So Solid Crew
Hertford Men's First team kept a hard-earned clean sheet on Saturday, beating Berkhamsted 2nds by three goals to nil, despite at one stage being down to nine men.
Ian Pledger started in goal for Hertford, making his first competitive appearance following a long term shoulder injury, with Ben Tootell coming straight off the plane from South Africa and last season's top scorer Ben Van Rooyen replacing the injured Arthur Twyning up front.
The visitors set the early tempo, enjoying the quick surface, and finding width to stretch Berkhamsted, but despite a couple of van Rooyen flashing drives they were unable to find an opener.
The home side gained some composure and started to build some forward momentum, but this turned out to be their undoing. Simon Halfacre made a good interception from a cross into the D, with Ian Dunnett receiving the call inside his own 23. Darren Norman made an excellent decoy run to the left wing, leaving a gaping hole down the centre of the pitch for a through ball to van Rooyen. The South African was still thirty-five yards from goal, but with no defenders in front of him he was able to run into the circle, commit the keeper and change the angle of attack, finishing with aplomb to open this season's account.
The goal lifted Hertford's confidence. They started passing with increased fluency and movement which was too much for the hosts. A patient and expansive switched move involving most of the players on the pitch was played into the circle for Norman to deflect onto a defender's foot. With Dunnett off the pitch the injection was left to Elliot Barling, who pulled it slightly to stopper's strong side. Halfacre adjusted well and slipped the ball to Nick Downer on the top of the circle whose first time hit rifled onto the backboard for his third of the season, to double the advantage.
The visitors had to scrabble a bit to maintain their lead, with Mike Branford being shown a green card for a recovery tackle, but they saw out the remainder of the half to preserve their two goal lead at the break.
Bekhamsted's second half aims were clear, keep the ball for longer periods, try to work down the flanks, and find a ball into the circle. Hertford had to work hard to snuff this out, putting pressure on the wide players and hunting in pairs in the defensive third of the pitch.
Fortunately for the away side a mistake allowed them to effectively put the game out of reach. Another patient build-up gave Joe Mari high up on the right hand side the time to pick his cross, which just evaded van Rooyen's attempted deflection. A defender collected the rebound via his goalie's pads, but wanted too much time to make a clearance allowing Norman to ghost in with a tackle-cum-shot that trickled over the line to keep up his 100% scoring record so far this season.
It could have been four a few minutes later as some good hassling on the left allowed Dunnett to win the ball and feed Greg Page at the top of the circle, but his strong pass to the back post had a little too much on it to meet van Rooyen's run.
Berko might've found a way back into the game from a penalty corner drag-flick clattered against the left-hand upright, with Dunnett making the clearance.
Hertford were committed to keeping the hosts at bay, with the strength in the tackle sometimes too much for the umpires as van Rooyen, Norman and Tootell all had an enforced 2 minutes rest, with Hertford having to shuffle to play with nine men.
Hertford saw out the remaining minutes to maintain their winning start to the season, but will know they can still offer more in most departments.
This weekend Hertford will want to continue their strong start to the season as they host the always competitive Luton Town.
Hertford - Ian Pledger; Joe Mari, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O'Sullivan, Elliot Barling; Ian Dunnett, Nick Downer, James Rollins; Ben Van Rooyen, Darren Norman, Greg Page. Subs: Ben Tootell, Michael Branford