Hemel Town managed to pick up a hard-earned point at third-ranked Hampton and Richmond Borough on Saturday despite having injuries to contend with.
Both teams came into this game on a good run of form, with Hampton unbeaten in 17 games and Hemel not having lost in the league since the end of September.
The hosts started with their hat-trick hero from the previous game, Elliott Charles, up front but there was little sign of any threat from either side until the 23rd minute.
The Tudors’ Antonio German breached Hampton’s well-organised defence before getting tugged back by Charlie Wassmer. Hemel’s striker managed to regain his footing and was still clear on goal but the referee did not allow an advantage to be played and pulled the play back for a free-kick on the edge of the area, booking Wassmer in the process.
Wassmer was somewhat lucky not to be receive a second yellow when minutes earlier he had clattered into Alex Osborn on the halfway line, a tackle that left Osborn limping and eventually having to leave the field but was not deemed worthy of any punishment other than a free-kick.
Hemel’s first real effort on goal came from the aforementioned Osborn when he shot from the edge of the box but couldn’t get any power behind it and the effort was easily saved. He limped off shortly after, to be replaced by Ebby Nelson-Addy.
The visitors had another chance before the break when a corner caused problems in Borough’s six-yard box. Home keeper Manny Agboola missed his punch and the ball pinged around before getting half-cleared to Spencer McCall who drove his shot inches wide.
The second-half saw Hemel start brightly but create little and on the hour the game changed. Charles suddenly burst into life down the Hemel right, having been relatively quiet up to this point. He just beat Kyle Connolly to a through ball and raced away towards the Hemel goal. As netminder Laurie Walker closed the angle, Charles fired the ball across the face of the goal and it smashed against the inside of the post, before moving along the line and then getting cleared. A close call indeed.
Hemel were hit by yet another injury problem when the excellent defender Ismail Yakubu had to leave the field, meaning a re-shuffle at the back. Skipper Jordan Parkes had to move to left back, while Joe Howe swapped to the right and James Kaloczi took his place at centre half.
With both of Hemel’s playmakers – Osborn and Parkes – now out of the midfield, Hampton started to push them back and it became a real test of character for boss Dean Brennan’s now makeshift side.
Beavers’ captain Josh Casey saw his free-kick bounce off the top of the bar and Brendan Kiernan had a decent chance in space but shot over.
The Tudors were still trying to create chances themselves and Parkes and Will Hoskins combined well to set up German, but he blasted his shot into the Tudors’ fans behind the goal.
There was time for the home side to waste another free-kick opportunity on the left when the ball was met by Wassmer but he headed over and with the minutes ticking away, a good run by Howe set up German, whose shot was blocked. The resulting corner caused a few further problems, ending up with sub David Moyo’s shot being saved.
One thing Hemel fans cannot complain about is the character in the squad and this, once again, proved invaluable in difficult circumstances against a very good side.
The point ensured that Hemel remained in the seventh and final National League South playoff berth and it’s still extremely tight at the top with just six points separating the top-eight sides. Hemel also have a game in hand over five of those same sides.
There’s still everything to play for and Brennan will be hoping to get some of his injured players back on the field as soon as possible.
Next up for Hemel is the visit of 14th-ranked Hungerford Town to Vauxhall Road this Saturday (3pm kick-off).
Hemel v Hampton and Richmond Borough: Laurie Walker, James Kaloczi, Joe Howe, Jordan Parkes (captain), Kyle Connolly, Ismail Yakubu (David Moyo), Alex Osborn (Ebby Nelson-Addy), Scott Shulton, Antonio German (Tyler Campbell), Will Hoskins, Spencer McCall. Subs not used: Matt Saunders and Danny Boness.