Fleet 0-0 Hemel Hempstead Town

Hemel Hempstead Town have never beaten the Fleet in what is now 10 attempts and they didn’t ever seem likely to with a strong, defensive display to keep the home side at bay in a goalless draw at the Kuflink Stadium this afternoon.

The second-half in particular was an exercise in breaking down packed opposition lines for the Fleet as Hemel defended in depth and ultimately claimed success in that by shutting out the red shirts who nevertheless extended their lead at the top courtesy of a Dartford defeat at Weymouth.

The Fleet named four changes as Joe Martin made his first start since New Year’s Day and joining him were Josh Wright, Omari Sterling-James and Toby Edser.

And Edser had a shot blocked in the first two minutes after Sterling supplied Dominic Poleon, his attempt coming back out to Edser but Hemel got enough bodies in the way. They broke quickly upfield via Josh Castiglione with Fleet chasing back in sufficient numbers to rescue the situation and surrender a corner.

With six minutes on the clock, Poleon was lurking again, this time as Luke O’Neill’s low delivery skidded across the six-yard box but ran just ahead of the incoming Fleet top scorer.

A big side stature-wise, Hemel were something of a battering ram when breaking forward and Josh Williams fired wide as he went through the middle. Josh Wright then had to mop up for the Fleet as Luke Holness and Nana Owusu tried to thread a ball into the box.

Greg Cundle faced a good battle against Montel McKenzie down the left and beat his man on 12 minutes to find the feet of Rakish Bingham but Hemel were able to sweep that off his toes.

Much of the half after that was devoid of a proper chance. Sterling twisted past two men on 29 minutes and overhit his shot but it was a foul on the same player that presented a much better opportunity. The free-kick was hit low along the box by Edser and Bingham, Martin and Poleon all had efforts on target from close range, all blocked in the six-yard area.

A quick exchange of passes in the corner between Bingham and Cundle 10 minutes from half-time unleashed the latter but his shot was saved by Craig King. Fleet’s next attack saw Sterling felled in the box and there were some appeals from the Fleet bench but the referee wasn’t moved to award anything.

Three minutes from half-time, Fleet attacked again, Bingham racing on to a long ball forward and his weighty first-time delivery for Poleon was accurate but cut out by a vital intervention from Castiglione.

Hemel ended the half with a couple of half-chances, the best falling to Owusu who forced a save from Cousins with a shot from outside the box.

With a change after the break of Franklin Domi for Martin, Fleet were quickly on the offensive and Sterling’s speedy break and pacy cross for Poleon just eluded his boot. O’Neill’s ball forward for Cundle was struck too high and then O’Neill himself sent a lay-off from Bingham in the same direction as the Fleet began to encircle the Hemel box.

On 55 minutes, Cundle’s ball across the byline fell for Sterling but he was crowded out as he shaped to shoot and moments later, Edser’s exquisite spin past his man from Poleon’s touch ended with a shot saved by King.

Fleet’s build-up had to be patient as an unadventurous Hemel had every man behind the ball at times and it was one-way traffic throughout the half. One could understand Hemel’s recent defensive prowess as they simply lined up green shirts, nullifying Fleet’s varied attempts to find a gap.

Wright sent his first-time shot straight from Sterling’s corner for a gap he spotted in the top corner but that was beaten away with 20 minutes left. Domi went even closer on 75 minutes, striking the bar with a great effort after some excellent approach player by the Fleet to win another corner.

Domi followed that up with a switch past his marker to lay a cross on to Bingham’s head but just as it looked like it might open for the Fleet, King clutched the ball to his chest.

Sterling whipped another delivery in that was too fast for everyone but Edser whose shot was diverted over as Hemel continued to defend in numbers and really only got out of their own half for any length of time on two or three occasions.

The home side continued to press their superiority but just couldn’t convert possession and territory into goals and were forced to settle for the blank heading into another big home game versus Worthing on Tuesday.

EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill, Martin (Domi 46), Hollis, Wright (Clifford 76), N’Guessan, Cundle, Sterling-James, Edser (Romain 89), Bingham, Poleon. Subs: McQueen, Jombati
HHTFC: King, McKenzie, J.Williams (Eleftheriou 81), Hill, Wetbrook, Ajayi, G.Williams (Mukendi 83), Brown, Holness, Owusu (Hughes 68), Castiglione. Subs: Morgan-Griffiths, Roberts
Attendance: 1,647

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