Hemel Hempstead Town’s Conference South playoff aspirations took a significant dent on Saturday as the Tudors were beaten 1-0 by title-chasing Boreham Wood.
The decisive moment of the match came in the 31st minute when Junior Morais got the only goal of the game for the hosts as he drove the ball low into the bottom corner of the net.
Chances were few and far between for either side in a cagey game, although Hemel’s best opportunity fell to James Potton whose header bounced up off the ground and over the bar.
At the other end, Tudors keeper Laurie Walker was forced into a fine one-on-one save to prevent Wood from doubling their lead late on.
The defeat leaves Hemel five points adrift of the playoff places, with five games of the season left to play.
To compound the Tudors’ misery, playoff rivals Havant & Waterlooville, Gosport Borough, Whitehawk and Concord Rangers all won to strengthen their claims for a top-five finish.
A large contingent of Tudors fans (over 200) made the short trip across Hertfordshire on Saturday, but their team just couldn’t get started against a very good and well organised Boreham Wood side.
The hosts looked the most likely to break the deadlock in the first half – Lee Angol should have done better with an early header but he glanced it wide.
The Tudors’ only opening came when Potton headed a chance into the ground and the ball bounced harmlessly over the bar.
Wood opened the scoring on 26 minutes after Tudors skipper Jordan Parkes had uncharacteristically over-hit a free-kick from the edge of the area. Daryl McMahon quickly got the ball up to Morias who turned Jorell Johnson before slotting past Walker’s desperate dive.
Hemel continued to huff and puff without creating any real chances in the remaining minutes, and manager Dean Brennan was forced into a tactical change to try and find some penetration.
The second half saw an improvement in the Tudors’ forward play, and they created a number of early opportunities.
Kyle Connolly chose to cut inside, rather than shoot first time, and that allowed a defender to block his effort.
Then on 50 minutes, a Parkes corner was met powerfully by Arthur Lee but his header was brilliantly saved by James Russell, who pushed the ball one-handed past his far post.
Soon afterwards, Luke Allen ran half the length of the pitch before firing the ball across the goal, but it just evaded Zane Banton and Oliver Hawkins.
As Hemel drove forward, there was a danger of conceding a second goal on the counter-attack, but Wood failed to capitalise on a couple of quick breaks.
One chance was blazed over the bar and then Walker saved smartly from Matthew Whichelow late on.
In the end Borehamwood held out for the win in front of their biggest crowd of the season, and the large Tudors contingent were left to reflect on a game that could easily have ended 0-0.
A playoff spot is still very much up for grabs for Hemel but the next league game against Maidenhead on Saturday at Vauxhall Road is a must win as they travel to in-form Concord Rangers on Easter Monday for a match that may well decide their fate.
Borehamwood manager Ian Allinson said he thought it was a very tough game and he doesn’t see any reason that Hemel couldn’t go on and win their last five games.
Tudors boss Brennan was left to reflect on what could have been, and how missing three players through suspensions altered his starting line-up. All three should return against Maidenhead.
Hemel meet Boreham Wood again on April 14 at Letchworth in the final of the Herts County Senior Cup so the Tudors have a chance to make amends and bring back the trophy for the second time in three seasons.
Hemel: Walker, Connolly (Oli) Lee, Parkes (c), Johnson, Hyam, Potton, (Simmonds), Allen, Harriott, Hawkins (Kabamba), Banton. Subs not used: Gibson, Head.
Tudors man of the match: Dominic Hyam.