Just one week after getting a whiff of the Great Escape St Albans City received a cold dose of reality on Saturday when Sutton United maintained their pursuit of National League South leaders Ebbsfleet United with a 3-0 victory at Clarence Park.
Saints fail to convert in a goalmouth scramble
City manager Ian Allinson started with the same XI that ran in six against Whitehawk the previous weekend, but Paul Doswellâ€™s side are not second in the table for nothing and still harbour thoughts of pinching the title should Ebbsfleet falter during the final run-in.
Sutton certainly have the quality to lift the title but for 45 minutes at a most wintry Clarence Park the Uâ€™s were matched by a City side that if it can reproduce this form, and find the target on a more regular basis, during the final ten games then may yet pull off a sensational Houdini act.
Falling behind inside three minutes was a severe setback for the Saints but they shook it off well and should really have gone in at half time at least on level terms. But playing up the slope after the break they offered as little resistance as Whitehawk had and Sutton took full advantage.
Leading the Sutton attack was recent signing Ryan Burge and after 18 months out of the game he is making up for lost time with his brace at the Park taking his tally to three in two games.
Burge fired Sutton ahead after just three minutes when sweeping the ball across Joe Welch from a short pass by Bedsente Gomis after Ross Stearn had worked the ball in from Unitedâ€™s left flank.
Burge had also played two parts in the build-up before applying the killer finish.
Having gone down 5-0 at Sutton just two months earlier City could have capitulated, but under Allinsonâ€™s impressive leadership plenty of promising traits have been instilled into this City squad and for the remainder of the half the Saints just about held the upper hand.
Cityâ€™s clearest opportunity to pull level came on nine minutes when Billy Gibson, from wide on the right, floated a free kick towards the edge of the penalty area.
Darren Locke directed a header towards the goalmouth where Charlie MacDonald launched himself but somehow sent a diving header wide from six yards as a goal beckoned.
Sutton had a let off when Eddie Oshodi beat â€˜keeper Ross Worner to a Lee Chappell corner but the former Forest Green Rovers defenderâ€™s header flew just wide of the target.
Worner was unconvincing on two further occasions when faced with crosses into the goalmouth but both times Sutton defenders covered his weakness in the air and cleared their lines.
City sent some decent lofted crosses into the Sutton penalty area during the first half but it was from a grass-cutter from the right by Chappell that Locke moved in to touch home only to be beaten to the ball at the back post by Uâ€™s right-back Kevin Amankwaah.
As snow began to fall midway through the first half Sutton squandered a clear chance to increase their lead.
Following one of numerous long throws by Chappell Sutton launched a counter-attack with a hooked clearance by Dan Fitchett that Tom Bolarinwa collected just inside the City half.
After going wide of Josh Staunton Bolarinwa forced Welch to parry the ball with a good angled low drive to the keeperâ€™s right.
Stearn looked certain to tap home the loose ball but distracted by Chappellâ€™s desperate lunge the Sutton striker missed the ball and Oshodi walked it to safety.
As well as St Albans competed during the first half they only managed to get one shot on-target in the entire game.
That came when Billy Gibson did well to get the better of Amankwaah and cross from the City left. Simon Downer headed the ball away but Chappell seized upon the clearance and drove a good left-footed effort low to Wornerâ€™s left but this time keeper made an excellent one-handed save.
City skipper Sam Corcoran put a couple of efforts wide and Dean Beckwith headed over for the Uâ€™s but, on the whole, both defences came out on top prior to the break.
In fact, not a lot changed after the interval and once Sutton had moved into a three-goal lead just after the hour clear chances faded away once again.
St Albans fortunes mirrored the dark, cold, wet conditions that shrouded the Park for much of the afternoon while Suttonâ€™s mood reflected the piercing sunshine that engulfed the ground during the final 30 minutes.
And any hope City held of defeating Sutton for the first time in ten years evaporated on 56 minutes when United scored their second goal.
Locke picked up the only booking of the game, for a foul on Bolarinwa, and although St Albans cleared Burgeâ€™s initial free kick the ball was quickly heading back in their direction courtesy of Dan Spence.
Stearn beat Tom Bender to a header and helped the ball into the path of Burge who had come in from the right to send a precise finish to the right of Welch.
Sutton controlled the rest of the game but only called upon Welch to make one more save, that came following a short corner routine that ended with Stearn drilling a shot towards the near post that Burge only just failed to reach and Welch collected.
Results elsewhere mean that St Albans are now eight points adrift of the nearest side, Havant & Waterlooville, above the relegation places and most of the teams embroiled in the bottom of the table dog-fight have games in hand on the Saints.
This coming Tuesday, 8th March, St Albans host fellow strugglers Weston-super-Mare, kick off at Clarence Park is at 7.45pm.
Weston ended a run of four games without a win when defeating Dartford 2-1 at the weekend, that result moves Ryan Northmoreâ€™s side seven points clear of St Albans and the Seagulls also have three games in hand.
City beat Weston 2-1 in the FA Cup at Clarence Park earlier in the season but Weston gained ample revenge when seeing City off 4-1 in the league meeting at Winterstoke Road in November.