Stags bounce back to beat Bedford
Hertford Men's 1st team recovered from a poor first half showing to run out 3-1 winners against Bedford 3rd team on Saturday, putting them within a whisker of securing promotion.
Being light on midfield options Hertford drafted in ex-skipper Alec Short for his first appearance of the season - following an extended paternity break - in place of Luke Camilleri.
The hosts started well with some slick passing and good movement up front, but were unable to create any clear-cut chances. Bedford were setting up very high when taking defensive free-hits, which Hertford were slow to adjust to, giving a youthful looking side plenty of space to run on to the ball, turning to attack the Hertford rear-guard.
In trying to adjust to the attacking style of Bedford, Hertford were caught napping and went behind. The Bedford left-winger self-passed from an innocuous sideline ball inside the 23, but was allowed to dribble for too long, sending in a strong cross which evaded everyone apart from an inexplicably unmarked forward on the back post, who deflected the ball beyond the diving Ian Pledger, despite not getting the intended contact.
This was the first time Hertford had been behind in a game since November, and the first time they hadn't got the first goal in a game since October. On both of those occasions they had done well to salvage a draw, and so their mental resolve was due to be tested.
Pledger needed to produce an excellent stick-save, diving to his right from a penalty-corner to maintain the scoreline a few minutes later and then Hertford thought they had a way back into the match when a pin-point through ball found Ciaran Begg beyond the last defender. His run into the circle was halted from behind before he could get his shot away, but despite claims for a penalty stroke, only a penalty corner was awarded. Nick Downer zipped the resulting drag-flick over the crossbar.
Bedford were unfortunate not to increase their lead when another well-struck cross, this time from the right hand side flew into the circle, neatly being deflected onto the backboard from near the penalty spot, but after some consultation the umpires adjudged the cross to have been at a dangerous height, keeping the scoreline to 0-1.
Just before half-time Jamie O'Sullivan beat his man on the left hand side and played a piercing diagonal ball to Ian Dunnett who turned and ran at the circle, but after rounding the defender he carried the ball too wide, and the opportunity was lost, seeing the first half finishing with Hertford trailing by the single score.
Hertford had the proverbial rocket put up them at half-time, re-intensifying their approach a making some tactical changes to cope with Bedford's set-up. A gilt-edged chance to level went begging when Dunnett found Norman posting-up in the circle, but his shot on the turn was pulled wide when perhaps other forwards were better placed to receive a pass across goal, and then another chance for Begg dribbled agonisingly wide as he prodded a shot to the right of the advancing goalie.
After a period of midfield jostling, Hertford did eventually find a way back into the tie. A defensive free hit was struck at Begg, with the ball seemingly striking his leg. Whether the umpires missed this, he was given the advantage for a lifted ball, or they deemed it inconsequential, Begg played on as Bedford hesitated, rolling the ball to Norman who in turn played it into the D, just evading the end of Dunnett's stick and that of a now recovering defender. Fortunately it met the path of Mike Branford who controlled and flicked hard beyond the stick of the goalie, with the effort satisfyingly clanging onto the stanchion for his third of the campaign.
The goal lifted Hertford, and a decent contingent of onlookers, with the home side finding a bit more rhythm, seemingly having more time on the ball and getting players forward to support their attackers.
Downer forayed forward on the right flank, shimmying into the D, winning a penalty corner after a challenge from behind. A switched routine to Ben Tootell was slung into the goalmouth, with the ball spinning behind the goalie. Despite the attentions of two defenders, Dunnett was strong enough to force his sweep through their sticks for Hertford to get their noses in front.
The game became more open as Bedford pushed for an equaliser, which they were close to registering when a straight-strike from a short-corner arrowed into the goal only a few inches too high to make contact with the backboard.
Arthur Twyning's pace and work-rate had been causing Bedford headaches for most of the game, and it was industriousness which gave Hertford the breathing space they needed. Winning the ball on the right and skinning an ageing Gio Zingierello at left-back, he created a two on one. Twyning squared for Begg, whose shot was almost a carbon copy of his earlier effort, beating the on-rushing net-minder, but heading wide of the right post, but Twyning had continued his run and stretched to nudge the ball into the goal from an acute angle, taking him into double figures for the season.
Hertford switched to a more defensive formation for the closing minutes, protecting the lead and having to see out a number of penalty corners, managing to make it to the final whistle with the scoreline remaining 3-1.
With only two games remaining, Hertford need a single point from their remaining games to secure promotion, with two points likely to be good enough for the title. This weekend they travel to Welwyn Garden City, who despite being winless in their last five games (D4 L1), haven't lost at home since last October.
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, Alec Short.