Luck of the Draw
Hertford Men's 1st drew their second game in a row as they were held to a goal apiece at Bedford 3s on Saturday, in a contest which could have gone either way.
Hertford were missing a lot of their usual firepower as Greg Page, Darren Norman and Ben van Rooyen - the team's top three goal scorers - were all absent on Saturday. As Michael Branford and Nick Downer were pushed into the forward ranks James Rollins was drafted back into the squad for his seventh appearance of the season, bolstering midfield.
The home side, more comfortable with the lively surface, made the better start with Hertford having to defend deeper than they've been used to in the opening minutes. Bedford, however, were unable to make the most of possession with several balls into the circle couldn't find their intended target.
After adjusting to the pace and bounce of the pitch, the visitors began to find some rhythm around the fifteen minute mark, and took the lead, perhaps against the run of play. A ball into the circle from the right flank was intercepted, but when the Bedford defender tried to carry the ball away from danger he got into a tangle with the umpire who was unable to get out of the way. Ian Dunnett took advantage, poaching the loose ball and driving into the D, pulling back for Branford, whose flicked shot could only be parried by the goalkeeper, falling kindly for Ciaran Begg to control and scoop the ball over the stricken net-minder for his first goal of the season.
Hertford could, and should, have doubled their lead just a few minutes later. Downer collected the ball on the right, just inside the attacking half and used a wide-running forward as a decoy to send a threaded pass to Branford in the middle of the pitch. Branford went through one-on-one with the goalie, and despite three bites of the cherry was unable to finish, with Rollins arms aloft to his left with an open goal gaping had the pass been made.
The visitors remained on top until half time but were unable to increase their lead before the break.
Hertford had a golden chance to go two goals up early in the second half. A slick interchange of passing between Branford and Downer took the keeper out of the equation, and when Downer's goalbound shot hit a defender a penalty stroke was awarded.
The player-coach stepped up to take it himself, beating the goalie for pace, but seeing his effort agonisingly strike the upright.
Hertford continued to press and had another gilt-edged chance as Chris Vincent's ball into the circle then also struck the post, but the luck wasn't with the away side as the rebound somehow evaded a bevvy of preying forwards.
Bedford rallied and twice could have got themselves back into the game. Firstly a strike into the D came up off Ben Tootell's stick, but the umpire's whistle blew for a penalty corner just as the striker dispatched a shot into the bottom left corner.
The hosts then also hit the metalwork. A deflected crash-ball up the middle of the pitch left Ian Pledger in the Hertford goal against two forwards, with one laying it on a plate for the other, but somehow he inexplicably swept the ball against the base of the post from seven yards out.
Hertford were forced to adjust their line-up when Tootell tweaked a hamstring stretching for a clearance. The ever versatile Branford moving to left-back with Jamie O'Sullivan filling in the centre.
Bedford did, with a slice of good fortune, eventually find an equaliser. A strike down the middle of the pitch found its way into the D and when an attacker swung speculatively for the ball, completely missing, but committing Pledger to a dive to his right, a fellow forward snuck in and was able to squirm a shot under the net-minder's arm before he could regain position.
Hertford thought they'd reestablished their lead five minutes later. Downer once more creating the danger with a long overhead pass into the circle, which was missed by the defender and then flapped at by the goalie, gifting the ball to Rollins, who rounded the keeper and slotted home. After the goal initially being awarded, the umpires stopped time and following lengthy consultation overturned the decision, adjudging that a Hertford player had encroached too closely behind the first defender when attempting to bring the ball under control.
Neither were able to capitalise on opportunities before the final whistle, with the encounter finishing 1-1.
The draw means Hertford, despite remaining unbeaten, slip into second place in division 3SW behind Harpenden on goals scored. This weekend the Stags will want to return to winning ways, but to do so they will need to break the five game winning streak of fifth-placed Welwyn Garden City.
Hertford: Ian Pledger; Elliot Barling, Simon Halfacre, Ben Tootell, Jamie O'Sullivan; Ian Dunnett, Nick Downer, Chris Vincent; Michael Branford, Arthur Twyning, Ciaran Begg. Subs: James Rollins, Marcus Stirling.