Hemel Hempstead Town’s positive start to the new season hit a setback last night (Tuesday) after they were defeated 3-1 by league newcomers Dorking Wanderers.
However, a red card for Hemel’s Luke Howell just before half-time certainly changed the game and gave the Tudors a difficult uphill task in the second period.
Excitement has been running high in the Tudors’ camp after a positive pre-season campaign was followed by a dominant 4-1 opening-day victory to start the new National League South campaign on Saturday.
The new-look Hemel squad, which has seen more than a dozen changes in the off-season, is looking younger and more dynamic under new boss Sammy Moore.
However, the National League South has always proved to be a tough nut to crack, with any team seemingly capable of beating any other on a given match-day.
And that looked to be the case last night -- red card aside -- as newly-promoted Dorking notched their second victory on the bounce in front of an energised 694 fans at Meadowbank in Surrey.
It was a historic night for Dorking, who were celebrating the club’s first-ever game in the National League South. They gained promotion after winning the Isthmian League Premier Division at a canter last term.
Sporting their ultra-bright lime-green away shirts, there were two changes to the Hemel line-up that defeated Hungerford Town on Saturday, Mitch Dickenson coming in for 35-year-old assistant manager/player Jack Midson and Isaac Galliford starting for the injured Ricardo German.
Hemel were hoping German, who scored on opening day, would be healed enough to be included in the squad last night, but he could not make the bench.
The hosts took the lead through Jason Prior on 16 minutes when Luke Moore’s low cross found James McShane, whose shot was saved by Hemel keeper Sam Beasant, but Prior was on hand to follow-up with a rebound to smash home from close-range for an historic Wanderers goal.
Winger Liam Nash was lively for Hemel and went close with a free-kick around the 40-minute mark.
The key turning point then arrived just a minute before the half-time whistle when Howell was shown a straight red card by referee Jack Packman. He was adjudged to have made a bad tackle on Nial McManus, but those in the travelling Tudor Army felt a caution could have sufficed.
Hemel boss Moore certainly felt it was harsh. He made two changes at the interval in a bid to shore up the defence, bringing on the experienced Midson for Jake Howells and last year’s young player of the year, defender Jacques Kpohomouh, coming on for Dickenson.
And ten-man Hemel showed their mettle by not giving up and levelling matters just five minutes after the break through Nash.
The former Concord Rangers men Nash and Midson combined, a pass from the former reaching Midson before a Nash shot was deflected in past Dorking stopper Slavomir Huk to make it 1-1.
It was the 23-year-old’s third goal in two games for his new club.
However, parity was to last only eight minutes as the home side went back in front through Prior’s second of the game. He smashed another effort home for a 2-1 edge in the 58th minute.
Nash went close again a minute later with a looped shot that beat Huk but was just wide of the post.
The contest was then put out of reach a few moments later when man of the match McShane made it 3-1 with a tidy finish to put the Wanderers fans in dreamland. A counter attack by Dorking saw McManus lay it off to McShane, who hit the target from outside the box to create a two-goal cushion.
Beasant made a couple of fine saves for Hemel in the last ten minutes to keep the scoreline at 3-1.
After the game, Moore said on Twitter: “Not good enough tonight on and off the ball. [The] red card changes the game, think it was very harsh.
“We need to bounce back on Saturday. It was a wake-up call we needed.
“Massive thank you to the fans, who I thought were unbelievable tonight. Never stopped singing. We really do appreciate your support.”
Regardless of the results so far, Moore should be given credit for his engagement and transparency with fans to this point.
His regular use of Twitter (@Smooro8) enables supporters to get the gaffer’s thoughts direct, and he also issued a pre-match quote to the Tudor Army before the home opener - that would be a welcome new addition if it’s to become a regular feature.
The new gaffer also said tonight (Wednesday) that new additions to the squad are in the offing, saying: “We will have some player news tomorrow (Thursday).”
League tables are, frankly, ludicrous at this stage of the season but Dorking fans are taking succour from their second-placed ranking after the match.
Hemel are in 11th spot ahead of another away trip this Saturday to face current bottom-markers Hampton & Richmond Borough. The Tudors’ opponents find themselves in a hole after a 4-1 defeat at Chelmsford City in their curtain-raiser on Saturday and a 4-3 reverse at home to Havant & Waterlooville last night (Tuesday). This could make them a dangerous animal, desperate for their first league points.
Moore will be hoping German and last season’s National League South top scorer Alex Wall might be available for selection after injuries.
Hemel’s line-up v Dorking: Sam Beasant, Toson Popo, Craig Braham-Barrett, Luke Howell, Connor Essam (captain), Mitch Dickenson (Jacques Kpohomouh, half-time), Liam Nash, Jake Howells (Jack Midson, half-time), Sam Ashford, Tyrone Sterling, Isaac Galliford (Munashie Sundire, 66 mins). Subs not used: Sydney Ibie, Danny Boness.