It might not have done their promotion prospects any good, but St Ives Town’s defeat yesterday could probably have produced an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Saints went down to a 4-2 reverse at the hands of fellow play-off hopefuls Chalfont St Peter in an important Southern League Division One (Central) clash.
Most of the drama at ProEdge Westwood Road arrived in the additional minutes at the end of the first half thanks to two goals, a mass melee and two red cards. Rarely can stoppage time have ever been so packed with incidents.
Saints defender Steven Gentle and Chalfont man Adam Kirby were dismissed after their flare-up sparked a major bout of handbags involving virtually all players and personnel on both benches.
It was all rather needless and extremely costly as three-match suspensions will follow for the two men identified as chief offenders by referee Michael George. Plenty of others were perhaps fortunate to escape cards of their own.
“The whole incident was ridiculous,” said Saints boss Ricky Marheineke. “If two grown men want to have a bit of rough and tumble on the floor then leave them to it and let the referee deal with it.
“For 20-odd players and people from benches to get involved in pushing and shoving was completely unnecessary.”
It was though a rare example of St Ives showing any fight in a first-half display surely among their worst of the season. They did their best to make manager Marheineke look daft in the process.
He had waxed lyrical about the fine standard of his side’s defending in the pages of this newspaper last week. Gifting Alan Hedley a free header from a corner to put the visitors ahead after just eight minutes certainly wasn’t a smart move or great evidence to back up his point.
And Saints didn’t learn their lesson as Kirby was allowed to steer another unmarked header against an upright before Chalfont took charge in the dying moments of the half.
Craige Tomkins half-volleyed past keeper Brendan Brown after a right-wing cross from the dangerous Tyrone Pink had bounced into his path and the same supply line was responsible for a Jack Mullan strike barely a minute later.
The game’s unsavoury incident followed to leave both sides a man down for a second half which almost began with a fortuitous Saints goal.
Jared Cunniff’s ball in the box bounced up against the crossbar and back into the arms of visiting goalkeeper Garry Malone with Danny Watson waiting to pounce. Watson himself then lobbed a Luke Knight pass over the bar when well-placed.
But Chalfont continued to look dangerous and Saints continued to defend set-pieces abysmally. The end result was a Tomkins corner being finger-tipped onto the crossbar by Brown as players stood like statues in front of him.
Not even the frame of the goal could spare Saints when Anthony Mendy embarked on a 60-yard burst before firing past Brown with 17 minutes to go. Presumably the referee missed his blatant shoulder-barge on Scott Sinclair and pull-back on Danny Moyes en route to goal.
Saints did at least rally with Watson mopping up after a Cunniff blast had been spilled before Sinclair provided the goal-of-the-game with a first-time belter from fully 25 yards.
But a team who had started the day with an outside chance of going top were left looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack in the race for play-off places. They do still have a five-point cushion over a Chalfont side who now sit one place below the top five.
“We were awful in the first half,” admitted Marheineke. “Had we made it to half-time at 1-0 we would have had a chance of getting a result, but the two quick goals in stoppage time killed us.
“In all truth the scoreline was probably a fair reflection of the way the game had gone.
“We would have been beaten by any team in our league with that performance, not just a Chalfont team who are better than most we face.
“We were much better in the second half and it might have been different had we scored when hitting the bar, and had the referee seen the fouls in the build-up to their fourth goal.
“There are always going to be setbacks in a long season, but it is how you respond that matters.”
Saints have a quick opportunity to do that when travelling to Bedford Town tomorrow.