Hemel Town were five minutes away from playing out a stalemate to grab a point on their travels and snatch a fourth clean sheet in five games against Gloucester City this afternoon (Saturday) when anguish struck in the 85th minute.
The 2017/18 iteration of the Tudors is a much more experienced and solid unit at the back with just two goals now conceded in their five-match league campaign thus far.
Hemel keeper Laurie Walker had put in a sterling shift between the sticks all afternoon and was probably a lock for his second man-of-the-match award in a row when City broke with intent to shatter Hemel’s resolve. Gloucester’s substitute Karnell Chambers flicked on a cross into the path of Joe Hanks who couldn’t miss at the back post to register City’s first win of the season.
The match was played at Evesham United’s Spiers and Hartwell Jubilee Stadium ground in Worcestershire as Gloucester’s home pitch has been rendered unplayable after a devastating flood several years ago. City were playing their trade in the National League North last season, where they finished tenth, but have now switched over to the South.
Tudors boss Dean Brennan made a single change to the side that beat Hampton and Richmond Borough 1-0 in midweek, playmaking Taylor Miles yo-yoing back to the bench in favour of new Hemel signing Rowan Liburd. The 24-year-old debutant Liburd has arrived on loan from League 2 side Stevenage FC, where he made 13 appearances, scoring once.
For the fourth league game in a row it was a closely-fought goalless first-half with a few chances sprinkled around and some excellent displays of goalkeeping from Tudors’ net man Laurie Walker in particular.
Walker followed up his five-star performance on Tuesday night with some fine saves today. City, who had lost three out of four league games and were sitting in 21st place in the table going into this one, were playing some of the best football their fans had seen for a while.
After a string of solid saves and stops in the first 45 minutes, Walker was at it again after the restart.
He saved from Hanks at the far post, getting down to block a strike and clear the ball behind; did really well to get down low to keep out a low drive from Joe Parker, despite Walker looking to be in some discomfort; and saved a well-struck volley from Ethan Moore.
It was all City to end the first period and Hanks curled a strike on the edge of the box which flew into Walker’s grateful hands.
Moments before, the home side’s Kieran Parselle finished a sublime team move with an equally good low cross into the box but Walker again got down well to smother it.
Just after the half-hour mark Tom Webb had a surging run through the middle, beat three Hemel men, but his cross went straight into Walker’s arms.
No wonder League 1 side MK Dons were showing an interest in Walker in the pre-season period...
One of the Tudors’ better moves of the match came midway through the first-half but was thwarted by City’s Robbie Cundy, who managed to make a recovery tackle after debutant Liburd had got on the wrong side of him.
Hemel: Laurie Walker, Callum Driver, Joe Howe, Jordan Parkes (captain), Tom Hamblin, Ismail Yakubu, James Kaloczi, Alex Osborn (Johnnie McNamara, 84), Rowan Liburd (Ogo Obi, 65), Charlie Sheringham, Ben Greenhalgh (Taylor Miles, 65). Subs not used: Kyle Connolly and Federico.
Town have a merciful break from midweek action in the coming days so next up for Hemel is a home league clash with Dartford at Vauxhall Road next Saturday, August 26. They then travel to Wealdstone just two days later for a Bank Holiday Monday (Augst 28) clash with Wealdstone.
Following on from a number of crowd disturbances both at Grosvenor Vale and Vauxhall Road in recent seasons involving a small minority of supporters from both clubs, and following discussions and safety advice with the authorities and police, this match will be deemed to be fully segregated.
For further details, see the Hemel FC website here: http://www.hemelfc.com/news/wealdstone-fixture-supporter-arrangements-1944284.html
Dartford are undefeated so far this term and put a remarkable seven goals past Oxford today (Saturday) while Wealdstone are in the bottom three with a melange of different results.