Match report courtesy of Northwood FC's Alan Evans.
After a string of five successive league defeats, the Woods bounced back to form by booking a place in the Red Insure Southern League Cup quarter-finals with this impressive 2-1 defeat of Premier Division leaders Hemel Hempstead Town. With John Christian having joined Jack Hutchinson at Wingate & Finchley a few days earlier and after Brentford duo Tyrell Miller-Rodney and Sam Beale’s work experience came to an end, the Northwood midfield has places up for grabs and Adil Salih joined George Nicholas and Jerome Federico as recent newcomers to that area. Another new recruit, young striker Niko Muir, made his debut alongside Oliver Hawkins
up front with only the back-four unaffected from the side that had lost at the weekend.
Hemel Hempstead have been in fine form for most of the season under new manager Dean Brennan
and they were only missing a few of the regulars that had pushed them to the top of the table, with only defender Danny May
and striker Matt Nolan
left out while midfielder Alex Campana
was away with the England Futsul squad.
The Tudors are by far and away the league’s top scorers with 63 in 24 matches and it took only 52 seconds to open the scoring in this cup-tie but, against all expectations, it was Northwood who took the lead. A defensive header back towards the keeper saw Sam Beagle
hesitate a fraction and the alert Hawkins simply stole in between them to poke a shot into an empty net.
It didn’t take long for Hemel to start pressing forward in search of an early equaliser, with Dave Pearce the driving force, coming in from wide on the right, and his strike after five minutes was pushed away by James Reading
in goal. The loose ball fell for Victor Osobu
and his follow-up was also saved. The Woods still looked sharp in attack too though with Hawkins seeing a crisp shot on the turn taken comfortably by Beagle before the visitors had Jake Gilbert
booked for a early foul on Lee Grant. After 14 minutes, Federico’s corner was half-cleared back out to him and he cut in to hit a good strike which whistled only just over the crossbar.
Hemel hit back again with Osubu doing well with approach work down the left and firing in a shot that was palmed out by Reading. The ball ran ominously towards Pearce and he looked sure to score but Reading stuck a hand up and the ball deflected over the top. Federico latched onto a Hawkins ball to shoot wide soon after this and then Grant teamed up with Craig White to whip in a good cross but the danger was cleared and Hemel still looked threatening.
They did equalise after 29 minutes but there was an element of fortune for them, as Osubu battled his way past Ricky Rogers to hit a cross hard and low and Brad Hewitt’s attempted clearance deflected across goal, past Reading and inside the far post for an Own Goal
. But the Tudors were unable to capitalise on their good fortune as the Woods raised their game after this setback and finished the rest of the half on top. After 34 minutes a flowing move involved Federico, Hawkins and Muir who fed Salih out wide, and his good cross was met by a firm header from Hawkins, who was denied a second goal when Beagle stretched to push the ball over the bar. The pressure continued, though, and just before the break, Lee Grant knocked in a deep free-kick to the far post where skipper Hewitt made amends for his earlier mishap by restoring the Woods' narrow lead with a powerful header.
Northwood continued to hold the upper hand at the start of the second-half as well with Hawkins breaking well down the right and with the option of shooting available, he chose to try to roll in Muir but only succeeded in knocking it straight to Beagle. Nicholas then joined the party, with a good tackle and attacking run being followed by a crisp strike that flew only just over the bar, but gradually the Tudors made their move forward again. Osubu was the main architect of chances as he first shot into the side-netting from out wide and then knocked in a cross which took a deflection again but this time the danger was cleared.
Pearce had drifted out of the game but he did have one more effort after getting past Rogers on the left but Reading was equal to his shot to the near-post and soon after this a strike from Gilbert dropped onto the roof of the net. The Woods were surviving, and they were almost gifted a third goal on the hour as a back-pass from Ryan Parsons
saw Beagle miss his clearance completely and he would have been relieved as the ball trickled just past his post for a corner.
Northwood were growing in belief at this stage and Muir picked up a good ball from Nicholas and knocked in an inviting cross for Hawkins but this time the Woods striker was unable to get in a clean header under pressure and the ball went over the top. The newcomer Muir was then replaced by the fresh legs of Spencer Bellotti, playing his first game for several weeks, while Hemel went for wholesale changes, taking off Parsons, Pearce and Jordan Parkes
and bringing on three youngsters in an attempt to change their fortunes.
It failed to have a positive effect, especially when former Woods defender Kevin Ayodele
was injured just two minutes later and spent the next ten minutes off the field having treatment while the Tudors battled on with ten men. Northwood did their best to take advantage, with Salih going close with a good strike and Beagle making a good save from an attempted curler from Nicholas soon after.
After 76 minutes another cross from the hard-working Salih saw Bellotti, who had scored in both of the previous rounds of the competition, twist to head goalwards but the ball flashed just wide of the post. Adamson Ajayi and Bradley Wilkinson were brought on late in the game to replacing the tiring Federico and Hawkins, but the Woods had been solid at the back for the whole of the second half and continued to hold out comfortably through to the final whistle.
The Woods move into the last eight of the League Cup for the first-time and there are just three Premier Division sides left in the competition. Leamington, who are currently most likely to challenge Hemel for the title, would be hot favourites in any betting market. Arlesey Town are in mid-table while Frome Town are fourth from bottom. Slough Town are the other representatives from Northwood’s own division, while the other three sides in the quarter-finals come from the South & West Division. Those sides are far from enjoying good seasons either, with Cinderford Town the highest-ranked in 15th. Didcot Town are down in 18th while Sholing are currently rock bottom. Mind you, the current holders of the Red Insure League Cup are Clevedon Town, who finished last season second from bottom of that same division. Northwood have won the League Cup of every competition they have played in over the years and, after this victory, they have given themselves a chance of adding this one to that remarkable feat. They will await the draw for the next round with interest.