Hemel Hempstead Town’s final league game of the season ended in a 2-1 defeat away at local rivals Wealdstone on Saturday, but the Tudors’ faithful were pleased with the effort of the players who responded well after the disappointing home loss to bottom side Weston-super-Mare last weekend.
Stones keeper Jonathan North has been something of a nemesis for Hemel in recent years and he did his best again here to keep his side in the play-off hunt again with another excellent display, especially in the first-half when the Tudors took the game to the hosts.
He saved superbly from Jason Williams on two occasions in the first 15 minutes and the Tudor Army, who have a great relationship with the keeper, were left wondering if he was going to frustrate them again.
He was finally beaten on 36 minutes when Williams - having his best game in a Hemel shirt - evaded the Stones offside trap before deftly chipping the on-rushing keeper, the ball dropping just under the bar to give the visitors a deserved 1-0 lead.
Just before this, an already depleted squad was further hampered when Kyle Connolly had to limp off with what looked like a nasty ankle injury.
Academy prospect Sydney Ibie came on to replace him and Hemel boss Joe Deeney had to swap things around to accommodate the young forward.
It got even worse minutes after the Tudors’ goal when the other Hemel fullback, Jacques Kpohomouh, had to leave the field after some lengthy treatment to a head injury.
Both Connolly and Kpohomouh had been causing Stones problems with their excellent wing-back play and it was a major blow to lose both players before half-time.
Deeney introduced striker Rob Sinclair and had to re-adjust his side again. Kavan Cotter went back to right-back and Joe Howe tucked in on the left.
Mark Randall was then a victim of a poor high tackle just before the break, Stones midfielder Jake Sheppard being very fortunate to only receive a yellow card for the challenge. With just two academy players left on the bench, Tudors fans were fearing the worse.
Thankfully, Randall was able to continue and the half-time whistle brought an end to the first period with the visitors still 1-0 in front.
Wealdstone were sent out early for the second-half after clearly getting a bit of a dressing down for their efforts in the first 45 minutes and they were quickly out of the blocks.
But it was poor play by Hemel just two minutes after the re-start that gifted the hosts their equaliser. They conceded possession on the half-way line and Stones took full advantage, turning defence into attack. A quick through ball sent Freddie Grant clear and his first shot was deflected on to the post by defender Tom Hamblin but the ball fell kindly back to Grant and he smashed it past keeper Laurie Walker, much to the joy of the relieved home fans who could now start to believe they could sneak into the last play-off berth.
Hemel re-grouped after this and looked to have weathered the storm but on 56 minutes Sheppard - the man who escaped the red card - rubbed salt into the wound by superbly chipping the ball into the top corner after he had been given too much time and space on the edge of the box.
It was harsh on Hemel, but Stones were pressing hard and it looked as though they were going to be the more likely to score.
Sheppard further upset Hemel with another late challenge that Randall took exception to. After lots of handbags, Randall went into the book with the Stones player again escaping further sanction.
The home supporters were then in full voice as other results were going their way and apart from a couple of half chances, Hemel never troubled the Stones keeper again.
Wealdstone saw the game out and as the final whistle blew, word got round that they had done enough to sneak into the final play-off place with four other results incredibly going their way.
Deeney said post-match that he was much happier with the performance this weekend, especially after last Saturday’s poor display, but reflected on a depleted squad that was further hampered by two more injuries before half-time.
He was disappointed with the first goal, his side losing possession when Hemel were in a promising position, but that seems to have been the story of the last few months.
He sent his best wishes to Stones’ boss Bobby Wilkinson and his players, and added that they have every chance of progressing.
As for Hemel, he said: “It’s going to be a very busy six weeks, getting in the players we have identified to get us where we want to be.
“It’s going to be very exciting times, especially if we retain the players we want to keep and bring in those new long-term targets.
“There have been lots disappointing moments in the last few months and it has been very challenging at times, but we look forward to next season.
“Thanks for everyone’s support and let’s hope we can end with a trophy on Monday at Hitch Town in the Herts Charity Cup final.”
Hemel line-up v Wealdstone: Laurie Walker, Jacques Kpohomouh (Rob Sinclair), Kyle Connolly (Sydney Ibie), Jordan Parkes (captain), Tom Hamblin, Oliver Swain, Kavan Cotter, Mark Randall, Jason Williams, Kieran Monlouis, Joe Howe. Subs not used: Magloire Muyembe, Jake Baker and Danny Boness.
Tudors’ man of the match: Oliver Swain.