Three of last week’s four subs were restored to the starting line-up as the Reds looked to defend their 100% away record. Pearce, Joel Colbran and Joe Rye swapped places with Dan Bowry, James Beresford and Danny Barker. The one other change produced a full debut for latest signing Moe Shubbar, on a three month loan from Crawley Town, as Mo Jammeh missed out altogether.
It was the visitors who had the better of the opening exchanges, by taking the game to their hosts, although actual clear-cut chances proved more difficult to engineer.
In fact, we were almost a quarter of an hour into proceedings before the travelling team – sporting their third kit of predominantly white – created anything of real significance.
Colbran’s throw-in on the right found Reece Myles-Meekums who, in turn, played Pearce into the area, only for the Slayer of Slough to scuff his shot straight to home goalkeeper Craig King.
However, two minutes later Hemel responded via a free-kick, tight to the left-hand touchline, that Set-Piece Supremo Josh Castiglione took and caused problems with but centre-half Kory Roberts could only fire over when the ball eventually came back out to him.
Midway through the opening period, a Lewis White delivery from the right created similar concern for Town, with Jack Westbrook saving the day by clearing the danger and preventing Pearce from profiting at the back post.
Shortly afterwards, some neat approach play between the tricky trio of Kane Wills, Shubbar and Myles-Meekums led to McLeod seeing his effort blocked in the box. White then recycled and returned to the edge of the penalty area, where a waiting Colbran sent his attempt flying over the top for a goal-kick.
The next attack resulted in the Towners taking a surprise lead, when the pace of Brooklyn Ilunga forced Colbran into a rash tackle that brought down the rapid eleven just inside the eighteen yard box, as he broke into it on the far side.
Harrison Male, saviour of St Albans three weeks ago almost did it again; guessing correctly but beaten by the finest of margins; Nahum Melvin-Lambert’s spot-kick sneaking inside the net minder’s right-hand upright.
Despite facing a deficit, Skipper Aarran Racine should really have steered home a leveller but he couldn’t apply the coup de grace at the far stick, following Cam Tutt’s set-piece that had been awarded courtesy of Ryan Hope’s foul on Myles-Meekums.
“Azza” nearly redeemed himself by getting to the ball first in the middle of the park and setting Tutt on his way. He soon passed on to White who cut inside and flashed a cross-cum-shot across the face of goal.
Going into the break behind surprised many of the 572 in attendance and it took a mere four minutes after the turnaround for Manager Adam Hinshelwood to take action. Javaun Splatt and Callum Kealy introduced in place of Shubbar and Myles-Meekums, with Tudor’s Boss Mark Jones responding with a substitution of his own in the form of joint-leading scorer Ogo Obi coming on for matchday scorer Melvin-Lambert, a few minutes later.
A full twenty minutes into the second forty-five, we finally had a chance worthy of the name as an uncharacteristically wild swing saw Rye concede a corner, when Roberts’ run down the inside-right channel unnerved the guests.
Although the subsequent flag-kick wasn’t properly cleared either, calmness returned to the Reds’ rearguard thanks to Hope giving just that to his opponents by lashing over the crossbar, twenty yards out.
An excellent advantage played by the referee allowed Man of the Match Ilunga to burst to the byline and force Male into a fine save to avoid his attempt doubling the homesters’ tally. McLeod not so lucky though, as Mr. Corbett returned to the scene of the crime to issue him with a yellow card for unfairly concluding Captain Godfrey Poku’s charge, once the ball had gone out of play.
They say ‘where there’s a Wills there’s a way’ – or something along those lines – and that certainly proved to be the case when Kane’s inch-perfect delivery was dispatched first time on the volley by Ollie to fire the White’s level, with twenty to go.
Things could only get better, as D:Ream once said and Rye alluded to that by coming close to turning the game on it’s head when he aimed a half-cleared Wills corner towards the target, only for the hand of King to deny him.
The end result might have been very different though if Racine’s guiding of the ball back to ‘keeper Male hadn’t been handed on a plate to the recently-introduced Dara Dada by the usually reliable last line of defence. Fortunately, the crisis was averted by a wayward finish.
HH’s DD almost redeemed himself immediately but was frustrated by Male rediscovering his form to push Obi’s cross away from the late-arriving replacement, after Poku had surged along the inside-left.
One final throw of the dice by both sides resulted in Colbran heading Jernade Meade’s flag-kick off the line and Male punching clear.
Then, Splatt might have made a name for himself too but Westbrook ensured it ended honours even with a block at the expense of another corner, three into a minimum of four more minutes.