Hemel Hempstead Town 1 Ebbsfleet United 3
Vanarama National League South – 8th January 2022
Match report by Allan Mitchell
After the New Year away win at St Albans, Hemel were brought back down to earth when they came up against high flying Ebbsfleet United at Vauxhall Road.
Big-spending Fleet are one of the favourites to go up this season as one of only three full-time sides in this division, and they went top of the table after a repeat scoreline of the away fixture back in August.
The away side started with one intention, and that was to move the ball quickly, and they are a side with some excellent players who have both pace and skill, and they deserved the win, creating a number of chances while defending well when Hemel tried to play on the counter.
The Tudors had the first decent chance on five minutes when a good interchange down the left set up Alfie Williams, who saw his shot from the edge of the box just slide wide of the near post.
Just two minutes later, Ebbsfleet took the lead when a cross from the excellent Alfie Egan was only half-cleared, and Craig Tanner drove the ball home via a slight deflection that took it out of the reach of Craig King.
King was the busier keeper in the first half and was called upon to make several saves. Still, Hemel felt they were denied a penalty in the 20th minute when a good turn by Alfie Cerulli had Chris Solly in some trouble around the six-yard box, and he appeared to haul Cerulli back as he went to shoot, but the officials waved away the appeals.
Ironically, the referee seemed overly fussy when it came to awarding free-kicks in other areas of the pitch, but he saw nothing wrong in this instance.
After this incident, it was a back against the wall job for the home side as Fleet pushed and pushed for the second goal, and it was something of a relief for the Tudor Army when the half-time whistle blew with just the one goal separating the two sides.
Aaron Simpson had limped off before the break, and Dan Wishart came on to replace him, and Manager Mark Jones saw the interval as a good time to change his formation, pulling Joash Nembhard back into defence and going with a five at the back.
It did little to stop the visitors in their tracks as they continued to dominate possession, and they finally got the second goal in the 52nd minute, albeit under slightly fortunate circumstances. The lively Dominic Poleon found some space on the left of the area but scuffed his shot somewhat, and King appeared to have it covered, but it squirmed through his outstretched hands and crept over the line, much to the delight of the healthy band of Fleet fans behind the goal.
Hemel never gave up despite being made to work very hard all game, and they almost pulled a goal back straight away when a goalmouth scramble saw a couple of shots get blocked before Chris Haigh managed to hold onto a close-range effort that really should have been put away.
Hemel were made to pay for that miss a few minutes later when Craig Tanner was allowed to run from just inside Hemel's half to the edge of the box where he had time to curl a shot into the back of the net to make it 3–0.
Manager Jones made a couple of positive subs as the clock ticked down, just to try and get back into the game, but Fleet's backline were holding firm whilst they were still dangerous on the counter. Hemel were finally rewarded for their efforts in bizarre fashion when keeper Haigh tried some fancy footwork on the edge of his box. He was quickly closed down by Charlee Hughes and Josh Castiglione, who forced him into an error with Castiglione stealing the ball before laying it off to Hughes, who tucked it past the defender who had got back on the line, making it two in two games for the Tudors new striker.
This fired up Hemel, and they forced a free-kick out on the right-hand side of the penalty area. The returning Samir Carruthers, who is normally very reliable in these situations, stepped up but couldn’t get the ball over the wall and down quickly enough, and it cleared the bar.
That was just about it as far as goalmouth action went. Shortly after, the referee blew his whistle to end yet another home game without a win for The Tudors. Still, in fairness, they were beaten by probably the best side I’ve seen in this division this season, and there were still positives to take from the game, especially the refusal to just lie down even when the odds were against them.
Next up is another home game against the side just above us in the table, Bath City.
Hemel: Craig King, Gus Scott-Morriss, Aaron Simpson, (Dan Wishart 44), Dominic Morgan-Griffiths, Jack Westbrook, (Samir Curruthers 59), Cole Kpekawa, Alfie Williams, Joash Nembhard, Alfie Cerulli, (Alex Addai 59), Josh Castiglione. Subs not used: Jeanmal Prosper, Nick Hayes (GK)
Attendance: 642. Tudors Man of the Match: Dominic Morgan-Griffiths.