St Neots Town advanced into the first round of the FA Trophy after a 6-1 home win over Worksop Town – but a melee as the players headed down the tunnel had a major bearing on the outcome.
A foul by Worksop’s Scott Brown and reaction from Sam Goode on the stroke of half-time brought bookings for the pair but emotions were high and as the sides left the field, those emotions spilled over.
Three were sent-off because of it and with more space on the pitch to attack, and an extra man, Saints were able to close out what was a comfortable win.
St Neots deserve a lot of credit for the way they took control of the game, especially in the second-half, but it was a shame that the dismissals were the talking point as up until that point it was a fascinating match-up.
Both sides play at the same step of the non-league pyramid, although in different leagues, and both have had decent starts to their respective campaigns.
Worksop have won four and lost just one of their seven Nothern Premier League South East games while St Neots’ tally in Southern League Division One Central also includes just the one loss from seven outings.
What has categorised the start of St Neots has been their attacking intent, scoring 21 and conceding 11, but even here the visiting Tigers could boast a similar record, 20 goals scored and nine conceded.
That would usually have been the perfect recipe for a guaranteed 0-0 draw but those fears were ended in just 11 minutes.
Worksop’s Michael Dunn had looked dangerous already and after a ball to the left side found him in behind the defence, he cut inside and fired high to the right of Louis Chadwick.
It was a fine finish and up to that point it had been the visitors who had been on the front foot.
St Neots did have chances, Arel Amu screwing a shot on the turn from six yards wide, and Leon Lobjoit much closer to connecting with a wicked Jake Battersby cross than Seb Malkowski in the away goal believed.
Ben Worman had a shot tipped wide by the keeper and from the corner Sam Goode flashed a header across the goal and wide.
Another Battersby delivery was just in front of a sliding Amu while at the other end, two corners had the St Neots defence working overtime.
But finally they did get the breakthrough and it was as simple as they come. A cross from the right missed the defenders and was tucked away by Lewis Simper at the back post.
Then came the start of the bother. The foul was rightly booked but Goode could count himself lucky after a push on Brown; it could and often does lead to stricter sanctions.
Certainly the Worksop bench expected more and amid finger pointing, shouting and a fair bit of squaring up the teams finally went down the tunnel.
The repercussions came at the start of the second half. Dequane Wilson-Braithwaite and Malkowski had gone forehead to forehead and neither returned, nor did Worksop striker Gavin Allott.
Brown was the man sacrificed to allow Kian Johnson to come on in goal and after a very good save to stop Worman’s twisting shot, he was beaten after just five minutes.
Lobjoit got it flashing a shot into the back of the net before many had a chance to work out what was going on.
The young keeper did make a few good saves for the remainder of the half but he was also left with severely unprotected at times and Saints took full advantage as they cruised clear.
Worman made it three with a shot from 25 yards that bounced before getting to Johnson but his second and St Neots’ fourth was delightful.
A one-two sent him away and after skipping past the last defender and rounding the keeper, he rolled the ball into an empty net.
Substitute Ryan Robbins made it five with a shot from the left side across the keeper and after a good through ball from Lee Watkins, Lobjoit made it six from a similar spot.
There was still time for more tempers to be lost at the final whistle but St Neots will look forward to the next round and whoever the draw brings them on Monday.
St Neots Town: Louis Chadwick, Bennett, Battersby, Goode (Smith 80), Wilson-Braithwaite, Dickens, Watkins, Simper, Amu (Robbins 67), Lobjoit, Worman (Luke Chadick 87).
Subs (not used): Whitehall, Smith, Corr.
Goals: Simper 45, Lobjoit 50, 83, Worman 59, 72, Robbins 75
Booked: Goode 45+2
Sent-off: Wilson-Braithwaite 46
Worksop Town: Malkowski, Greenhough, Smythe, Brown (Johnson 46), Jemson, Picton, Baxendale, Cromack, Allott, Bedford, Dunn (Hinsley 28)
Subs (not used): Sennet-Neilson, Williams, Starcenko, Betts.
Goal: Dunn 11
Booked: Bedford 43, Brown 45+2, Jemson 81
Sent-off: Malkowski 46, Allot 46
HT: St Neots Town 1 Worksop Town 1
Referee: Andrew Hitchcox