St Albans City proved no match for an in-form Sutton United at a wet windy Gander Green Lane on Saturday as Paul Doswellâ€™s side boosted their National League South promotion push with a 5-0 drubbing of the struggling Saints.
Scott Thomas battles for the ball.
This was Suttonâ€™s eighth successive match without defeat, of which seven have ended in victory and, with just a modicum of good fortune, United could have comfortably added greater agony to Cityâ€™s misery.
Sutton got off to the perfect start by scoring on six minutes but City caused problems for the Uâ€™s during the early stages and could have pulled level before the Surrey club slipped into top gear.
However, ifs and buts are not going to save St Albans and if a run of just three points from five games is not arrested soon then their plight will quickly become helpless at the foot of the table.
Caretaker manager Harry Wheeler recalled Darren Locke to join Ben Martin in the middle of the City defence, as a slight knock picked up by Jorell Johnson in training restricted the on-loan Watford player to a seat on the bench.
Harry Crawford was preferred to Jonathan Edwards in attack but for all of his commendable work-rate Crawford needs goals to erase questions about his selection, particularly when the Saints have scored just seven times in a dozen away league games this season.
This was Cityâ€™s second National League South match this season on a 3G pitch and this one, from a spectatorâ€™s point of view, seemed a faster, truer surface than the one seen at Maidstone in October.
Certainly it was very much to Suttonâ€™s liking, even in the latter stages when water splashed around as the rain lashed down in south London.
St Albans actually made the first real threat on goal with James Comley firing over, but on six minutes Sutton scored their 40th league goal of the season â€“ by the 79th minute they had become the leading scorers in the Division.
Martin headed away a long ball by Jamie Collins but Sutton immediately regained possession and sliced City open with a precise low through ball by Tom Bolarinwa.
Pouncing on the pass, Dan Fitchett darted between Martin and Locke before sliding a left-footed shot through the legs of the advancing Joe Welch in the City goal.
Just 12-seconds after the restart and Crawford, sent clear of a Sutton defence that decided that a long pass by Tom Bender was going to roll through to home keeper Ross Worner, drove his shot against the outside of the keeperâ€™s upright and the chance of a swift response had gone.
But, to their credit, City did continue to search for an equaliser and after Welch collected a tame Dan Wishart free kick a counter-attack was launched.
Again Crawford did well to get behind the Sutton defence, this time following a sumptuous through ball by Sam Corcoran, but just as the Eire U19 international stroked the ball into the net he was pulled up by an extremely tight offside decision.
City simply could not afford to fall two goals in arrears but in the 19th minute there was a feeling of impending doom as United did increase their lead.
With a superb free and fast flowing five-man move Sutton moved from one end of the pitch to other.
The move terminated when Bolarinwa whipped over a low right-footed cross that the experienced Craig Dundas helped on its way across the penalty area for Ross Stearn to score with an excellent volley from 12 yards.
A brief spell City pressure ended when Crawford did well to win the ball inside the home penalty area only to send a tame effort through to Worner.
Louie Theophanous, Cityâ€™s leading marksman this season, was offered scant opportunity to add to his tally but on 25 minutes he, after a long ball this time from Tom Bender, did have a shot charged down with the loose ball rolling to Jernade Meade whose firm drive from 18 yards was smartly taken by Worner.
Whilst City did create some goalscoring opportunities Suttonâ€™s attacks always looked the more potent, a third goal did not seem to be far away.
Stearn, following a cross by Bedsente Gomis, fired over, Locke dived in in an attempt to block the shot but only succeeded in picking up an injury that led to him being substituted during the interval.
Sutton used their wide men to good effect and following another cross from the right by Bolarinwa â€“ who gave Bender a difficult opening 45 minutes â€“ Fitchett caused problems before teeing up Stearn for two shots that Welch moved swiftly to block.
John Kyriacou eventually got the ball out for a corner but the relief was short-lived.
On 41 minutes, Meade was hustled out of possession by Gomis who quickly fed Dundas, the United striker then nudged a perfect pass through an open defence for Fitchett to cut into the penalty area and again fire through the legs of Welch.
City appealed for offside but the goal, rightly, stood.
Locke was replaced by Edwards for the start of the second half. Bender moved into the middle and Lee Chappell reclaimed his old left-back slot.
But barely 90 seconds had elapsed after the restart when City were lining up to kick off again after United had moved into a four-goal lead.
Sutton were determined not to let City stage a second half comeback and hounded the Saints out of possession midway inside their half before Dundas blocked an attempted clearance by Bender.
The ricochet bounced kindly towards Fitchett who stepped inside the City penalty area and beat Welch with an excellent, powerful right-footed strike low inside the keeperâ€™s left hand post.
With that goal Fitchett became the second player to score a hat-trick against St Albans this season.
City wasted no time in losing possession from the kick off and within 22 seconds Welch was again rushing from his goal to deflect wide one more attempt on goal by the elusive Fitchett.
St Albans, on the hour, finally enjoyed a piece of good fortune.
United won the ball just outside their own penalty area and once again passed their way forward with great confidence until Wishart clipped a wonderful outward curling cross from the left that substitute Stuart Fleetwood smartly volleyed past the exposed Welch.
The goal was disallowed for offside but video footage showed that the goal should have stood, as Martin had kept Fleetwood onside.
Having a goal ruled out seemed nothing more than a minor irritant to the irrepressible Uâ€™s who went close with a Bolarinwa header from a corner and a shot by Gomis that Welch beat out for a corner.
Eleven minutes from time Bender had a header saved from a Billy Gibson corner, but again Sutton broke with tremendous speed and precision with the ball coming to rest in the City net for a fifth time just 20 seconds later.
St Albans, somehow, failed to locate young striker Tommy Wright, as the substitute latched onto Stearnâ€™s excellent pass through the middle of the defence, to clinically guide the ball past Welch for his first goal for the club.
Even as much as a consolation goal proved to be beyond the Saints and Worner made certain of keeping his 11th clean sheet of the season when diving to his right to keep out an effort from Edwards.
But the best save of the day came in the dying moments of the match when Welch went full length to his left, along the ground, to tip away a goal-bound shot by Wishart, only for referee Daniel Leach to award City a goal kick.
Still Sutton, on this evidence strong contenders for promotion, pressed for a sixth goal and only a goalline clearance by Kyriacou from Bolarinwa stopped United from beating their biggest win over the Saints set in August 1963.
Cityâ€™s failure to score ended a run of scoring in ten consecutive league games but, more seriously, they have now played more games than the four sides immediately above them in the table.
One of those four sides, Weston-super-Mare, is due at Clarence Park next Saturday.
Speaking after the Sutton match Harry Wheeler stated, most bluntly, that â€˜we have to win the (Weston) game, there are no two ways about it.â€™ Prior to then City are in cup action with Spartan South Midlands League side Hadley the visitors to Clarence Park for a Herts Senior Cup 3rd Round tie on Tuesday (12th January), kick off 7.45pm.
Wheeler confirmed that he will be fielding a strong side although some fringe players are also likely to get a run out. Defender Eddie Oshodi is set to make his return after missing the past two games due to a mid-winter holiday.