0 v 1
Jared Hodgkiss has never been renowned as a goal scorer, but his 75th-minute goal made all the difference for Kevin Wilkin’s side, who recorded a narrow but deserved victory in Hertfordshire.
With his resources stretched by injuries and suspensions, one of the easier decisions Bucks manager Wilkin would have made before this match would have been to draft defender Hodgkiss into his starting eleven.
Wilkin would have expected most of what Hodgkiss delivered, namely a steady presence at right-back and a guiding hand for his younger colleagues; what he could not surely have imagined was that Hodgkiss would turn out to be his match-winner.
The right-back celebrates his 37th birthday on Wednesday but may have started the celebrations a little early following his goal, which extended the Bucks to seven matches unbeaten in the league. It was also their third win in succession, a feat the Bucks last achieved close to five seasons ago, and it elevated the Bucks to fourth in the table, a season’s best.
In four matches prior, Wilkin could have used a piece of carbon paper when writing out his team sheet, naming the same starting eleven and substitutes bench. That consistency has been a major factor in the Bucks finding their groove, but Wilkin had to change the record for this game.
Defenders Ellis Myles and Orrin Pendley were both serving one-game suspensions for accumulating five bookings each, whilst neither midfielder Byron Moore nor striker Reece Styche had recovered from injuries sustained in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Long Eaton United.
Change was inevitable, and the fear was that change might prove to be painful for the Bucks. Hodgkiss replaced Myles and 18-year-old central defender Steff Jones returned for his first start in over two months, replacing Pendley as Sam Whittall’s defensive foil.
George Forsyth replaced Moore but took a more defensive role, meaning Jordan Piggott played further forward. Tré Mitford was Wilkin’s fourth change, a straight swap for Styche.
Wilkin filled his bench with youth, including two youth team tyros, Billy West and Harvey Solley, the latter being just 16 years of age.
Berkhamsted were promoted from Step 4 last season and are still finding the adjustment to their new level difficult, having recorded a single league victory all season. Wilkin felt they would be direct in their approach, looking to get the ball forward quickly, and that they could be tough to break down, and his scouting reports proved accurate.
The Bucks almost had a lightning start, with home keeper Jamie Head sliding to the edge of his area to smother as Montel Gibson looked to latch onto a Mitford flick. Mitford then sent a rising shot wide as the strike partners showed signs of linking up positively.
Neither side managed to assert any real control upon proceedings, on a pitch that was a little bumpy in wide areas and which had an autumnal covering of leaves in places from the trees around its perimeter.
The best chance of the half fell to the hosts, and it came in the 21st minute. Forward Matt Bateman, who faced the Bucks with Royston Town on the season’s opening day, made a recent switch back to the Comrades, as Berkhamsted are known, and it was his link-up with Sami Bessadi that opened the Bucks defence.
Bateman won the ball, fed Bessadi on the left and then made progress into the 18-yard box to meet Bessadi’s return ball, but could only head the ball straight into the arms of Brandon Hall towards his near post.
Wilkin’s side responded through Ricardo Dinanga, who fired a rising shot too high after a free kick which he had won was cleared back to him by the Comrades’ defence. Bucks captain Piggott did similarly a few minutes later, his shot fizzing just too high to trouble Head, whilst a well-timed challenge blocked Mitford’s effort, taken on the run.
Mitford’s forward partner Gibson has still been contributing plenty to the Bucks’ cause of late but hasn’t found the net since a 3-2 win at St. Ives in September, and he was denied a scoring chance when a defender’s slight touch took the ball away from him as he timed his run to meet a ball played in from the left.
Overall, the opening 45 minutes contained few scoring chances and not much by way of excitement; however, the feeling was that the Bucks had underperformed and were capable of more.
That appeared to be the message they received, as in the opening seconds of the second half the Bucks’ tempo appeared to have risen noticeably.
Gibson continues to get into good positions, but his execution is letting him down, and within less than 30 seconds played he will know he should have done better, putting a shot across Head and wide of the far post when played into the box on the left. Mitford was open, and let his colleague know as much too.
Mitford’s attempt to score with a header from around fifteen yards could be generously labelled as ‘ambitious’, and the hosts sought to up the tempo too. They went close when Bateman’s deflected effort fell onto the left boot of the speedy Lewis Johnson, only for him to miscue his effort. That gave Bateman a chance to try and outjump Hall to the bouncing ball, but the Bucks keeper showed good athleticism to leap and palm the ball away from Bateman’s brow.
Hall then denied home defender Luke Massingham with a brave stop, with the two involved in a hefty collision when the ball was returned to the penalty area following a free kick.
Dinanga might have been one of those whom Wilkin needed to ‘open up’ at half-time, as his second-half contribution far exceeded his first. His touch set up Mitford to fire a shot at Head, the keeper spooning the ball into the air and seeing his defence clear the ball before the Bucks could pounce.
Gibson had another opportunity just after the hour, but Massingham blocked his effort on the goal line after the forward managed to beat Head with a shot from a narrowing angle. Forsyth then miscued a shot and skewed an effort wide when a corner was cleared to him around the penalty spot as the pressure began to intensify.
With the Bucks pushing hard, it was against the run of play that the Comrades almost took the lead in the 69th minute, and it would have been a calamitous moment had fate not smiled on Wilkin’s team.
Sam Whittall, who has barely put a foot wrong since he arrived in mid-October, directed a header back towards Hall from a hopeful Berkhamsted ball forward, unaware that Hall was much closer to him than he possibly thought. Both were left powerless and had to watch in agony as the ball rolled towards Hall’s goal and went wide of the left post by inches, with the Comrades’ Johnson too far away to redirect the ball into the net.
That moment reinforced the need for the Bucks to make their pressure count, and in the 75th minute, they did so. Wilkin’s side was stretching the home defence and when the ball was played in low from the left and through their defensive line it was Hodgkiss who arrived on the end of it; the bearded defender was coolness personified, taking a touch to settle himself and then driving the ball into the net hard to Head’s left.
It was a lead they had earned, but rather than sitting back, Wilkin’s side sought to make the game safe. Head saved Dinanga’s firm shot, pushing it to his left, but the ball fell to Gibson; he should have scored, but with the crowd anticipating the net rippling, he put his shot across Head and wide.
That almost stung the Bucks when a late rally from the Comrades saw substitute Anthony Ball’s effort blocked in the six-yard box by Whittall, preserving the lead.
Five minutes of added time were successfully negotiated, and at the final whistle, the Bucks’ shuffled pack celebrated what could prove to be a crucial three points, with Hodgkiss dealing the trump card.
Match Date: November 11th, 2023 3:00 pm
Competition: Southern League Premier Central
Kick Off: 15:00
Venue: The Glencar Community Stadium, Broadwater, Lower Kings Road, Berkhamsted HP4 2AL
- Ty Webster (replaced , 79 minutes)
Referee: Neal Templey
Assistant 1: Andrew McIntyre
Assistant 2: Christopher Kidd
Official 4: n/a