By Ian Dunnett
Hertford Men’s 1s slipped to their second defeat of the season on Saturday as East London 2s did the double over them, repeating the season’s opening day scoreline of 4-1.
Darren Norman returned to the side, but Hertford were missing some of their spine. Centre forward Scott Apps was absent, with centre back Simon Halfacre injured and centre midfield Luke Camilleri taken unwell on the morning of the game, meaning Hertford travelled with a single substitute.
As has happened too many time this season Hertford went a goal behind in the early stages of the contest. An attacker driving in from the left got Hertford’s rearguard on the back foot, drawing a penalty corner. The routine was well dispatched with a low fizzing drag flick, which evaded Jamie O’Sullivan on the line via the edge of Tom Smith’s stick in the Hertford goal.
For the first time this season the Stags didn’t react well to going a goal down, with the deficit being doubled shortly afterwards. Another clumsy moment in the Hertford defence gave away another penalty corner. This time going in the other direction Smith got a foot to the attempt, but the rebound fell kindly for the attacker who had plenty of space to flick into the net.
The visitors did slowly work their way into the game, with Nick Downer holding up play well and Arthur Twyning starting to find room to try to create something.
Ian Dunnett took a quick free hit and then played a reverse stick hit to Downer near the penalty spot, but the player-coach was uncharacteristically let down by his first touch.
Downer then tried to be the provider, playing a neat pass under his arm onto the run of Ewen Macpherson, but he was smothered by a sliding goalie before he could get off a shot or pass.
With Apps absent Hertford's usual potency from set pieces wasn't firing. One penalty corner broke down and allowed East London to counter-attack. Driving in from the left again, drawing Smith off his line, and slipping the ball to a supporting forward at the top of the circle, it looked certain to be a third goal, but the reverse stick effort came clattering back off the upright.
Undeterred Hertford continued to show patience in the build-up -perhaps too much at times given the deficit - foraying forward and building with numbers. This turned out to be their undoing as another breakaway was better supported by the fresher East London midfield faster than Hertford could get players back to cover. Again the striker drew Smith out of position and sent a pass to the top of the circle, where the player opted for a more conservative sweep-shot on his reverse stick to keep the effort on target, beating the man on the line.
Following the third goal the hosts maintained a half court press, making it difficult for Hertford to make any inroads and with a centre-back capable of sending an overhead pass most of the length of the pitch East London were able to relieve any pressure.
Hertford hadn’t experienced a three goal deficit at half time since January 2015, and so were determined to present stronger resistance in the 2nd half.
The frustration was telling for Hertford as Ben Tootell, Adrian Fileczki and James Rollins all spent enforced time on the sideline, but despite the tired legs Hertford were managing to keep the hosts at bay for longer spells, and create some chances of their own. A slide-rule pass from midfield gave Norman an opportunity, but once more the keeper was quick off his line to deny the angle for any shot-cum-cross with Downer waiting at the back post.
As Hertford pressed forward, committing an extra man to midfield - and with fewer men on the field - they were inevitably going to leave gaps at the back. In scrambling towards their own goal it looked like they had positioned themselves well to deal with the danger, but a mis-control - which had been all too common in the match - gifted East London another penalty corner. Elliot Barling tried to charge down the switched routine and got his stick on the attempt on goal, but only enough to deflect the shot beyond Smith's right foot to make it 4-0.
Feeling somewhat aggrieved and determined to get something from the tie Hertford continued to press and probably had the best of the last quarter of the game. James Rollins' penalty corner just evaded two men diving in on the post and the defenders were resorting to some firmer tactics to deal with Twyning's 3D skills.
The Stags did eventually prevent East London from keeping a clean sheet. Good work on the right and a cross into the D found a telling deflection from Ben Tootell sending the ball towards the goal. The keeper made a good reaction save but the rebound came to Norman to force the ball over the line at the back post, but the effort came too late for it to be any more than a consolation.
Despite the loss Hertford remain is second in Division 2S, but with all the sides around them registering strong victories there are now only three points separating the Stags from fourth.
The East divisions now enter their seasonal break, with Hertford returning to league action on January 12th when they host Chelmsford.
Hertford - Tom Smith; Elliot Barling, Ben Tootell, Jamie O’Sullivan, Taylor Weeks; Ian Dunnett, James Rollins, Adrian Fileczki; Nick Downer, Arthur Twyning, Ewen Macpherson. Sub - Darren Norman.