Hertford Headway Halted by Harps
Hertford Men's 1st team lost their 100% record on Saturday, but will feel fortunate to earn a point recovering from a two goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Harpenden.
Hertford made only one change from the previous game with Greg Page replacing the absent James Rollins.
It was clear early on that the visitors weren't going to enjoy the possession or territory they had been used to in recent weeks. Harpenden were moving the ball well and playing with a width which Hertford were struggling to cover. Hertford were reduced to using the aerial ball as a release tactic, but were rarely able to attack in numbers.
An overlapping move down the right hand side gave Harpenden the lead. Hertford didn't react quickly enough to a sideline ball, with a sharp triangle of passes working the ball infield and on to a forward on the right of the circle. Despite having his back to goal and being at an unfavourable angle he was able to pivot and shoot through a crowd to beat the unsighted Max Capaldi at his near post.
To compound the problems for Hertford, a few minutes later Joseph Mari had to depart the field, picking up what was later confirmed as a fractured knuckle incurred when bravely closing down a shot in the goalmouth, thereby forcing the away side to play with a single substitute for the remainder of the tie.
Hertford's best chance of the first half came after some well worked possession, passing across the pitch and some patience which was rare in their play. A dribble along the baseline was pulled back to Ben Van Rooyen who worked a yard of space to get off a reverse stick shot-cum-cross which just evaded Darren Norman hovering by the back post.
The game was fiercely competitive at times with tensions high and frustration being shown by both teams and officials. van Rooyen's discussion with the umpire earned him a 2-minute suspension just before the break.
Given Mari's injury Hertford made a few tactical switches in the second half, which brought them more into the tie and began to frustrate the hosts as they were the ones to receive cards. One player was very fortunate to receive only a green card for a sliding tackle into the legs of a Hertford midfielder, but then a yellow card quickly followed for a deliberate attempt to hold up play.
Hertford, however, were unable to capitalise while having a numerical advantage, and then were punished further as they conceded a second. A Harpenden midfielder was allowed to progress too easily from outside the 23 and into the circle before winning a penalty corner. The resulting set piece was flicked low towards the left of Capaldi's goal, with the skimming effort squirming under the stick of Simon Halfacre on the goal line.
Hertford decided it was all or nothing and reacted to the goal by sacrificing a defender, pushing an extra man higher up the pitch. The change paid dividends as they found a way back into the game. A ball out to the left hand side was just kept in plat by the stretching Ben Tootell, who was afforded space to get his head up and play a slide-rule pass from 30 yards out to find the run of Nick Downer into the D. Downer sensed the keeper coming to close him down, neatly deflecting the ball in with his first touch for his fifth of the season.
The momentum in the match swung towards Hertford, as they pressed for an equaliser. Ian Dunnett took a self-passed free hit on the left hand side, wriggling to create space for a reverse stick cross, which found van Rooyen just inside the circle, who was able to win a penalty corner.
Downer released an effort from the top of the circle which was well closed down by an onrushing defender, but his touch could only divert the ball to Norman running in on the right post who managed to react quickly to deflect the ball in to level the scores.
Harpenden had a chance to win the game with a minute left as Hertford conceded another sloppy short corner, but this time the drag-flick whistled past the upright for the game to finish a point apiece.
The draw leaves Hertford in third place in Division three Southwest, level on points with Saffron Walden 2s with Broxbourne 2s topping the table, having the only remaining 100% record.
Hertford will be looking to get back to winning ways this weekend when they host tenth-placed Stevenage at the Simon Balle ground.
Hertford: Max Capaldi; Joseph Mari, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O'Sullivan, Elliot Barling; Ian Dunnett, Michael Branford, Nick Downer; Ben Van Rooyen, Archie Akers, Darren Norman. Subs: Ben Tootell, Greg Page.