Evesham United 2 Hemel Hempstead Town 2

Sunday 26th February 2012
Evesham United 2 Hemel Hempstead Town 2
Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division
At: St George’s Lane, Worcester
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £8; Programme: £2 (48 pages)
Weather: mild, dry, sunny
Attendance: 113
Duration: first-half: 45:00; second-half: 48:24

The reason for making a late decision to head to St George’s Lane was simple – the opportunity to watch a player in action for the first time in almost four years who, in my mind, is a true footballing ‘legend’. Wayne Daniel, currently Evesham’s captain and central defender, made 300 appearances for Stafford Rangers from his debut in August 2002 until April 2008 and would be impossible to omit from my ‘dream team’.

While I wouldn’t have turned around and gone home had he not been playing, I was pleased to see Wayne named in the ‘number 4’ shirt on the teamsheet. Also in the Evesham line-up was Craig Wilding, 89 appearances and 26 goals for Stafford, while another ex-Marston Road man, Matt Clarke, is the recently-appointed Evesham manager.

In what was scheduled as Evesham’s last Sunday home game at Worcester before their impeding move a new ground back in the town, both sides shared the points and four goals in an entertaining encounter. Played throughout in sunshine, visitors Hemel Hempstead took an early lead which was cancelled out not long before the interval by probably Evesham’s first decent chance. Central defender Henry Eze put the Robins in front but Hemel equalised within three minutes. Eze was then sent off for violent conduct which forced Evesham to resolutely defend to prevent their fellow relegation-battlers from scoring the winner.

Evesham have been groundsharing at Worcester City’s St George’s Lane since 2006 when they left their old and now redeveloped Common Road ground which I visited once in April 1991. Still very much in situ are the large stand, cavernous covered terrace opposite and the ‘Craven Cottage’ style changing rooms building in the corner.

Programmes and teamsheets were available from the table beyond the turnstiles and a club shop table, run by ‘Gladys’ was found in the bar – two different design of badges plus a whole range of club merchandise, including knitted player dolls in Evesham colours.

This season, both Evesham (18th position with 32 points from 28 games) and visitors Hemel Hempstead (20th with 25 points from 28 games) have been fighting a relegation battle to avoid the drop from the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division. To quote the programme editorial, ‘[w]ith seven points separating the two sides, three points for either team today would go a long way towards easing any relegation worries’.

Both sides have recently changed manager with Matt Clarke and Rob Elmes replacing Paul West at Evesham back in November while Mark Eaton and Alan Biley took change at Hemel just two weeks ago.

With Daniel wearing the Evesham captain’s armband, the PA announcer, rather uniquely I thought, told the crowd that “the players are now going to swap ends”.

Hemel Hempstead (in all fluorescent green) got the game underway attacking the Dressing Room end, defending into the bright sunshine, and got off to a perfect start in the 2nd minute. A sliced defensive clearance resulted in a right-wing corner which was swung in dangerously by Dave Pearce and recent signing Keiron Schmidt forced the ball home at the near post. Great news for the group of eight Hemel fans stood behind that goal.

Much to Matt Clarke’s frustration, the visitors continued to cause problems and Rob Howarth sent a bullet header inches wide of the near right-hand post from Danny May’s cross. Evesham keeper Daniel Platt was then called into the action to keep out Ross Lafayette’s shot with a diving save.

When Evesham did get forward, Luke Male’s cross was too close to Russ Kitteridge who make a comfortable unpressured catch.

Howarth headed over after good work from Lafayette and Marquin Smith as the Tudors’ continued to impress.

A long throw from the right by Ben Pugh put the Hemel defence under pressure. Kitteridge’s punch failed to leave the area and Marcus Palmer went down under a challenge but the referee wasn’t interested in the penalty appeals.

For the first half hour, I watched the game from the stand in the seat usually occupied by Worcester City season ticket holder Bob Stokes before heading downstairs to pitch-side.

Evesham started to threaten as the interval approached. Josh Quaynor drove across the face of the Hemel goal and Pugh got a 29-yard left-foot free-kick on target.

For some reason I started to ponder a question in my mind: Why were Hemel Hempstead were nicknamed the ‘Tudors’? Then I spotted the badge on the programme cover showing Henry VIII and assumed the town had some previous connection with the ‘six-wifed’ monarch. I was right as Wikipedia mentions that King Henry granted the town its charter in 1539.

Back to the action and the Robins levelled things up in the 43rd minute. Pugh received a forward pass inside the area on the left and clinically hit a first-time left-foot shot into the far corner of the net past the diving Kitteridge.

During the interval the PA man gave the golden goal winning time as “two minutes”. Time to open up my forgotten envelope which contained a raffle ticket bearing the number… 23.

I kept Mr Stokes’ seat warm at the start of the second half and just before the hour mark, Platt pulled off a smart save to push Dave Deeney’s free-kick and at the other end Wayne Daniel headed Quaynor’s corner straight at Kitteridge.

Platt needed to be brave to dive at the feet of Smith who had looked to latch onto Lafayette’s pass into the area.

I think I’m right in saying that all but one of my previous nine visits to St George’s Lane have been spent at the press tables at the back of the stand. So during the second half, it was a rarity (and a nice one too) to walk round the perimeter to watch part of the game from the opposite ‘popular’ side.

Evesham were in the ascendency, despite Hemel’s chances and took the lead for the first time in the 77th minute. Pugh sent a long throw into the area from the right and Henry Eze fired home at the far post during a scramble.

The lead lasted three minutes. Schmidt found substitute Lewis Toomey on the right who crossed low into the area. Defender Jared Wilson failed to clear the danger allowing Lafayette score with a close-range shot.

“Pick yourselves up,” Evesham were told but a minute later they suffered another blow. Eze caught Lafayette in the face and the referee instantly produced a straight red card. Craig Wilding plugged the gap at the back left by Eze and Farai Hallam powered a header straight at Platt from the free-kick.

Defender Kevin Spencer replaced the sacrificed Quaynor allowing Wilding to return to midfield and Evesham were forced to defend. Platt against excelled in the 86th minute with a superb reaction save to tip over Lafayette’s header. The corner was cleared and played back into the area and Deeney thought he’d scored the winner, only to be flagged offside.

Evesham keeper Daniel Platt was named ‘Man of the Match’.

While walked round to the exit not long before full-time, I was spotted by Northamptonshire hopper ‘Groundhopper Dave’ who I’d last seen at Sutton Coldfield a couple of weeks ago. We had a long chat at the end of the game and stood behind the goal at the Dressing Room End, wondering how many more visits we’d make to the ground before it is due for demolition in 2013.

Still, next season there is Evesham’s new Cheltenham Road ground to look forward to!

Evesham United (red and white stripes / red / white): 1. Daniel Platt, 2. Jared Wilson, 3. Lewis Tasker, 4. Wayne Daniel (capt), 5. Henry Eze, 6. Craig Connor, 7. Luke Male, 8. Craig Wilding, 9. Ben Pugh, 10. Marcus Palmer, 11. Josh Quaynor. Subs: 12. Ryan Keen (not used), 14. Jack Winter (for Male, 60), 15. Kevin Spencer (for Quaynor, 84), 16. Oliver Burness (not used), 17. Joshua Bartlam (not used).

Hemel Hempstead Town (fluorescent green / fluorescent green / fluorescent green): 1. Ross Kitteridge, 2. Danny May, 3. James Brighton, 4. Farai Hallam, 5. Matt McEntergart, 6. Dave Deeney (capt), 7. Marquin Smith, 8. Keiron Schmidt, 9. Rob Howarth, 10. Ross Lafayette, 11. Dave Pearce. Subs: 12. Charlie Gorman (not used), 14. Lewis Toomey (for Smith, 74), 15. Brad Harrison (not used), 16. Dennis Fenemore (for Howarth, 69), 17. Barrie Matthews (not used).

Referee: Daniel Leach (Witney).
Assistants: Richard Price (Walsall) and Colin Nahor (Wolverhampton).

0-1 Keiron Schmidt (2)
1-1 Ben Puh (43)
2-1 Henry Eze (77)
2-2 Ross Lafayette (80)

Evesham: Henry Eze (RC, 81)
Hemel: none