Stags Smash Six to Sit on the Summit
By Ian Dunnett
After a nervy first half, Hertford scored five in a commanding second half performance to run out 1-6 winners against Welwyn Garden City on Saturday, securing promotion and the Division 3SW title in the process, dispelling the demons of last season's fina
Defenders Jamie O'Sullivan and Joseph Mari returned to the squad with James Rollins and Marcus Stirling unavailable. Mari was making only his sixth appearance of the season following an incredibly unlucky bout of injuries breaking the same hand twice since October.
There was no sign of the snow which had cancelled this fixture in early March, with the sun beating down on the University of Hertfordshire pitch. Hertford moved the ball well in the early exchanges, but were unable to find any real openings. Player-coach Nick Downer tried a drag-flick from a short corner, but the man on the right-post was well placed to deflect the effort around the upright.
Welwyn were sitting back a little, which invited Hertford's defenders to support the attack. Simon Halfacre had time to play a raking cross-field pass to Ben Van Rooyen, but his reverse stick strike back across goal found the glove of the keeper.
It was fully twenty-five minutes before the visitors found the first score. Mari forayed down the flank and played a diagonal ball into van Rooyen, who pivoted on to his forehand at the top of the circle and struck a dipping shot into bottom corner, bringing up his 23rd of the season in only 14 appearances.
Hertford breathed a sigh of relief, but in doing so relaxed too much and almost immediately conceded. A quickly taken free hit just outside the 23 caught them napping, being fired in to the goal mouth and deflected around shin-high onto the backboard despite goalkeeper Ian Pledger getting a touch.
Neither side were able to get their noses ahead with the score remaining one each at half time.
The pivotal moment of the match came five minutes into the second period. A welwyn winger had the ball on the right, but when trying to cross into the D, pulled the ball to the left, finding an unmarked man on the opposite side of the pitch. He was able to run into the circle unchallenged, and with Pledger sliding out, the shot went narrowly of the far post.
This served as a warning to Hertford who sprang into life. Downer tried another drag-flick from the short corner, this time with more height and pace. The effort was struck a combination fo the goalie and a man on the post, glancing up onto the cross-bar, before falling kindly just in front of the goal-line for the predatory Ciaran Begg to nudge home taking him into double figures and Hertford into the lead.
Buoyed by the goal, the visitors put more pressure on the Welwyn defence. A switched passage of play to the right hand side gave Mari the chance to feed Norman leading in the danger area. Despite having a defender at his back and little room to manoeuvre, Norman was able to work his way across the top of the D and get a reverse-sweep on target which bat the keeper for accuracy rather than pace, nestling in the bottom corner, taking him level with van Rooyen on 23 goals.
Hertford weren't done yet. A neat interchange in midfield gave room for a ball into the circle for Darren Norman, whose stick was clattered into from behind. This time the resulting penalty corner didn't go to plan as the injection slid off target. Van Rooyen took control, getting a shot away that was well-charged down by the defensive runner, but the ball spiralled into the path of Ian Dunnett, trying to make up for the poor injection, who timed his connection on the half-volley, dispatching the ball to the goalie's left before he could react to make it 1-4.
Hertford were using their substitutes well, working hard in the warm conditions, tiring their opposition. Shifting play from one side to the other gave plenty of space for Mike Branford on the right. He found Dunnett at the top of the circle with a well threaded pass just beating the recovering Welwyn midfield. Dunnett went on to his favoured reverse and got a low-skimming shot away which nestled in the bottom corner to register a quick-fire brace.
The home side continued to flag, with Hertford seizing on a lack of ball pace in their play. Dunnett got in front of his man to win the ball, and with little chasing back had a three-on-one against the last defender. Arthur Twyning received the ball on the right of the D, selflessly squaring for Begg to control and finish to complete the scoring with his second of the match.
Cue the final whistle, with much celebrating and popping of corks. The win lifts Hertford Men's 1st team into Division 2 South of the East League structure for the 2018-19 season, equalling the highest level the men's team have ever played. They will be keen to avoid a repeat of the 2014-15 season which saw them relegated with only 17 points.
Hertford: Ian Pledger; Elliot Barling, Simon Halfacre, Ben Tootell, Joseph Mari; Ian Dunnett, Michael Branford, Nick Downer; Darren Norman, Arthur Twyning, Ciaran Begg. Subs: Jamie O'Sullivan, Greg Page, Ben Van Rooyen.