Christmas Number One!
Hertford moved top in Division Three Southwest on Saturday as they signed off 2017 with a solid 2-5 win away to Cheshunt.
The weather scuppered many of the fixtures across the region, but the Cheshunt pitch was in perfectly playable condition.
Hertford were once more troubled by unavailability. Ben van Rooyen and Chris Vincent were replaced by Ciaran Begg and Ben Tootell, with Luke Rawlinson providing options from the bench.
A pattern of play was set out early on with Hertford content to hold on to possession and try to build up play, while the hosts were trying to play long aerial or hit balls through to two high forwards.
The youthful and free running forwards caused Cheshunt trouble throughout but Hertford weren't troubling the keeper, until James Rollins won the ball in midfield and released Rawlinson down the right flank, who drove towards the circle. Rawlinson's pull-back was met by Begg stretching on the left hand side of the D. Being closed down by the goalie and with the angle against him it looked like the chance had gone, but a superb reverse stick strike sent the ball back across goal and into the far corner for Begg's second of the season.
After defending a flurry of Cheshunt penalty corners Hertford thought they'd extended their lead. More good work by Begg, junking his way to the penalty spot and shooting, saw the ball spiral nicely into the path of Darren Norman to tap home, but the umpire spotted an infringement in the build-up so it remained 0-1.
Having not taken their chance Hertford were punished before the break.
An out-of-character lapse in discipline from Michael Branford gave away a penalty corner which was dispatched in the simplest of fashions with a straight strike beating Ian Pledger in the Hertford goal despite getting a touch.
To add injury to insult Ben Tootell was then forced to leave the pitch with a recurrence of a Hamstring problem.
Hertford should have restored their lead before half time, but another good run and square pass from Rawlinson couldn't be forced over the line by Arthur Twyning as the defenders scrambled back.
It was a nervy and topsy-turvy second half for the visitors. The best move of the game saw them retake the lead early on. Switching the ball from left to right in defence, releasing Twyning on the wing who circled around the left-back and squared for Begg who made a difficult finish look easy, adjusting his feet and meeting the ball with a first-time shot, placing it precisely, nestling just inside the left upright.
But Hertford were ahead for only a matter of minutes as Cheshunt's tactics paid off. Their left full-back was given a bit too much space to send in a strong cross to the back-post. Pledger met it and pushed the ball wide, but a forward was able to collect the rebound and finish from a narrow angle to level the tie.
With players tiring, spaces were opening up across the pitch, creating an entertaining game for the spectators - most having had their own games cancelled - who had braved the cold weather, and they didn't have to wait long for another goal.
A good ball down the left flank was collected by Norman posting up, who pivoted on his marker and ran at the circle, firing in a pass. It looked like the Cheshunt defender had snuffed out the opportunity when he controlled the ball, but an opportunistic reverse sweep-cum-tackle-cum-shot by the on-rushing Rollins caught everyone by surprise as in one motion he won the ball and beat the keeper restoring the lead with his second of the season.
Unsurprisingly the hosts pushed forward in search of an equaliser and were unfortunate not to level as a penalty corner routine narrowly missed the mark with the intended deflector sliding in on the right post.
As the chances continued to flow Hertford managed to breath a sigh of relief as they made it 2-4. A free hit just outside the 23 was fed in to Nick Downer who played a neat one-two with Twyning near the baseline, striking the return pass first time, arcing away from the goalie and into the side-netting.
Hertford got a deserved fifth in the final minutes. Another Cheshunt ball into the circle was well defended, with Downer picking up the ball and releasing Norman high up the pitch. Norman played a good interchange with Twyning around the last defender and then the keeper for Norman to almost walk the ball onto the backboard to make it 2-5 at the final whistle.
The win puts Hertford top, remaining unbeaten, with Harpenden in second. Both two sides having won nine and drawn three games, being separated only by Hertford's superior goal difference of a single score.
Hertford return to action on the 6th of January when they host tenth placed Berkhamsted 2nds.
Hertford: Ian Pledger; Elliot Barling, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O'Sullivan, Michael Branford; Ian Dunnett, James Rollins, Nick Downer; Arthur Twyning, Darren Norman, Ciaran Begg. Subs: Ben Tootell, Luke Rawlinson.