Boxing Day derby thriller!

Hemel Town's Spencer McCall scored again last night, his second in as many games and fifth of the season.
Hemel Town's Spencer McCall scored again last night, his second in as many games and fifth of the season.
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The Herts derby exploded into life in the second-half with four goals and a red card as Hemel Town twice took a lead at St Albans before being pegged back in an exciting Boxing Day clash.

The same teams have fought to a 2-2 draw in their last three matches against each other – and so it was again this time.

This contest between near-neighbours was perfectly poised as both sides are in the playoff mix and just six points separates the top eight sides in this exceptionally tight National League South season.

Hemel came into the derby clash in sixth place and riding a nine-game unbeaten league streak while St Albans were just outside the qualification spots in eighth place by virtue of goal difference (and having played a game more than the Tudors).

It was an encounter that could have swung either way with both sides enjoying good spells of pressure.

However with Zane Banton’s 90th-minute red card, the Saints will be pleased to have hung on for a point while the Tudors will be frustrated that they twice led a lead slip.

On a bright, clear afternoon in front of a bumper crowd of 1,921 people at Clarence Park, the first real chance fell to Hemel midfielder Scotty Shulton in the eighth minute but his sighter was well-saved.

The Saints’ Rhys Murrell-Williamson caused issues down Hemel’s left flank and they enjoyed periods of dominance.

The busy Alex Osborn and Antonio German had opportunities for Hemel.

The Tudors’ best chances of the first half came in the final five minutes when a Shulton strike was cleared off the line from a corner and a David Moyo effort was just tipped wide by the home keeper Dean Skelton.

The visitors started the second-half strongly and dominated to the point where even the Saints fans were wondering how their team were still level.

The deadlock was finally broken on 63 minutes when Hemel defender Joe Howe netted his second goal of the season and first since August 5 when he drilled a strike past Skelton into the bottom corner from a short corner.

Just three minutes elapsed before the hosts were level when Tom Bender played in Sam Merson who did well to control the ball and smash it past Laurie Walker in the away net to make it 1-1.

The hosts then enjoyed one of their better spells of the match and peppered the Hemel goal but Walker made two excellent finger-tip saves.

Hemel got back in front in the 80th minute through substitute Spencer McCall after a nice move with Alex Osborn.

But that lead was also short-lived when just a minute later Merson scored again with a powerful effort from the edge of the box.

Hemel remain in sixth after this point while St Albans leapflogged Truro City into seventh and the last playoff berth.

In an interesting quirk of the fixtures, the two rivals will now do battle again in the league in less than a week’s time.

This time the action will switch to Vauxhall Road for a New Year’s Day 3pm kickoff.

If the sides can muster the same entertain again, it will be another treat.

Hemel v St Albans: Laurie Walker, Kyle Connolly, Joe Howe, Lloyd Doyley, Ismail Yakubu, Jordan Parkes, Alex Osborn, Scotty Shulton, David Moyo, Will Hoskins (80, Matt Spring), Antonio German (69, Spencer McCall). Subs not used: Danny Boness, Tyler Campbell, James Kaloczi.