Set pieces and set backs
By Ian Dunnett
Hertford Men’s 1s let a two goal lead slip away in the dying minutes, as Harpenden fought back for a 2-2 draw on Saturday, with all four goals coming from penalty corners.
Hertford recalled Nick Downer, Ben Tootell and Taylor Weeks with youngsters Luke Rawlinson and Rob Holman making way, and Captain Ian Dunnett only fit enough for a coaching role from the sidelines.
On a day that could definitely be described as Autumnal, with leaves cluttering one corner of the pitch, Hertford were struggling to find their normal rhythm with the pace of passing lacking on a sticky surface at the Simon Balle ground.
One of Hertford’s usual outlets had been nullified as the umpires had pre-agreed that any aerial passes where the low sun would be in players’ eyes would be considered dangerous.
Despite the stuttering opening minutes, Hertford did take the lead. A quickly taken free hit and drive around the right of the D by James Rollins was brought to an abrupt halt by a stick tackle, resulting in a penalty corner. Scott Apps pulled off his usual trick, beating the keeper low, with a little help from a deflection.
The goal buoyed Hertford who warmed into the encounter, playing the better hockey for the majority of the half. A well worked passing move gave Apps space to spin on the penalty spot, but his shot was uncharacteristically scuffed straight at the goalie, and then Darren Norman showed a turn of pace to get into a shooting position to strike from the top of the circle, only to see his long-handled effort being firmly booted clear of danger by the net minder.
A pair of youthful and skilful forwards were working hard to forge an opening at the other end for Harpenden, but when they did manage to create an opportunity, they found Tom Smith in good form, ensuring the ball was cleared well away from danger, meaning Hertford finished the half with their noses in front.
Harpenden were always going to step things up in an attempt to get back in the contest in the 2nd half and Hertford were made to work hard, with that work rate taking its toll.
There was a feeling of imbalance in the Hertford squad, meaning the forward line were having to do more running with less time off the field than usual. They eventually got caught the wrong side of the ball, and Hertford were down to ten when Arthur Twyning was adjudged to have deliberately blocked his player in the middle of the pitch when attempting to get back goal side. Then to compound the problem, barely a minute later, Norman arrived late when closing down his man and received the same punishment.
The task of holding Harpenden at bay with nine men saw Hertford show some keen resolve. Weeks gambled on a forward run to relieve the pressure, and Apps held up play excellently, hiding the ball in a pile of leaves and then winning himself a penalty corner. With not enough players on the pitch for any alternatives, the direct route was always the most likely, and Apps obliged with a drag-flick, with the player on the line only able to edge the ball up into his own net.
The Hertford defence were working hard to keep their opposition at bay, but by going to ground in a tackle, Simon Halfacre caused a recurrence of his recent shoulder injury and was forced from the field, necessitating some shuffles in Hertford's rearguard.
Harpenden took immediate advantage from a penalty corner. The first strike was well charged down by Elliot Barling running out, but his block spiralled the ball into the air. The Harpenden injector had taken position at the left post and was able to swat the ball out of the air and down on the backboard in what some may have deemed to be a dangerous manner, but the umpires waved away the protests and the deficit was halved.
In the final five minutes, and with Hertford tiring, Harpenden pushed for a leveller, and found it from another penalty corner. This time a straight drag-flick through a crowd left Smith unsighted as it just evaded his right leg and nestled above the backboard.
With both sides deciding to twist rather than stick in the final minutes, gaps were inevitably appearing. Apps had a chance to win it with almost the last touch of the game, as a neat interchange down the right fed his run across the top the the D, but despite plenty of room to get his tomahawk shot away the effort sailed harmlessly over the bar.
The draw sees Hertford slip to third in the table. They will be looking for an improved performance when they host top of the table Bishop Stortford on Saturday.
Hertford - Tom Smith; Elliot Barling, Simon Halfacre, Ben Tootell, Jamie O’Sullivan; Luke Camilleri, Nick Downer, James Rollins; Darren Norman, Arthur Twyning, Scott Apps. Subs - Michael Branford, Taylor Weeks, [not used] Ian Dunnett.