Set-Pieces and Sideline Scuffles
By Ian Dunnett
All but one goal came from set pieces on Saturday as Hertford Men's 1st team slipped to a disappointing sixth loss of the season at Harpenden, with the final minutes dissolving into ill discipline from both sides.
Hertford were far from full strength with player-coach Nick Downer, strike-duo Scott Apps and Darren Norman, injured midfielder Adrian Fileczki and full-back Taylor Weeks all absent. Downer, Apps and Norman had so far provided 75% of Hertford's goals this season.
Mike Branford and Marcus Stirling joined the squad for their sixth and second appearances of the season respectively, with Ewen Macpherson and Luke Rawlinson coming in up-front to give the forward line an average age of 17.
Both sides struggled to get to grips with a fast and skiddy pitch in the opening exchanges, as several passes scurried over baseline and byline, but the host side settled the sooner and began to enjoy some longer periods of possession.
The possession came with some pressure which led to the first goal. After chasing the ball from left to right, a pass into the D saw Jamie O'Sullivan having to scamper across with a deflection cannoning into his shinpad to give away a penalty corner. Harpenden's set-piece specialist executed a well-disguised drag-flick going across the body of Tom Smith, beating his left glove.
The home side doubled their advantage not long later. Probably the best passing move of the game reached the goal-scorer in too much space on the right of the circle, electing to shoot from a narrow angle, only for Smith to get his feet in a tangle with the ball finding the sideboard just inside the post.
Hertford reasserted themselves, with their young forward line working hard to put pressure on the home side's rearguard. After a succession of long corners Hertford moved the ball back for Simon Halfacre to find a foot through in the circle through a crowd. James Rollins’ drags-flick was well saved, but he picked up the rebound to slot home to reduce the deficit.
Hertford could have levelled before half timer when Arthur Twyning stole in a loose pass out of defence, but his square pass was well cut out by a sliding keeper before it could reach MacPherson.
Despite the half time rallying call it was Harpenden who extended their lead in the second half. Another penalty corner drag flick doing the damage, this time to Smith’s right to complete the Harpenden forward’s hat trick.
Hertford responded once more, applying pressure around the final third. A succession of two penalty corners were well defended, but when captain Ian Dunnett drove at the defence who hadn’t retreated the required five metres a third was won, this time being converted with a neat deflection by Luke Rawlinson for his third of the season.
The visitors wanted to push for the equaliser but were finding possessio hard to come by, and the opportunity to make a contest of the final minutes was lost as Harpenden restored the two-goal cushion. Another penalty corner doing the damage as it found the foot of a defender on the line, with the hat trick hero converting from the spot for his fourth.
The final minutes of the game descended into unpleasant scenes as the Harpenden sideline spoke out of turn and then a player deliberately held back the stick of a Hertford player trying to take a quick sideline. Branford felt the need to step in and help his teammate out but was asked to spend the final few minutes on the sideline for his troubles.
The loss keeps Hertford in fourth place with only two games to play. They will realistically need to cause an upset at top-of-the-table Bishop’s Stortford next weekend if they are to retain any hopes of promotion.
Hertford - Tom Smith; Elliot Barling, Jamie O'Sullivan, Simon Halfacre, Mike Branford; Ian Dunnett, James Rollins, Alec Short; Archie Akers, Arthur Twyning, Luke Rawlinson. Subs: Ben Tootell, Marcus Stirling, Ewen Macpherson.