Stourbridge 1 Hemel Hempstead Town 1

10:54pm Tuesday 24th January 2012

AARON Drake missed a penalty as Stourbridge were held at home by Hemel Hempstead Town.

The winger blazed his spot-kick over the bar early in the second half after visiting keeper Ross Kitteridge had fouled Stour defender Sam Smith.

Nathan Bennett had earlier got the Glassboys back on level terms after Dave Pearce had given Hemel a shock lead inside 80 seconds.

But following Drake’s miss the visitors took control and squandered several chances to win it at the death.

On paper this was two points dropped for Stour but after a closing period where they rode their luck on numerous occasions, it was certainly a point hard earned.

Up until Drake’s penalty miss three minutes into the second period, it had been a pretty good performance from the Glassboys, barring an opening five minutes in which Pearce caught them cold.

The Hemel defence had to work hard to repel a number of excellent crosses from Ben Billingham and Drew Canavan. Gary Hackett will feel his side should have been well ahead at the break.

But Drake’s miss, coupled with a tactical change from Hemel which saw club skipper Danny May arrive to anchor the midfield, saw the tide change.

Stour were uncharacteristically disjointed from then on and never seriously tested Kitteridge again. If Hemel’s Marquin Smith could shoot, his side would certainly have won the game.

There was little wrong with the rest of Smith’s game and it was his pass in just the second minute which caught the Stour defence napping and allowed Pearce to open the scoring.

Home keeper Lewis Solly did well to save the initial shot but the ball rebounded to the striker who converted smartly with his head.

Pearce’s workrate and close control were particularly impressive and he nearly doubled the lead after wriggling free of his marker and flashing a shot across goal.

After the initial drama Stourbridge began to work their way into the game and play some impressive stuff of their own.

Leon Broadhurst shot just wide after meeting a Ryan Rowe cross, while Hemel defenders James Brighton and Farai Hallam had to be alert to head away dangerous whipped-in crosses.

Sam Rock was inches away from meeting such a cross from Drake and Paul McCone shot just wide from the edge of the box. At the other end, Pearce again had Solly stretching to save a well struck free-kick.

But it was Hemel doing most of the defending and when Stour’s equaliser arrived it was deserved. Drake’s inviting corner was cleared at the near post but Canavan’s second delivery was just as wicked and was expertly steered by Bennett past Kitteridge and into the net.

Canavan was looking lively and was quickly back on the attack, drilling a shot which the keeper held on the second attempt with Rowe lurking.

A series of bookings for both sides raised the temperature as half-time approach and the tension reached fever pitch in stoppage time, thanks to a mistake by referee Michael D’Aguilar. James Brighton hauled down Rock as the Stour man looked to fight his way into the box and after checking with his linesman, D’Aguilar pointed to the spot.

Alas, it seems he had misread the signal from his assistant, who had actually signalled for a foul outside the box. After some confusion, Canavan eventually slid the free-kick to Billingham, who sold the first defender with a dummy shot before sending a rasping drive inches over the bar.

As it turned out, Stour did not have to wait long to get their chance from the spot anyway, as Kitteridge was penalised for foolishly fouling Smith within two minutes of the restart.

With normal penalty taker Sean Geddes suspended, up stepped Drake only to send his right footed effort over the bar and into the Shed End.

Chances were limited for the hosts after that, as Hemel steadily grew in confidence.

Billingham struck a shot straight at Kitteridge in a rare Stour attempt but at the other end Alieu Jallow should have restored Hemel’s advantage, only to fire over from eight yards out after meeting Pearce’s pull back.

Nerves were rising in the home defence and Solly almost dropped a Pearce corner straight at the feet of Jallow.

Smith sent the first of several efforts off target, before an almighty scramble in the home box following a corner somehow saw the ball stay out of the net, with efforts from Jallow and Ryan Blake blocked.

Charlie Gorman fired straight at Solly, before Kitteridge was forced into increasingly rare action at the other end, saving from Canavan after substitute John Griffin had just missed a Sean Evans cross.

But the better chances kept coming for Hemel.

Pearce shot hurriedly and weakly at Solly after the ball had invitingly fallen for him in the box. The Stour keeper also saved smartly from the luckless Jallow after the Hemel striker beat him to a weak Sam Smith header.

GLASSBOYS: Solly, Rock (Griffin 81), Griffiths, McCone, Canavan, Bennett, Smith, Broadhurst, Rowe, BIllingham, Drake (Evans 76) Subs not used: Mahon, Dovey, Danks.

Goal: Bennett 36.

HEMEL: Kitteridge, Hamilton-Omole, Brighton, McEntegart, Morgan (May 53), Hallam, Smith M, Gormon (c), Jallow, Pearce, Gambin (Blake 61) Subs not used: Smith J, Beale, Kimble.

Goal: Pearce 2.

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