
A rare flurry of activity inside the home penalty area saw keeper Paul Walker require two attempts to deal with a shot from Hall that was City’s sole on-target effort of the half.
City had a let off late in the half when an attempted clearance by Bastock to a Lee Chappell back pass saw the ball thud into the advancing Mills and loop into the terrace behind the City goal.
Bastock was more impressive when flying to his right to palm away a deflected shot from Mills.
St Albans may have experienced problems fielding their desired starting XI, but Corby suffered problems during the half as both Courtney Herbert and Verma had to be replaced after picking up injuries.
Early in the second half St Albans threw Comley and Nwokeji into the fray, for Hall and Dean, but the longer the half went on the more City disintegrated as a unit.
On 55 minutes Green, sent through the middle by Dean, almost found a way through only to be brought down by Stanton 20 yards from goal. Chappell’s free kick was headed away to safety.
The Steelmen opened the scoring on the hour with the sort of goal that will give Bastock more nightmares than the fourth dismissal of his 305 games for the club.
Cleveland Taylor floated an in-swinging right-footed corner into the City goalmouth where Bastock was comprehensively beaten by the incoming Tommy Wright who headed the home side into the lead.
St Albans boosted their attacking options midway through the half when sending Chris Henry out to play on the left flank, as Corcoran made way.
Within a minute of coming on Henry, picked out by Comley, went on a good run down the line before Comley got in a low shot that was blocked.
On 69 minutes Stanton forlornly gave chase as Henry broke away before ending the run with a lunge that could only have one possible outcome, a yellow then red card.
Seven minutes later and Bastock evened the numbers up when receiving a straight red card for catching Mills in the face as he tried to remove the Corby player from his six-yard box.
As Bastock departed, James Kaloczi, a revelation in midfield in recent weeks but forced by circumstance to play as a central defender here, donned the goalkeeper’s jersey.
Mills, with clear delight, sent the stand-in keeper the wrong way to double Corby’s advantage from the penalty spot.
For just about the only time in the entire game a City player got behind the Town defence when Nwokeji flicked on a long kick by Kaloczi to Henry whose shot bounced across the face of the goal and wide.
The Steelmen hit back with Mills, on 85 minutes, laying a pass across the edge of the penalty area to Hoban who teased Chappell before blasting the ball against Kaloczi’s right hand upright.
As City struggled to get the ball away, Kaloczi did well when diving to his left to beat out Mills’ drive.
The ball rebounded to Hoban who wasted the memory of a fine personal performance by diving as Marwa closed in and, having been booked just a few minutes earlier, was, rightly, dismissed.
Once again holding a numerical advantage St Albans tried to reduce the deficit in added time when Nwokeji squared a pass to Henry.
The City winger looked to have skipped around Walker only for the grounded keeper to thrust out an arm and push the ball onto Henry’s leg forcing him to, involuntarily, kick the ball out for a goal kick.
The defeat is a severe blow to City’s aspirations but the Saints destiny still remains in their hands; defeat at Stourbridge on Saturday, though, and they could be looking for assistance in their bid to secure a play-off position.
Kick off against Stourbridge at the War Memorial Ground is at 3pm.
Corby Town: P.Walker, K.Thomas, G.Jelleyman, P.Malone, C.Carruthers, T.McGowan, G.Mills (H.May 85), A.Verma (N.Stanton 40), C.Herbert (T.Wright 27), C.Taylor, C.Hoban, subs; A.Wilson, J.Carpenter.
Dismissed: Stanton, Hoban.
St Albans City: P.Bastock, K.Gilbert, L.Chappell, R.Marwa, T.Ward, J.Kaloczi, S.Corcoran (C.Henry 66), H.Hall (J.Comley 52), E.Bailey, P.Dean (M.Nwokeji 57), D.Green, subs; M.Taylor, R.Graham.
Goals: 60 1-0 Wright, 77 2-0 Mills (p).
Referee: Shaun Barry (Northampton).