St Albans City put a few days of dramatic off-pitch turbulence behind them to cruise through to the 3rd Round of the Herts Senior Cup with an easy 5-0 victory over Spartan South Midlands League side Oxhey Jets at Altham Way on Tuesday evening.
Playing their first match since the departure of joint-managers Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds on Saturday, City were under the guidance of coach Harry Wheeler and had few problems in disposing of a side that had embarrassed them three times during the past ten years.
Wheeler, who holds a UEFA A coaching licence, fielded a strong City side but made several positional changes before telling the players to relax and express themselves, and not to worry about making mistakes, as they would receive criticism from neither him nor fellow coach Mark Boyce.
Only Ben Martin and Ben Nunn were in their usual back four positions, as Jernade Meade was given a run out at left-back with the quite excellent Tom Bender moving inside to partner Martin.
City captain Lee Chappell started on the left of the midfield but seemed to spend much of the second half roaming wherever he so desired as the Saints dominated.
Sam Corcoran played in a defensive midfield role with Billy Gibson in front of him. James Comley added right-sided midfielder to his already lengthy list of positions occupied during his time with the Saints.
Louie Theophanous led the attack alongside Harry Crawford, who suffered the sort of night that every player dreads.
After having a first half penalty saved Crawford was dismissed after the interval following a verbal exchange with referee Joel Mannix.
Despite all the positional changes City gained the upper hand early on against an Oxhey side struggling in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division and that has already got through 50 players in just 25 games.
City attacked freely and prior to taking the lead on 19 minutes had already put four shots wide, while Chappell had also gone close with a header and forced home keeper Davis Boateng â making his home debut â to make his first save to keep out a low drive.
Ironically, the opening goal came after a promising Jets attack ended when Martin blocked a shot by Ben Alexander.
City broke swiftly with Billy Gibson sweeping a long pass out to Theophanous on the left. The Saints leading goal scorer played the ball inside to Corcoran who was tackled with the ball rolling towards Comley.
Theophanous virtually tackled his team-mate before unleashing a powerful right-footed effort that entered Boatangâs net via the inside of his left hand upright.
St Albans had the ball in the net for a second time five minutes later when Corcoran exchanged passes with, firstly, Crawford, and then Comley, before neatly guiding the ball home only for the effort to be ruled out for an incorrect offside decision.
The gulf between the two sides of four Divisions was stark and St Albans continued to pass the ball around safe in the knowledge that whenever possession was lost it would be regained quickly.
Oxhey had their work cut out to keep the score down and were grateful to Chris Killer for a fine headed goalline clearance after Bender looked to have headed home from a Gibson corner.
Meade revelled in moving forward from left-back and it was from one such run that City should have doubled their advantage.
After skipping past Tyler Connor and Joshua Dowling, Meade saw his cross strike the arm of Beau Shulman and deflect onto the crossbar.
The ball ricocheted towards the far side of the penalty area where Comley attempted to regain possession only to be bundled over by Boateng.
With Mr Mannix pointing to the penalty spot Boateng reacted vociferously and was duly shown a yellow card, but calmed down sufficiently to dive to his left to beat away Crawfordâs spot kick.
Oxhey were not completely without chances but when they did find a way through the middle, courtesy of Scott Pugsleyâs pass, Adam Lowton was thwarted by the diving Joe Welch.
The outcome took a giant step towards being known in added time at the end of the first half when City converted a well-constructed effort.
Breaking from inside his own half, Comley swept the ball out to Theophanous who darted towards the goalline before chipping a delightful cross over the leaping Boateng for Meade to open his City account with a simple header at the back post.
The second period saw little change to the balance of play although the Jets did get the ball into the City net through Luke Wells but an offside flag denied him his first goal of the season.
City increased their lead on the hour when a cross from the right by Meade just eluded Comley but was touched back to the Monserrat international by Theophanous.
This time Comley put City three-up with a perfectly placed dipping effort to the right of Boateng from 24 yards for his first goal since December last year.
The match then took a most bizarre twist.
Wheeler stood by the touchline waiting to make a double substitution but as the teams lined up to restart the game Crawford got into an exchange of words with the referee and was shown a straight red card.
Going down to ten-men for a second successive match made little difference to the game as City continued to dominate.
One of the substitutes sent on was Jonathan Edwards, a striker signed on loan from Peterborough United who turned 19 on 24th November.
Edwards was lively but possibly too-keen during his first ten or so minutes on the pitch and squandered two clear chances and conceded three free kicks.
But once he got a goal under his belt he looked a different player and was far too strong and quick for the under pressure Jets.
After failing to score with any of his first four goal attempts Edwards finally got his sat-nav on the right setting on 78 minutes.
Corcoran fed Kevin Krans who threaded a good ball through an open Oxhey backline for Edwards to latch onto and steer wide of the out-rushing Boateng for the fourth goal.
Two minutes later Chappell won the ball inside the City half and touched it to Krans who slid a perfectly measured pass between the two home central defenders to send Edwards scampering away again.
This time the Luton-born striker went wide of the keeper before slotting home the Saints fifth goal.
Cityâs day almost suffered a late blip when Corcoran, on the edge of his own penalty area, accidentally kicked the ball with his standing foot and presented a chance to Wells whose quick shot flashed across the goal and just wide.
In the few minutes that remained Edwards went close to scoring on three further occasions but he failed in his bid to join Steve Oliver (in December 1987) as the only City substitute to have scored a hat-trick.
St Albans City will be looking to complete their first National League South double of the season on Saturday when Margate are the visitors to Clarence Park. Kick off is at 3pm.
When speaking after the game Wheeler gave a highly impressive, confident and clear interview during which he confirmed that he is very much interested in taking on the role as manager on a permanent basis.
âIn terms of whether I want it, of course, always would,â said Wheeler who in addition to his coaching duties at Clarence Park is also on the coaching staff at Dagenham & Redbridge. The Daggers have cleared the way for him to be in charge of the side again at the weekend.
Interviews for the vacant managerâs job are being conducted by joint-City owner Lawrence Levy, rather than the Saints chairman Nick Archer.
Levy explained the reasons for this shortly after the Saints win at Oxhey Jets.
âI was involved with (the appointment of) James and Graham, with Nick at that time, and I said to Nick that youâve got a lot of things on your plate at the moment, let me take the recruitment. Thatâs my job, recruitment has been my business for the last 30 years.â
During that time Levy has run his Levy Associates business in the city, although he sold it earlier this year.
âI told Harry to take the team tonight and if we donât have anyone in charge before Saturday then heâll be in charge of the team on Saturday as well.â