Hemel Hempstead Town 1-1 Fleet

Fleet dropped points for the first time in 2017 but remain unbeaten in the calendar year after a superlative performance from Nathan Ashmore stemmed a second-half tide from the Tudors.

Naming an unchanged side and bench once more, Daryl McMahon had every reason to keep faith with his players after their recent run of results and Fleet looked set to continue that after taking an early lead.

In windy conditions, Fleet opted to battle against the elements and slope in the first half and it meant they surrendered some possession as Nathan Ashmore’s goal kicks struggled to reach the halfway line, while his opposite number Jamie Butler was able to aim at the Fleet penalty area with his.

That allowed Hemel to come out and look to seize the advantage early on. They looked bright in the opening minutes with high balls pumped forwards but Fleet always looked likely to unlock the home defence on the counterattack.

The visitors’ first opportunity arrived on six minutes when Sam Deering sent a shot over Butler, who strayed off his line on numerous occasions, but it was just too high for the target.

Within another six minutes, however, Fleet were ahead. From a free-kick, Danny Kedwell slipped the offside trap and sent in a low cross that Bradley Bubb and Sean Shields attacked in the six-yard box but it was scrambled behind to safety. Fleet then won a second corner and from that, as Butler attempted to grab hold of it in the six-yard box, Bubb dug the ball free and was able to send a firm strike into the back of the net.

Hemel continued to use the wind to their advantage and it was something of an aerial procession for the central defenders who faced a constant stream of high balls. Yet Fleet still looked the more dangerous and Dean Rance had a shot on target with Butler again out of position, but that was deflected away from the goal.

On 28 minutes, Bubb had a great chance for a second goal as he outmuscled and outpaced James Kaloczi to go one on one with Butler. The goalkeeper got a hand to it to push it wide, though Tony Diagne almost stumbled into it and was fortunate to see it fall the safe side of the post.

Deering was Fleet’s main threat and together with Kedwell covered plenty of ground up front and down the flanks. Ten minutes from half-time, he found a familiar route to goal down the right and hoisted a cross to the opposite wing for Shields to flash a shot across the Hemel goal.

And five minutes from the break, Fleet had another opportunity to extend their lead when Bubb again worked the space well to carve open a sight of goal and his shot beat Butler but clipped the top of the goalframe on its way over.

The travelling fans were expecting their side to take control of proceedings going down the slope but if anything, the wind worked against them. Where Hemel measured their balls forward, Fleet seemed to struggle to judge how far the ball would carry and overhit too many passes from defence and midfield.

Shields got behind the Hemel defence two minutes after the whistle and tried to squeeze the ball in from an angle but Butler managed to smother that chance and after that the home side began to attack with verve.

Fleet retreated ever deeper and led by the veteran Matthew Spring, Hemel were able to launch frequent attacks, always looking to free Jake Robinson inside the box.

Ashmore came to the rescue for the first of numerous occasions on 49 minutes when he pulled off a quite stunning one-handed save at full stretch from Matt Saunders’ well-struck and deflected free-kick.

Four minutes later, he was called on in even more desperate circumstances. As Hemel continued to press inside the Fleet area, Ben Greenhalgh was tripped and the referee awarded a penalty. Robinson hit his spot kick straight and Ashmore held his ground to block it low and send it high to safety.

And he pulled off two more excellent saves in as many minutes as Hemel pummelled the Fleet goal. A corner was swung in and Ashmore was on the end of a low shot, scooping the ball to safety off the line before Spring’s effort was helped on goalwards and again the Fleet goalkeeper flung himself across his territory to somehow block at the far post.

But the unrelenting pressure finally told and while it was harsh that Ashmore should finally concede after that scintillating performance, it would have been equally harsh on Hemel had they not scored at least one. A contested free-kick for offside was taken several yards forward despite the loud complaints of Fleet fans and Callum Driver hoisted a long ball upfield and Robinson – as he had at Stonebridge Road earlier in the season – was on the end of it to stab it somewhat sorrowfully over the line despite Ashmore getting a touch.

The goal, and introduction of Anthony Cook, livened the Fleet up a little and they finally forced Hemel back into their own half for a spell. The referee’s stop-start approach to niggly fouls and his caution of Robinson became too much for home boss Dean Brennan and he was sent to the stands for his protests.

His side, however, continued to force the issue and Robinson held off the attentions of Marvin McCoy and Dave Winfield to send a shot just over the bar, while Ashmore did well to tip an Arnaud Mendy effort into the same place.

Fleet tried to step things up again in the final 10 minutes and Cook was onto a McCoy throw in a flash, beating his marker but loosing an effort across goal. Kedwell had another effort blocked by Butler and Fleet continued to attack on the edge of the Hemel box but with substitute Darren McQueen quite literally manhandled by the much bigger Mendy, the home side protected their goalkeeper well and both sides were probably content to settle for a point apiece.

EUFC: Ashmore, Shields (Cook 61), Connors, McCoy, Winfield, Clark, Rance, Drury, Kedwell, Bubb (McQueen 81), Deering (Powell 77). Subs: Mambo, Jordan
HHTFC: Butler, Driver, Connolly, Kaloczi, Diagne, Spring, Thalassitis (McNamara 78), Saunders, Robinson, Greenhalgh, Mendy. Subs: Baldwin, Jackson, Parrott, Henly


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