Hemel Town secured a huge three points to aid their playoff hopes after a 3-1 win over Chippenham Town at Vauxhall Road on Saturday.
The Tudors ran out comfortable winners but it was not without its travails as they were forced to play the last half-an-hour with only ten men after the influential Ismail Yakubu was somewhat harshly sent-off and, later, imperious Hemel keeper Laurie Walker made a penalty save at a crucial time.
The hosts took the lead after just three minutes when Karl Oliyide drove down the left-hand side before cutting the ball back to strike partner and man of the match David Moyo, who was left with a tap-in from six yards.
Hemel midfielder Scotty Shulton, playing in a more forward role today, could have had a hat-trick after 20 minutes but was denied by some good goalkeeping and the inside of the Chippenham post, his firmly-hit shot smashing against the woodwork and bouncing out.
Moyo also hit the frame of the goal from a tight angle before the Tudors finally extended their lead on 42 minutes. Shulton received the ball out wide and he raced down the line before laying the ball back to Oliyide on the edge of the box and he slammed the ball home, leaving away keeper Jared Thompson no chance.
The second-half saw Hemel remain in control, but Chippenham did almost find themselves back in the game when a header from Jake Jackson looped over Walker and bounced off the top of the bar.
Reliable defender Yakubu received his marching orders on 64 minutes after he was adjudged to have pulled back Andy Sandall, although Sandall appeared to have fouled the Hemel man first. The Chippenham midfielder fell as both men were battling for the ball and it looked very much a 50/50 challenge but the referee felt Yakubu had deliberately prevented a scoring opportunity and sent-off the unfortunate Hemel player.
Chippenham wasted the resulting free-kick, the ball hitting the wall and rebounding off for a corner.
Tudors’ fans were left checking their watches to see how long they would have to play with ten men but their fears were eased from the very same corner kick. As it came in, the ball was cleared and the in-form Moyo was on to the loose ball in a flash, racing down the other end before tucking the ball past Thompson for his second of the match.
More importantly, it gave the Tudors a three-goal cushion to defend with the man disadvantage.
The visitors, in 13th place coming into this clash, couldn’t get a foothold in the game but they were given somewhat of a lifeline after 70 minutes when Shulton tripped Sandall in the box. Sandall, who was having quite an influence on the game for all the wrong reasons in the home fans’ eyes, then had a chance to reduce the deficit. He stepped up and hit his penalty to Walker’s right but Hemel’s stopper guessed correctly and saved superbly, pushing the ball away for a corner.
Defender and early player-of-the-season candidate Tom Hamblin, who is returning after a nasty ankle injury in mid-September, came on in the 80th minute to shore things up at the back for the hosts and they looked comfortable, despite a consolation goal from Dean Evans in the 90th minute. He took advantage of a rare lapse by Walker who couldn’t quite gather a cross and dropped it invitingly to Evans who turned and drove home via a deflection.
The referee found an extra five minutes of stoppage time from somewhere but Hemel saw out the win.
The victory moved Hemel up one spot into fifth place in the National League South table with the playoffs still very much in their own hands.
With just five games of the season to go, they now have a three-point cushion over the chasing duo of Braintree Town and Welling United as well as a superior goal difference over both sides which could act as decisive extra ‘point’.
After a bit of a stumble in January and February which saw Hemel lose three games and go winless in a four-game stretch, the Tudors have been much stronger of late and have only lost once in their last eight matches. They have also scored 14 goals in their past six, hitting the three-goal mark on three occasions.
Next up for the Tudors is a vital ‘six-pointer’ down in Kent this Tuesday night against ninth-placed Welling which could go a long way to solidifying their playoff berth.
The reverse fixture at Vauxhall Road in November ended in a 2-2 draw.
After that, Hemel travel to West Sussex to face bottom side Bognor Regis Town on Saturday. Although not mathematically relegated, Bognor are 16 points adrift of safety and would need a miraculous six wins from their remaining games and have all other results go in their favour to avoid the drop.
Their clash earlier in the season resulted in a 3-1 win for the Tudors.
Hemel boss Dean Brennan will no doubt be relieved that Moyo appears to be fully recovered from the injury he suffered in pre-season and looks to have forged an excellent partnership with the newly-arrived Oliyide, which should bode well for the final playoff run-in.
Former Northampton Town forward Moyo is now showing the type of class that had Brennan excited at the beginning of August and the 23-year-old speedster has now scored six goals in his last eight league appearances.
For his part, the 22-year-old Oliyide, who signed for the Tudors in February from Braintree, has now contributed four goals himself in the past four outings.
Hemel v Chippenham: Laurie Walker, Joe Howe, Kyle Connolly, Jordan Parkes (captain), Darren Ward, Ismail Yakubu, Matt Saunders (Tom Hamblin, 80 mins), Scott Shulton, David Moyo (Alex Osborn, 87), Karl Oliyide (James Kaloczi, 65), Spencer McCall. Subs not used: Michael Cain and Danny Boness.
Mitch’s man of the match: David Moyo.