Hertford Men's 1st team maintained their place atop the table in Division 3SW on Saturday, dispatching Berkhamsted 2nd team seven goals to one at the Simon Balle ground thanks to four goals from Darren Norman.
Ben Van Rooyen returned up front in place of Luke Rawlinson and Chris Vincent provided options in midfield with Hertford carrying a player more has been typical this season given some injury concerns.
Hertford set their stall out early with some high-tempo attacking hockey, rarely looking threatened. Ian Dunnett was twice unlucky not to score in the early exchanges. Firstly a Ciaran Begg pass gave him a good chance at the top of the D, but the shot through a crowded area came straight back off the left post, and then a few minutes later a measured through-ball from Jamie O'Sullivan set him free, and despite a clumsy tackle at the top of the circle, Dunnett wriggled clear to crash the ball onto the backboard, only to hear the umpire's whistle sound to indicate a penalty corner.
Fortunately - saving the officials blushes - a well-worked routine from the resulting set piece gifted Darren Norman his 13th goal of the season.
Brimming with confidence, Hertford doubled their lead not long after. A good passing move down the right hand side set Norman free, drawing the last defender and squaring for van Rooyen, who despite the ball being behind him, expertly swept home, curling the finish into the side netting out of the reach of the keepers stick, maintaining his 150% strike-rate.
The visitors realised they needed to press Hertford more closely if they were going to find a way into the game, and began to make some inroads before half time. Ian Pledger was called into action, with a gloved save from a drag-flicked opportunity from a penalty corner, and then the hosts crafted a sucker-punch to make it three nil on the stroke of half time.
As Berkhamsted tried to attack from the left hand side of Hertford's D, Dunnett turned over possession and played a pass from one end of the field to the other, setting Arthur Twyning free to run at goal. The youngster unselfishly set up Norman to double his tally with a pushed finish before the advancing net-minder could set his feet.
Whatever half time message was delivered by the visiting captain, it didn't have the intended effect, as Hertford effectively ended the game as a contest within a few minutes of the restart.
Begg showed a clean pair of heels to his marker and rounded another defender, pulling the ball back for Norman to complete his hat-trick with a first time shot, despite the Berkhamsted goalie getting a touch with his right leg.
At the other end of the pitch, Hertford were determined to keep a clean sheet. Simon Halfacre and the forward he was ably holding at bay had a disagreement about how this should be done, with both of them being asked to have an enforced rest and calm down a bit.
Undeterred by the antics at the other end, Begg and Norman combined again for Hertford's fifth, this time an infield run by Begg saw him collect the ball under his right arm and show some deft skill to beat two defenders and draw the goalie before calmly rolling a reverse stick pass to Norman unmarked only a yard out.
Berkhamsted did manage to get on the score-sheet from a short corner. A mis-hit strike at goal found its way to the injector running in on the post who was able to force the ball over the line from an angle despite the covering efforts of O'Sullivan and Halfacre.
The visitors were understandably becoming frustrated, but Hertford also struggled to keep their cool. A Berkhamsted defender left something on van Rooyen as the South African played the ball across the top of the circle, but van Rooyen's reaction wasn't to the umpire's liking as Hertford were reduced to ten men.
Despite the numerical disadvantage Hertford continued to play expansive attacking hockey, and with the Berkhamsted midfield no longer tracking back to help out their defenders the hosts attacked at will. Norman forayed down the left and cut in to find Twyning on the penalty spot. Twyning jinked to and fro looking for an opening, reluctantly nudging the ball to his right for James Rollins to sweep home for his third of the campaign.
Twyning did eventually get his goal, to complete the scoring. Norman once more being too quick for his marker on the left hand side, drawing the keeper and setting up Twyning for a simple tap-in.
The rout keeps Hertford ahead of Harpenden on goal difference at the top of the table, with the Stags looking to continue their form as they travel to mid-table Luton Town this weekend, who they beat 9-0 when they met last October.
Hertford - Ian Pledger; Elliot Barling, Ben Tootell, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O'Sullivan; Ian Dunnett, Michael Branford, James Rollins; Arthur Twyning, Darren Norman, Ciaran Begg. Subs: Nick Downer, Chris Vincent, Ben Van Rooyen.