Hertford Held thanks to strokes of luck
A lacklustre Hertford Men's 1st team let a two goal lead slip on Saturday as they registered a fourth draw of the season at a resurgent Luton Town.
With vice-captain Jamie O'Sullivan unavailable, Joe Mari was recalled for his fifth appearance of the season, having recovered from a broken hand last October.
Despite having beaten Luton 9-0 earlier in the season it was clear early on that the scoreline was not going to be one-sided this time around.
The early-exchanges were fairly even, with Luton pressing high up the pitch, but Hertford keeping the ball well, and releasing their forwards when the opportunity presented itself.
With the hosts holding on to an attacking mindset they were vulnerable to leaving their back-line short-handed, and when Hertford outnumbered and forced Luton's left-back to lose possession, Ian Dunnett drove into the circle from the right-hand side and pulled the ball back for Ben Van Rooyen. The South African's first time hit across the goal-mouth could only be parried by the goalie, rolling kindly for Darren Norman to slot home his 17th of the campaign.
Hertford were then lucky to keep their lead when a what should have been a simple pass was completely misplaced by Dunnett, gifting the Luton forward a one-on-one chance, but Ian Pledger came out well to delay the shot, with Simon Halfacre and Ben Tootell scrambling back to cover the goal-line.
After steadying proceedings a bit, Hertford - somewhat fortuitously - doubled their advantage. Some patient build-up play involving James Rollins and Nick Downer across midfield, created space for the ball to reach Dunnett at the top of the circle, whose first-time slap into the D took at least two deflections before reaching van Rooyen darting in at the far post to sweep in on the angle, registering his 13th goal of the season.
It could have been three-nil five minutes later when a save from a penalty corner fell kindly for Dunnett following in on the left post from his injection, but his shot on the bounce was expertly picked out of the air by the defender on the line.
Hertford maintained their two goal lead at the break, but only thanks to the bravery of Halfacre and the brilliance of Michael Branford. A penalty-corner to Luton on the stroke of half-time was first well-charged down by Halfacre, taking a blow to the shoulder, and then a second routine seemed to be sailing into the net from a good quality drag-flick, but face-masked Branford held his ground and top-edged the ball onto the crossbar with it ballooning away from danger.
Luton's half time team talk obviously did the trick as they came out with some renewed energy in the second period. Supporting midfielders and interchanging runs from the forwards made things difficult for the visitor's defence.
Luton found their way back into the tie from a penalty corner when Pledger saved the initial strike but the follow-up struck the foot of Halfacre resulting in a penalty stroke, which was ably converted to Pledger's left-hand side.
With Luton committing men forward Hertford were finding the gaps to give their forwards a run at goal, but in an out-of-character display they all too often found the stick of a defender rather than the intended target.
Hertford were eventually made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness at the other end, as the scores were leveled. A clever lay-off on the right-hand side gave a skillful forward a run into the circle. Pledger made the decision to come off his line and get to the attacker on the baseline before he could pull the ball back into the danger area. Pledger went to ground and appeared to play the ball out of the circle, but the umpire blew his whistle and - after extensive consultation - awarded a second penalty stroke. Despite going the right way, Pledger was unable to prevent the ball on its way into the net.
With momentum on their side Luton probably had the best chances to win the match in the closing stages. Pledger was again called into action, parrying a ball out of midair as it flew across the danger area, and then Luton's goal scorer dribbled in from the right and squared, somehow evading a gaggle of players.
The draw sees Hertford remain unbeaten, but fall to second in division 3SW, with a crucial top-of-table clash this weekend when they face leaders Harpenden at the Simon Balle ground.
Hertford: Ian Pledger; Joseph Mari, Ben Tootell, Simon Halfacre, Elliot Barling; Ian Dunnett, James Rollins, Nick Downer; Ciaran Begg, Darren Norman, Ben Van Rooyen. Subs: Chris Vincent, Michael Branford, Arthur Twyning.