It was the clichéd game of two halves at Dartford today (Saturday) as Hemel Hempstead Town controlled the first-half before being edged in the second period in a 1-1 draw away at Princes Park.
The Tudors were indebted to their keeper Sam Beasant, who saved a 34th minute penalty and later pulled off a series of fine stop to keep his side in the hunt.
It was Hemel’s first draw in eight games this season and the solid away point leaves them in third place in the early National League South table.
Sam Ashford scored his third goal of the season to put the Tudors 1-0 up after just nine minutes when a beautiful piece of skill saw him loft a pretty finish over the head of Darts keeper Mark Smith.
Hemel created the better of the chances and had more of the ball in the first 45 minutes, while the hosts were content to launch long balls and reply on the physicality of their 6ft 3ins frontman Adam Cunnington.
A potential turning point arrived in the 34th minute when the referee felt Cunnington was brought down in the box.
But Beasant – the son of Wimbledon great Dave Beasant who in 1988 became the first man to save a penalty in an FA Cup final – pulled off a quality save down to his right-hand post to deny Cunnington.
Last year’s National League South leading scorer Alex Wall (21 goals in 33 games for Concord Rangers) saw his first action of the new season for Hemel when he came off the bench at half-time to replace the injured Craig Braham-Barrett, who tweaked a hamstring.
The Darts came into the game more after the interval and although Hemel were dogged in repelling a series of attacks, the hosts finally broke through in the 84th minute when Norman Wabo finished after a period of sustained pressure.
Beasant went on to make a number of excellent saves, while the Hemel players put their bodies on the line to block several shots to deny the hosts.
They had to show resilience in defence for long periods but Hemel almost grabbed the win when substitute Ricardo German had a one-on-one chance in the last minute of normal time which he couldn’t convert.
Tudors’ boss Sammy Moore was pleased with the effort put in by his side but was frustrated that they could not hang on to maximum points.
He told the excellent Tudor Talk YouTube programme after the game: “The first 20 minutes I thought we were excellent, we moved the ball really well, moved [Dartford] about and scored a great goal.
“But then I thought we got dragged down to their level. [Dartford] didn’t start right, the crowd was on their back. It was disappointing that we didn’t have enough tempo or enough urgency to go and kill the game off, because it was there for us before half-time.
“Credit to them, [Dartford] come out in the second-half and had a right go, bit it was a disappointing second half [for Hemel], I thought our quality on the ball wasn’t good enough; saying that Ric [Ricardo German] had a one-on-on, if he scores that in the 89th minute we go on to win the game.
“But I don’t think we would have deserved to win the game. I’m happy with a point, but I’m also disappointed that we didn’t hang on to three.
“We can get better, we’ve got people coming back from injury as you’ve seen today. Wally [Alex Wall] is a bit rusty, he needs to come back up to speed. German can still get fitter.
“It’s still another unbeaten game, like I said in there [to the team in the changing room] the first eight games, the boys have given me absolutely everything, so I’m absolutely delighted with how the first eight games have gone.
“My target was 16 points, so we are where we need to be.
“The Billericay game [a 3-0 win for Hemel on Bank Holiday Monday) was perfect preparation with how [Dartford] play. Billericay bang it up to [Matt] Rhead, and as you’ve seen today, [Dartford] put the ball into your box numerous times to Cunnington and he’s a threat, but I thought our two centre halves dealt with it really well. Up until the goal, we’ve dealt with it well.
“They also have long throw-ins, which I thought we dealt with well and didn’t cause us a problem. Looking back over the last two games, we aren’t probably going to play against another two teams in this league who put as many balls in the box as these do and the big lads they’ve got who cause a little bit of carnage in there and hoping for the flick-on.
“So I was pleased with that, I thought our character showed through. When they score it’s always a nervy few minutes afterwards, but I thought our back-four and the two boys in front stood up really well.
“A special mention to Sam Beasant today, I thought he was outstanding, The penalty save and he kept us in the game with a few great saves and we’ve needed him. When you come to big places like this, you need your keeper on fire and he was certainly on fire today.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with the character of the squad. We can get better than we did in the second-half, the boys are disappointed, but like I said, the effort they’ve given me over the past eight games I’m very pleased with.”
Speaking of Wall’s return, Moore said: “I didn’t want to use Wally if I didn’t have to, but it was forced upon us with Craig having a tight hamstring. He was saying he felt it quite badly, so we had to bring Wally on and he’ll get better now. He’s had 45 minutes to get the rust out of his legs.
“It a good point here, it’s a tough place to come, just because their league position is a lot lower than ours, it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a proper game.
“Delighted with the point but also frustrated that we didn’t hang on to get three.”
Two familiar faces where on the bench for The Darts today. Midfielder Ben Greenhalgh, who come on as a first-half substitute, and Charlie Sheringham. The former made 14 appearances for Hemel in the 2017/18 season, scoring once, before being transferred to Concord, while the latter, the son of famed Spurs and England legend Teddy, scored six times in 23 games across two stints in 2017/18 and in the early part of 2018.
Next up for the Tudors is a trip to Berkshire on Tuesday night when they face 15th-placed Slough Town, who drew 1-1 at home with St Albans City today.
Hemel then return home to Vauxhall Road to host 11th-ranked Chelmsford City next Saturday, September 7.
Hemel’s line-up v Dartford: Sam Beasant, Jacques Kpohomouh, Craig Braham-Barrett (Alex Wall, 45 mins), Daniel Phillips, Connor Essam (captain), Tyrone Sterling, Liam Nash (Ricardo German, 52 mins), Luke Howell, Sam Ashford (Isaac Galliford, 76 mins), Jack Midson, Jakes Howells. Subs not used: Mo Bettamer, Danny Boness.