St Albans City 1 Hemel Hempstead Town 3
Vanarama National League South: 2nd January 2022
Match Report by Allan Mitchell
“Jonahs'” Tudor Army were out in force and full voice as Hemel defeated local rivals, St Albans, in a keenly fought local derby in front of an incredible 2759 fans at Clarence Park, and the Tudors were worthy victors as they controlled the play for long periods with Mark Jones side really playing as a real unit now.
The Saints came into the game as promotion candidates and clear favourites, but Hemel are a formidable side on their travels and are still unbeaten under Jones' management away from home.
They took the lead after just six minutes when a Sam Mantom corner was headed home by Cole Kpekawa, the ball just squeezing past a defender and the keeper on the line.
They almost repeated the set-piece a couple of minutes later, but Johnson saved Kpekawa’s header this time.
The Saints had a very decent chance themselves shortly after this as the game opened up.
A great run by ex-Tudor Zane Banton saw him drive down the line before fizzing the ball across the six-yard box; it was met by the giant Bayley Brown, who shot first time, but Craig King superbly saved it, and as it looped up, Kpekawa was able to knock it over the bar for a corner.
City just could not get their normal quick passing game going as the heavens opened, with the driving rain now affecting the pitch and Hemel’s work rate pressuring them into errors.
Several players found it hard to keep their feet in the slippery conditions, but it was Hemel who were looking the more likely to add to their tally as they frequently broke up the home side's attacks and responded with excellent counters of their own.
They got the second goal their efforts deserved when Gus Scott-Morriss picked up a loose ball on the right; he fired it into new boy Charlee Hughes who brilliantly volleyed the ball past Johnson to send the Tudors fans into raptures behind the goal, Hughes really looking like a good signing already.
As we headed for the interval, Tudors skipper Mantom slipped on the greasy surface and clearly looked in pain as he twisted his knee.
He had to be replaced by Joash Nembhard, and City took full advantage as Hemel tried to re-group. They had a throw-in down the right, and the ball was crossed in, causing a bit of a scramble.
It looked as though a City player had run the ball over the line, but the officials ignored the appeals, and it fell to Shaun Jeffers, who curled the ball into the back of the net from the angle. It was harsh on the visitors who had barely looked in any trouble up to this point, and shortly after, the referee blew his whistle to end the half.
If the home fans thought it was only a matter of time before their team took control, it was quickly quashed by Hemel as they took up where they left off.
It looked as though they had restored their two-goal advantage when Hughes pounced on a loose ball to prod it goalwards, but once again, the linesman didn’t flag to say it had crossed the line, and it was cleared.
There was a brief period of Saints pressure as they forced a series of corners, but Hemel’s backline held firm, and it was the Tudors who had another great chance to score when Kpekawa crossed from the left; it was met by Hughes who got in between two defenders and his header crashed against the bar before bouncing down onto the line and away.
They finally added to their tally on 66 minutes. Alfie Cerulli, who had worked his socks off all game, raced down the left and had a chance to shoot himself. Still, he unselfishly laid it back to Stevenage loanee Alfie Williams, who turned superbly before drilling the ball past Johnson into the far corner of the net.
It was no more than Hemel deserved, and the 200+ supporters behind the goal celebrated with Williams, who has already made a great impact since coming in.
City pressed as the game drew to a conclusion, and there were some incredible blocks and tackles coming in from the visitors as they defended superbly.
Special mention has to be given to Scott-Morriss, Jack Westbrook, Josh Castiglione and Dom Morgan-Griffiths, who just didn’t stop working and chasing the City players, causing them to continue making errors get frustrated.
Hemel could have added a fourth in injury time as Cerulli was able to turn his marker on the halfway line, and he drove into the box, and it was only a superb last-ditch tackle that stopped him from making it four. Cerulli hadn’t stopped working all game and was now pretty much running on empty, which summed up the efforts of the whole side.
After the full-time whistle blew, Manager Mark Jones and his assistant, brother Dan said they were delighted with their team’s efforts on the day, with everyone contributing to the result.
Next up is high flying and big-spending Ebbsfleet at Vauxhall Road, where Jones will be hoping for more of the same and that elusive home win. If the Tudors could get their home form going, they really will be a threat as the season draws to its conclusion.
Hemel: Craig King 8, Gus Scott-Morriss 8, Aaron Simpson 8, (Dan Wishart 7), Dominic Morgan-Griffiths 9, Jack Westbrook 8, Cole Kpekawa 8, Alfie Williams 8, Sam Mantom © 7, (Joash Nembhard 7), Alfie Cerulli 8, Charlee Hughes 8, (Alex Addai 7), Josh Castiglione 8 Subs not used: Chris Paul, Nick Hayes.
Attendance: 2759. Tudors Man of the Match: Dominic Morgan-Griffiths.