For the second week in a row, Truro City’s opponents on Saturday are a team within a single point of the White Tigers in the league table.
In this case it’s Hemel Hempstead, currently eighth in the National League South, one place and one point behind Truro. However, the postponement of last Saturday’s game against Eastbourne thanks to a water-logged pitch means that the Tudors have a game in hand.
Hemel are in their second season at this level of non-league football, having won promotion to the Conference South as Southern Premier League champions in 2014, notching up an impressive 102 points in the process.
The teams last met in Hemel’s final Southern Premier season, with the Tudors winning both league fixtures and also knocking Truro out of the FA Trophy 12 months ago.
Hemel finished ninth in the Conference South last season. While the team was reasonably prolific in attack, its defence was less impressive, letting in an average of 1.5 per game, (only one team in the top 15 let in more goals).
The numbers are looking better so far this season. The Tudors’ two goals per game average is one of the highest in the National League South and they have conceded just 1.2 per game, leaving them with the third best goal difference in the league.
One final thing to note amongst this blizzard of stats is that, with an average of two points per match won on the road this season, Hemel’s away record is much better than their home form (they have taken just one point per game at their Vauxhall Road ground). The Tudors are one of only two teams still unbeaten away from home in 2015-16, their most recent victory on the road being a 6-2 demolition of Gosport Borough at the end of October.
However, recent form overall favours Truro. After a difficult start to the season, capped by the 6-0 defeat dished out at Treyew Road on the last day of August by Oxford City, the White Tigers have roared back with a vengeance. Undefeated in the league since the Oxford debacle, Truro have taken 19 points from those nine games compared to Hemel’s 10 from eight.
Manager Dean Brennan, who took over full time at the Tudors in 2012, describes his team’s approach as an ‘attacking, high press, high tempo style of football.’ However, he is not impressed with his team’s recent form and promised ‘changes’ at the club in the wake of the late October loss to Concord Rangers.
A number of those changes reflect the club’s close relationship with Championship neighbours Reading. Like many other National League teams, Hemel Hempstead have taken advantage of the proximity of Premiership and Football League academies. Citing the fact that, like the Tudors, the Reading Academy favours a 4-4-2 formation (and also that, according to Brennan, they play ‘proper men’s football’, whatever that means) Hemel continue to take players on loan.
Latest arrivals from the Reading academy are 18 year old ‘creative centre-midfielder’ Noor Husin in mid October and Zak Jules, a left footed centre half who has played for Scotland U19s and who started a one month loan at the end of last month. Husin showed his mettle early on with two goals in Hemel’s win at Gosport.
The Tudors have also just brought in the ‘highly-rated’ youngster Victor Adeboyejo on loan from Leyton Orient of League Two.
At the other end of the age scale, manager Brennan sees strikers Dennis Oli (31) and Jamie Slabber (30), together with midfielder Matt Spring (35) as the ‘elder statesmen’ of the team.
Oli made first team appearances at QPR and Swansea while Spring who joined Hemel last summer, played more than 500 games in the Football League, for, amongst others, Luton Town, Watford, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Leyton Orient. Meanwhile Slabber, an ex Tottenham Hotspur youth player, also signed in the Summer from Bromley where he was part of their Conference South winning team. He is the Tudor’s leading scorer this season with seven goals, including a hat-trick against Gosport.
By Colin Bradbury