Hallam’s playoff hopes were wrecked by AFC Emley, who ran out 4-3 winners on a swamp of a pitch at Sandygate in extremely wet conditions, writes Ben Hardy.
Two quick-fire Emley goals in the first-half ultimately proved the difference between the two teams, although Hallam had a host of chances in the second 45 minutes to take at least a point from the game.
On a wet and cold night, feeling more like the depths of winter than late April, puddles were evident on the pitch as the two teams took to the field. Indeed, the game was slightly delayed as Hallam’s Liam Flint, Ben Thornton and David Darwent used shovels to clear water from the goalmouth of Darwent’s goal.
The ground may as well have been called Boggygate rather than Sandygate for the evening, such was the state of the pitch as the rain lashed down.
Nevertheless, the game kicked off in the treacherous conditions, and it was the home side who had two early sights on goal. Thornton failed to properly connect with his strike which dribbled wide, before Mitch Dunne’s early effort was straight at Adam Lawlor in the Emley goal.
The pitch was causing early problems as Flint’s clearance was caught up in a puddle, allowing Matt Semley to have an early attempt on goal for Emley, which nestled into the side-netting at the near post.
With their first major opening on goal, the mid-table visitors from West Yorkshire took the lead as Alex Slack rose unmarked to head into the bottom corner with a firm header.
Moments later, the lead was doubled as Gregg Porter fired a low shot into the net from inside the box following a cutback into his path. Hallam’s Darwent barked to his players that they needed to show some character now if they were to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Semley had two presentable chances to kill off the game before half-time, seeing his shot saved by Darwent after striking straight at the Hallam keeper when well-placed. Then a fabulous last-ditch challenge by Flint denied him before he was about to get his shot on goal.
The rain had eased off but it was still very boggy as Dunne’s effort was saved by the legs of Lawlor just before half-time as Hallam sought a way back into the game.
Richard Tootle replaced Micah Bishop at left-back at the start of the second-half for the home side, and an early effort from Jake Currie was well claimed by Lawlor.
A third Emley goal arrived soon after as Rhys Thomas was allowed to creep into the Hallam box before leaving Darwent with no chance after an emphatic finish. A roar from the well-attended away fans signified the game was practically won.
Hallam’s fighting spirit was evident however as they immediately responded with a comeback goal after Dunne was brought down by Lawlor when attempting to go round the keeper. Currie converted the penalty and Hallam had plenty of time left to find a way back.
Thornton struck the side-netting from the edge of the Emley penalty area, before James Reed replaced captain on the day, Tom Roebuck.
Reed’s presence brought Hallam an immediate goal as Ollie Beaumont headed into the net following a corner to bring Hallam within one goal of Emley.
There was a temporary delay as Sam Smith, the tallest player on the pitch, had to attach the top of the net to the crossbar after it had come loose.
‘‘That’s the best thing he’s done all night,’’ joked a Hallam fan sat in the stand, which was well-received by those around him.
Roared on by the home crowd, Hallam looked intent on going on to take something from the game, but presentable chances were missed by Reed, Thornton, Smith and in particular Dunne who somehow could not bundle the ball into the net from close range following Thornton’s low cross into the six-yard area. Lawlor was grateful the ball ended in his arms, as the home fans were prepared to celebrate an equaliser.
A knock-out blow was then delivered by Emley completely out of the blue as Joel Harrison curled a spectacular effort into the far top corner to restore the visitors’ two goal lead. Harrison was mobbed in front of the away dugout, visibly delighted that his superb goal had won the game for his team.
Hallam were not finished just yet however, as Dunne made no mistake from close range this time to make it 4-3.
Emley saw out the remaining five minutes of the game to register three points in what was a thrilling game of football in difficult conditions.