A tight affair tonight (Tuesday) at Vauxhall Road saw Hemel Town eek out a 1-0 win for their third win out of four to start their national League South campaign.
Tudors’ boss Dean Brennan predicted a stern test against hitherto undefeated Hampton and Richmond Borough and so it proved.
The all-important goal came just two minutes before the break from a free-kick. Full-back Joe Howe displayed some fancy footwork wide on the left before he was bundled to the floor by his marker. The resulting dead-ball move saw a dangerous delivery from the left find James Kaloczi, who met the ball with his head and guided it inside the far post to open the scoring.
It proved to be the only goal of the night.
Brennan made just the one change from the side that beat Hungerford 2-0 on the road on Saturday, creative midfielder Taylor Miles coming in for Sam Hatton.
The first-half started with the Tudors exerting some early pressure, with a far post cross aimed at Charlie Sheringham headed clear.
But the visitors started to come into the game and some shaky defending by Hemel saw Hampton’s Ryan Moss dispossess Tom Hamblin of the ball and run through on goal, but he failed to take advantage.
Shortly after the away team was on the attack again and in numbers, passing the ball around Hemel’s area before a curling shot spun wide of Laurie Walker’s goal.
Ben Greenhalgh had The Tudors first shot, a long drive which went wide of the goal, and the game started to settle in a bit. Hemel made a patient attack, culminating in skipper Jordan Parkes nodding the ball down into the area, but Hampton netminder Sam Howes gathered the ball.
Alex Osborn had a penalty claim midway through the half, but he probably could have made more of a goal scoring opportunity if he’d stayed on his feet and it would have been a harsh decision.
Walker was then forced into action between Hemel’s sticks, diving low to his right to hold an ambitious strike.
There was then a lengthy stoppage while Osborn received treated following a robust tackle. Once he was back on his feet now, Hemel earned a corner and the cross found Hamblin under pressure in a crowded goalmouth, but his header span over the bar.
It was minutes later that Howe’s quick feet set up the definitive free-kick of the match when Hemel took the lead 1-0.
In first-half stoppage time, Hampton had the best chance of the game so far but Walker reacted superbly to keep the ball out of Hemel’s net.
After the re-start, the flourishing Parkes and Kaloczi combination linked-up well again when the skipper’s corner found Koloczi but he headed the ball narrowly wide.
Around the hour-mark, some great build-up by Hemel saw Greenhalgh dribble into the area and dink a pass to Miles, but his shot was straight at the Hampton keeper
Hampton’s stopper was in action again shortly after, collecting the ball from Sheringham’s feet to thwart a low, driven cross.
Towards the latter stages, Hampton began to turn up the pressure and Hemel were not seeing much of the ball. With around ten minutes left, some slack Town defending left a Borough attacker unmarked at the far post but Walker came to the rescue with a superb diving save to palm the ball wide.
New Hemel signing and ex-Watford forward Ogo Obi, who had seemingly been warming-up forever, finally got a run-out in the 79th minute.
With the winning line in sight, it all become way too close for comfort with Hemel gifting Hampton possession as they dug in to defend. Borough fired off another shot but thankfully for Hemel it went high and wide but soon after they were on the front foot again, delivering a long free-kick into Hemel’s area. The ball was bundled away with a nail-biting two minutes of normal time remaining.
Some desperate defending saw Ismail Yakubu clear the ball off the Hemel line as the Vauxhall Road crowd groaned at the five minutes of added time.
But Hemel were able to hold on for a hard-earned three points with Hampton and Richmond’s vastly improved second-half performance really making it uncomfortable at the end.
The fact that Tudors’ keeper Walker was given the man of the match award shows how close it came to slipping away but it was still a tough, gritty, midweek victory which Brennan will be delighted with.
For what it’s worth at this premature stage, Hemel are now third in the table.
Next up for the Tudors is a match with Gloucester City this Saturday, to be played at Evesham United’s ground in Worcestershire. Gloucester have drawn one and lost three to start the season and slipped to a 0-2 defeat tonight at Chelmsford City.
Hemel line-up v Hampton: Laurie Walker, Callum Driver, Joe Howe, Jordan Parkes (captain), Tom Hamblin, Ismail Yakubu, James Koloczi (Sam Hatton, 61), Taylor Miles (Phil Walsh, 71), Alex Osborn (Ogo Obi, 79), Charlie Sheringham, Ben Greenhalgh. Subs not used: Kyle Connolly and Johnny McNamara,