National League South
St Albans City
Shaun Jeffers 45+1
Hemel Hempstead Town
Cole Kpekawa 6, Charlee Hughes 37, Alfie Williams 66
Canny bag of Tudor as Hemel Hempstead claim a deserved derby win over St Albans City
- Credit: GAVIN ELLIS/TGS PHOTO
A disrupted Christmas programme caught up with St Albans City - although Hemel Hempstead Town were worthy winners of the Hertfordshire derby in National League South.
Shaun Jeffers had scored just before half-time to give lacklustre Saints a lifeline against a Hemel side who were two-up at the time.
It proved a false dawn and a third in the second period restored that advantage and gave the visiting Tudors a 3-1 win.
It was a deserved win too, and while the COVID-19 throughout the Saints camp will certainly have had an effect, this was a poor display which never came close to reaching the heights the players available are capable of producing.
Saints last played more than weeks ago and for most of the first half, that was how they played.
The passes and energy, especially from the midfield, were lethargic and generally away from their intended target and the home side's attacking threat was nominal at best.
Hemel played their part in that, snapping into tackles and pressing hard, and their lead at the break was a deserved one.
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Cole Kpekawa put them in front after six minutes with a header from a right-wing corner and almost repeated the trick six minutes later, although this one lacked a decent contact and allowed Michael Johnson to make the stop.
It was the right wing that was giving Hemel success and it brought a second as the half headed to a close.
Gus Scott-Morris delivered a fine ball in, one that Charlee Hughes was the only one to react too, and unmarked he volleyed it beyond the City keeper.
A two-goal lead was not a harsh score for City but while a stern team-talk was needed by Ian Allinson, it was made slightly easier by a goal in the first minute of stoppage time, one with more than a hint of good fortune.
It began two minutes earlier when Hemel skipper Sam Mantom got his studs caught in the turf and gingerly hobbled off to be replaced by Joash Nembhard.
They were still reshuffling when Kyran Wiltshire got into the box and delivered a cross that Alex Lankshear should have converted at the back post.
But the ball was pushed back to Jeffers and his delightful lob found its way into the far corner.
It brought plenty of complaints from the visiting defenders towards the linesman, with the original thought being they were angry about a missed offside.
Supporters behind the Hatfield Road touchline though revealed at half-time the ball looked to be well out of play before Wiltshire's cross.
There was another let-off early in the second half as Hughes bundled home what seemed to be his second.
The referee looked to his linesman who looked to be heading back towards halfway but he then ruled it out, perhaps after communication over the officials' radios.
And City continue to ride their luck when a header from Hughes thumped off the underside of the crossbar, bouncing down and out before being hacked clear.
There was nothing fortunate about the third though, a fine strike from on-loan Stevenage midfielder Alfie Williams.
He took it down on the edge of the area before turning and firing across Johnson into the far corner.
Hemel's complement of subs were used with just under 20 minutes to go while City had only made one before the introduction of Aaron Austin and Romeo Akinola with 15 minutes to go signalled a final throw of the dice.
Mitchell Weiss, the first of the City subs, had two chances, one a header hacked off the line and the second, moments later, flashed across the goal and wide.
But they were rare flashes of positivity in the final third and Hemel could have added to their lead when the tireless Alfie Cerulli pulled a shot wide of the target late on.
The striker then had an even better chance as Lankshear slipped but Wiltshire recovered superbly to make a covering tackle.
Hemel won't be greedy though and the win thrusts them even further away from relegation.
For Saints though, this was a bitter blow to their play-off hopes.
St Albans City: Johnson, Wiltshire, Brown (Weiss 58), Jeffers, Banton, Diedhiou, Noble (Austin 75), Lankshear, Adebiyi, Mukena, Goddard (Akinola 75).
Subs (not used): Tokarczyk, Meakes.
Goals: Jeffers 45+1
Booked: Austin 90+4
Hemel Hempstead Town: King, Scott-Morris, Simpson (Wishart 69), Morgan-Griffiths, Westbrook, Kpekawa, Williams, Mantom (Nembhard 45), Cerulli, Hughes (Addai 71), Castiglione.
Subs (not used): Paul, Hayes.
Goals: Kpekawa 6, Hughes 37, Williams 66
Booked: Castiglione 88, Scott-Morris 90+2
HT: St Albans City 1 Hemel Hempstead Town 2
Referee: Dale Wootton (Cheltenham)