The optimism built upon a first away league win of the season counted for nothing for St Albans City on Saturday as the Saints were sent spinning out of the FA Cup at Scraley Road by Heybridge Swifts with the lowly Ryman League Division One North side good value for their shock 1-0 victory.
City were poor, very poor in fact, and manager Steve Castle, who usually does a good job in protecting his players, was highly critical of his strikers and most of his midfield as the Saints winless FA Cup run was extended to a seventh game and a fourth season.
Castleâ€™s fury was understandable. City lacked any invention in midfield, Solomon Shields apart, and when a player of undoubted talent was thrown into action, teenage substitute Jonathan Oâ€™Donnell, he was starved of the ball after looking likely to turn the game Cityâ€™s way.
The City boss quite rightly excluded the back four from any criticism but his frustration at the lack of creativity and penetration from the other departments was completely understandable.
Heybridge, two Divisionsâ€™ below St Albans, had only reached this 2nd Round Qualifying stage of the competition with a penalty shoot-out victory over Eastern Counties League side Stanway Rovers. Given the chasm between the two clubs this is St Albansâ€™ most humiliating FA Cup defeat since going down to Brimsdown Rovers in 1991.
Both sides were fairly close to full strength with Castle opting to bring Godfrey Poku into the starting line up for the first time in place of the injured Drew Roberts.
The manager confessed he thought long and hard about starting with Oâ€™Donnell, on the evidence of this game it seems inconceivable that the 17-year-old will not be in the starting XI for next Saturdayâ€™s visit to Weston-super-Mare.
From the first blow of referee Lee Bettsâ€™ whistle Heybridge demonstrated that they would not make life easy for their guests and within three minutes Luke Hammond had won the first corner of the game when his drive was deflected wide.
A minute later the Swifts almost opened the scoring when Codling glanced on a near post corner only for Liam Coleman to head over.
City responded with David Galbraith, enduring the poorest of his four games for the Saints before being put out of his misery at half time, curling an in-swinging corner into the goalmouth that Ryan Frater helped on only for Adam Everitt to fail to apply the telling touch at the back post.
After that lively opening the game simply died as a spectacle with the passing of both sides wayward. It was not until the 25th minute that either goal again came under the merest threat, on this occasion Luke Thurlbourne was well off target after Gary Cohen had challenged for an Everitt cross.
Paul Bastock was virtually a spectator but had to be alert to save from the lively Nick Muir on 37 minutes, while home keeper Ollie Morris-Sanders also dealt competently with a curling effort from Shields.
Heybridge, who lost to City in the same competition back in 2004 only to go through when St Albans were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, could have taken the lead right on half time when Luke Fisher wastefully headed over following a Jeff Shepherd corner.
City came out with a new look for the second 45 minutes as Castle withdrew his two wide men â€“ Galbraith and Poku â€“ and sent on Ryan Maxwell and Oâ€™Donnell. Maxwellâ€™s impact on his debut was minimal but within 15 minutes Oâ€™Donnell looked likely to be the Saints match winner.
On 49 minutes the former Milton Keynes Dons and Watford youngster went on a weaving run before the ball ran on to Thurlbourne whose scuffed shot went harmlessly wide. On the hour Oâ€™Donnell raised the temperature on a glorious day when receiving a pass from Shields and sending a clean strike from 18 yards against Morris-Sanders right hand upright.
After that City tossed away their trump card by mounting the majority of their limp attacks down the opposite and less effective flank while Oâ€™Donnell was left to top up his tan. That said, City did get the ball into the net when Daniel Chillingworth nodded home from Everittâ€™s headed pass but the offside flag had long since been raised.
Heybridge were hardly battering away successfully at the other end of the pitch and with Mark Peters leading the St Albans back line faultlessly a replay seemed the most likely outcome.
Even so, the Swifts wide duo of Coleman and Shepherd kept Everitt and the solid James Quilter occupied, and Bastock was spoken to by referee Betts after an ugly clash with Muir as the Heybridge striker chased a through ball.
Midway through the half Gareth Street lobbed the ball forward to the edge of the penalty area from the halfway line, Goodwin knocked the ball deeper into the box with Fisher forcing Bastock into a decent save.
The home goal was threatened briefly when an Oâ€™Donnell corner was partially cleared as far as Everitt whose shot was deflected by Fisher for another corner.
By now though it was Wayne Bondâ€™s Swifts who were entertaining thoughts of scoring and when Peters headed away a Shepherd cross Coleman seized possession only to be denied by Bastock.
But Coleman was back again on 77 minutes, receiving the ball down the Heybridge right he darted into the penalty area shot powerfully to Bastockâ€™s right, forcing the City keeper into a spectacular save.
Coleman shrugged off his disappointment to send the resulting corner right-footed towards the back post where Muir did well to stab the ball into the six-yard box for Codling to evade Thurlbourne and Frater and thump the ball into the roof of the net.
Three minutes later Peters made his only misjudgement of the day when failing to clear a bouncing ball, Codling nipped behind the City defence but an attempt to lift the ball over Bastock also resulted in the ball disappearing out of the ground.
Bastockâ€™s anger at what was unfurling in front of him was evident as the veteran keeper marched 35 yards down the pitch to berate his team mates with what at best can only be described as colourful language.
For the final ten minutes City threw Peters into the attack. Chillingworth and Cohen had barely ruffled a single feather in the Swifts defence all afternoon, with sheer rugged determination Peters gave a hint at what could and should have been accomplished.
Heybridge made progress through the to 3rd Qualifying Round a touch more difficult for themselves when Ryan Hull was shown a second yellow card for dissent, having earlier been booked for handball the left back was duly despatched. But the red card was only shown after a linesman pointed out that Hull had been booked previously.
In just over five minutes of added time City twice went close to avoiding what is a damaging defeat. Oâ€™Donnell failed to make a clean contact with a shot from just outside the penalty area, but Morris-Sanders still watched attentively as the ball rolled only just wide of the target.
Deep into added time the keeper made his biggest contribution of the day when just getting his fingertips to a drive by Shields and nudging the rising shot onto the crossbar. The rebound came at speed towards Maxwell who failed to adjust his balance properly and scooped his shot over the target.
Heybridge bank Â£4,500 from their victory while the cash-strapped Saints turn their attention towards holding on to a place in Blue Square South.