Cheshunt Chastened by Charging Stags
Hertford Men's 1st team got their league campaign off to a solid start on Saturday, running out 5-1 winners against Cheshunt at the Simon Balle ground.
Newly promoted Cheshunt had been unbeaten in the previous season, and with numerous first team regulars absent, Hertford were wary of the challenge before them.
Given the availability issues, Hertford were able to give competitive debuts to teenagers Joseph Mari at right-back and Arthur Twyning in the forward line, both of whom had impressed in pre-season.
The encounter started somewhat turgidly in the sticky September heat, with both sides lacking pace and accuracy in their passing, resulting in some midfield tussles.
The home side settled first, finding some urgency and width in their play, which led to a couple of good chances. The first short corner of the game zipped under the stick of an attempted deflection, before Greg Page broke the deadlock. A good switched passing move from left to right found Nick Downer in space, who drove into the D and shot-high. The Cheshunt netminder managed a gloved save, but Page was on hand to collect the rebound and force a shot, off the keeper's kicker, against the post and - thanks to some topspin - over the line. Page managed five goals in six appearances last season, so Hertford will be looking for him to feature more regularly this year.
The hosts unadvisedly relaxed, and the visitors capitalised on their messy play. A misplaced back-pass by Mari let a Cheshunt forward have a run on goal, but Max Capaldi turned the effort around his near-post, but then Cheshunt found the equaliser as too many players went to the ball leaving a supporting midfielder unmarked on the right of the circle, who had plenty of time to steady himself and pick his spot in the bottom corner across Capaldi's right-foot.
The hosts reasserted themselves, edging back in front before half time. Page showed good work again, receiving the ball on the left baseline and being halted by a defender. Downer stepped up to the resulting penalty corner and dispatched an nigh-unstoppable drag-flick into the top of the net.
But once more Hertford may have been guilty of complacency as they nearly let the lead slip on the stroke of the half time whistle as Cheshunt through a drag-flick of their own were only denied by a flying Capaldi's left glove, tipping the ball around the upright.
Hertford's management team asked for higher intensity and to use the full width of the pitch more in the second period, and thankfully the players listened as they put the tie out of Cheshunt's reach with a quick-fire ten minute spell.
Good leading enabled Darren Norman to wriggle in from the left hand side place the ball on a foot. Once more Downer was able to dispatch another drag-flick to double his tally.
Norman then got on the scoresheet himself when Page went full length to win a ball in the D and pull it back for Norman to hit it home with a first-time shot in at the near post.
Cheshunt steadied themselves a little and put some pressure on Hertford with some breakaway opportunities and some set pieces of their own, with Hertford having to dig deep to defend when down to ten men as James Rollins took an enforced five minute rest after a reaction to a bad tackle.
But it was Hertford, and Page, who had the final word. The unlikely source of Elliot Barling - who had been marauding up and down the left flank all day - in a new position of left-back received the ball after patient build-up, and with some time and space he played a firm cross into the D. Page collected the ball with his back to goal and in one movement was able to turn, scoop the ball on target and fall to the ground, to see his shot nestle into the net just above the backboard. The shot completed a a double-double for Page with two goals and two assists, rightly earning him man of the match.
Hertford will look to continue to impress next week as they travel to another promoted side in Berkhamsted 2s, who also started their campaign with a win, narrowly edging our Welwyn Garden City with the only goal of the game.
Hertford - Max Capaldi; Joseph Mari, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O'Sullivan, Elliot Barling; Ian Dunnett, Nick Downer, Mike Branford; Arthur Twyning, Darren Norman, Greg Page. Sub: James Rollins