Hemel Hempstead (1) 2 Bath City (1) 1 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 28 September 2019 – Vauxhall Road
Jack Midson went from villain to hero as ten-man Hemel Hempstead Town snatched a late victory against Bath City. Midson had earlier handed, literally, City a penalty, inexplicably batting Connor Riley-Lowe’s cross away, with Ryan Brunt slamming in the resulting spot-kick. The hosts were back on terms with seconds of the half remaining through Liam Nash’s fine first-time strike, and shortly after being reduced to ten men following Luke Howell’s lunge on Matt Bower, Midson, the club’s player-coach, prodded in an 87th-minute winner after Tyrone Sterling’s effort rebounded back off the goalframe.
Hemel, rocked by being turfed out of the FA Cup by struggling Beaconsfield last week, looked keen to make amends. Howell, Craig Braham-Barrett, Nash and Midson all had openings inside the opening six minutes as, shooting down the slope, the hosts made City look like they were running up a mountain. Jerry Gill’s men regrouped and didn’t hit the panic button, instead giving home stopper Danny Boness a few uncertain moments. The 21-year-old has been thrust into action recently and looked vulnerable with crosses, being rescued by lady luck as Bower and Brunt each had attempts of forcing the ball home. Instead, Midson tried to show his goalkeeper how to deal with dangerous deliveries. Riley-Lowe’s free-kick from the byline saw the experienced frontman rise highest and inexplicably fist the ball away, with referee Isaac Searle perfectly placed to award a penalty, which Brunt gleefully accepted. There was only going to be one outcome. Brunt thumped in his third spot-kick of the season, his fifth goal in five games, to give City a lead they probably deserved. At 33 minutes, it was 60 seconds earlier than their opener in the corresponding fixture last season, which City went on to win at a canter. This Hemel side are made of sterner stuff, though. After Brunt was denied by the legs of Boness, the Tudors fought back in first-half stoppage time. Braham-Barrett’s ball across saw the sting taken out by Joe Raynes, but Nash was quickest to react and thundered an unstoppable shot past Clarke from 18 yards, bending it into the top corner with venom. It was the leading scorer’s seventh of the season, and having formerly turned down a place in Love Island to earn a move to Gillingham in 2017, the attacker had earned the adulation of his club once more, and it proved a turning point.
City reacted positively in the early stages of the second half, with a flowing, passing move ended by Connor Essam’s crunching tackle on Tom Smith 20 yards from goal. Ross Stearn took responsibility and was desperately unlucky to see his rasping free-kick cannon off the angle of post and crossbar and behind. They didn’t come as close again, as other than Alex Hartridge flashing two headers wide from corners, goal threat was at a premium. For Town, Sam Ashford blazed over from close range after Braham-Barrett’s scamper to the byline, and Bower hacked Howell’s header off the line following Jake Howells’ corner. It wasn’t Luke Howell’s afternoon. Two minutes later, having beaten Tom Richards in a midfield tussle, the midfielder lunged in on Bower on the halfway line, catching him on the shin and earning him a second dismissal of the season. A man advantage should have spurred on City who, albeit non-threatening in attack, looked comfortable and set to keep their unbeaten run at Vauxhall Road going, stretching back nearly 13 years. That was until a catastrophic lapse of concentration cost them even a point. Braham-Barrett received the ball from a short corner and had the freedom to lay it off to Sterling inside the penalty area. His drive crashed off the inside of the post and Midson was perfectly placed to nudge home the rebound, atoning for his first-half rush of blood, and turning the match on its head with three minutes of normal time remaining. There was no way back. For the third time already this season, City had lost from a winning position, and had done so away from home having scored first for the first time since April 2018.
Billericay Town in the FA Cup next week will be another stiff test for Bath’s sixth Saturday away match in seven.
City’s Line-Up: Clark (c), Raynes, Riley-Lowe, T Smith, Mann, Watkins (Pearson 84), Brunt, Stearn, Bower, Richards, Hartridge. Subs not used: Wiles-Richards, Rooney, Simpson, Eglin.
Scorers: City – Brunt (pen 32); Hemel – Nash (45), Midson (86)
City Bookings: Raynes (49)
Officials: I Searle, G Marasca, J Crofts