A tight affair in difficult condition saw Hemel Hempstead Town edge themselves into the National League South playoff picture when a piece of free-kick magic from skipper Jordan Parkes was enough to separate themselves from Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday.
It was the captain’s 100th goal for the club and his fifth of the season in a vital victory for the Tudors.
Both sides had their chances in the first period at Vauxhall Road, though Tudors’ keeper Laurie Walker was the busier, saving well on several occasions.
One particular stop from a Nyren Clunis effort was top-class, when a shot from the Dulwich winger dipped and moved in the wind but Walker was able to tip the ball over the bar.
Hemel midfielder Scott Shulton had an early shot cleared off the line but the visitors always looked dangerous on the break and weren’t afraid to get shots away at any opportunity.
With the first-half clock ticking down, Hemel were awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out and with the wind behind him, Parkes drilled the ball over the wall and into the top corner to give the home side a valuable lead.
What a way to get the milestone goal.
In the second-half, and with the wind behind them, the 17th-placed Dulwich had lots of possession and gave the home fans a few worrying moments, especially down the right where the excellent Clunis caused problems with his pace and delivery.
However, the visitors couldn’t take advantage of their pressure and too often their final pass let them down, though credit must go to Hemel, who worked very hard to keep them at bay.
The Tudors had their moments but Dulwich pushed them all the way to the final whistle. The three points eventually stayed at Vauxhall Road, pushing Hemel into seventh place in the table and the final playoff position.
As ever, this league is extremely tight with only ten points separating Eastbourne Borough in 14th place and Woking in second. Just four points blanket nine teams from Dartford in sixth and Eastbourne.
Tudors’ manager Joe Deeney was pleased with the result and the application shown by his injury-hit squad. Two strikers also departed the ranks this week, with Phil Roberts signing for playoff rivals Dartford, while Karl Oliyide has signed for the 16th-placed Hampton and Richmond Borough. Both forwards had tallied five goals each for the Tudors in all competitions this term.
On the flip side, it was encouraging to see newcomer Jacques Kpohomouh make his league and Vauxhall Road debut on Saturday. After playing in the midweek win over Hitchin in the Herts Senior Cup on Wednesday, the former Southport FC player put in a solid performance at right back.
Deeney now hopes to have one or two players back for the fixture at home next Saturday, December 15, against National League high-flyers Eastleigh in the first round-proper of the FA Trophy.
The next league clash is at Vauxhall Road on Saturday, December 22, when fourth-ranked Welling United will be the visitors. There will then be the usual home-and-home brace of fixtures against derby rivals St Albans on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, sandwiched with a trip to Chelmsford City, who are only two points behind the Tudors, so the festive period will be a crunch opportunity to cement themselves into the playoff race.
Hemel v Dulwich Hamlet: Laurie Walker, Jacques Kpohomouh, Kyle Connolly, Jordan Parkes (captain), Darren Ward, Ismail Yakubu, Kavan Cotter, Scott Shulton, Steve Cawley, Tom Knowles (Ollie Swain), Alex Osborn (Jack Snelus). Subs not used: Matteo Mendy, Magloire Muyembe, George Waters.
Sponsors’ man of the match: Jordan Parkes.