Stags see off Stortford
A Greg Page brace helped Hertford overcome a tricky Bishops Stortford 2s side on Saturday as they ran out 0-4 winners at the Hockerill College ground.
Hertford had to make several changes to a winning side through a dearth of unavailability, with four players making their first appearance of the campaign. Mike Hawes replaced the missing Ben Tootell in the heart of defence, with Marcus Stirling covering in midfield as Mike Branford moved to full-back with Elliot Barling absent. Luke Rawlinson - on competitive debut for the firsts - and Ciaran Begg joined the forward line with top goal-scorers Darren Norman and Ben van Rooyen unavailable.
The contest started evenly with Hertford trying to find their rhythm, but with Stortford having home-advantage and some definite tactics on a bouncy surface.
Nick Downer was unlucky not to open the scoring on two occasions. An early penalty corner beat the goalie but not the man on the line who played an excellent forward defensive with soft hands to guide the ball away from danger, and then Ian Dunnett found enough space for a ball into the circle which narrowly evaded Downer's stick at the far post.
Hertford did manage - somewhat fortuitously - to break the deadlock on 20 minutes. Dunnett mis-trapped a pass, being forced to play it backwards to Simon Halfacre when he looked more like losing possession. Halfacre fed a pass straight down the middle of the pitch which was completely missed by Downer, catching the entire Stortford defence off-guard as the ball rolled into the D towards Rawlinson who was able to control reverse-stick and sling the ball onto the backboard.
Despite the goal Hertford didn't look comfortable as they battled through the rest of the half, being forced to play with ten men for two minutes when James Rollins earned a suspension.
In a similar manner to the previous week Hertford made some half-time tactical switches which paid dividends in the second half, showing more patience on the ball and being more sure of their passes. The forwards were working well as a unit, creating space for each other.
It wasn't long into the half before Begg exploited this space with another excellent through-ball from Halfacre. Spinning away from his marker, Begg collected the pass under his right arm and jinked his way into the circle, drawing the keeper out selflessly squaring for Arthur Twyning to make sure from a yard out to register his fourth goal in the last three.
The hosts put the game to bed as a contest shortly afterwards when a well-carved passing move had the host defence scrambling back, halting Rawlinson in the D. Page converted a slick routine from the resulting penalty corner to make it 0-3.
Despite being down to ten men again in the second half as Rollins repeated his offence, and saw yellow, Hertford added one more. A penalty corner broke down and as Downer was being closed down he slipped the ball to Halfacre, whose instant control and shot could only be glanced onto the post by the keeper. Page was - as always - in the right spot to pick up the rebound and finish with a hard sweep.
Late on Rawlinson could have increased the lead on two occasions when set through on goal. His first effort was snuffed out by the keeper, and then a few minutes later he swivelled and sent a ball to the back-post which just evaded Begg running in.
Hertford's win means they increase their lead at the top of Division 3SW as rivals Saffron Walden and Broxbourne both dropped points to away at Bedford and Welwyn Garden City respectively.
Next weekend Hertford will need to be on top of their game as they travel to Broxbourne for a late push-back.
Hertford: Max Capaldi; Jamie O'Sullivan, Simon Halfacre, Mike Hawes, Michael Branford; Ian Dunnett, Nick Downer, James Rollins; Greg Page, Arthur Twyning, Ciaran Begg. Subs: Marcus Stirling, Luke Rawlinson