After negotiating the notorious Hemel magic roundabout I arrived at the ground with a few minutes to spare. Just as well because finding a place to park around Vauxhall Road is very difficult. Luckily, I found a spare patch of grass, dumped the car, paid my £10 and got into the stadium as the teams emerged.
Vauxhall Road is, in my opinion, a proper non-league ground. There are covered stands on all 4 sides of the ground, large standing areas behind both goals and 250 seats on the opposite side to the entrance. The stadium has a tight, enclosed feel to it that generates plenty of atmosphere. This is enhanced by the vociferous support (compete with drummer) of the home fans who congregate behind whichever end Hemel are attacking.
On to the game itself. With the two top scorers in the league going head to head goals were expected. Sure enough, less than 3 minutes in and former Glassboy Ben Mackey turns and lets fly from way out. His shot was hit so early that it caught everyone, including Stourbridge keeper Dean Coleman, out and flew into the back of the net.
The first 15 minutes were all Hemel. Another shot hit the bar and it was looking like the home side might run rampant. However, gradually Stourbridge started to play their way back into the game. Finally, after 38 minutes, a snapshot from Luke Benbow squirmed under the grasp of Hemel stopper Laurie Walker and into the net.
Just as it looked like the half would end all square, Stourbridge failed to clear a corner and Ollie Thorne headed home to send the home team in 2-1 up.
The second half would prove to be both entertaining and, as I was to find out much, much later, almost controversial.
First of all a Ben Billingham free-kick again eluded the grasp of Walker and levelled the scores. Stourbridge, for a few minutes, looked to be getting on top. However, some hesitant defending let in Lewis Toomey to make it 3-2.
Back came Stourbridge and, when a Billingham cross was missed by everyone only to nestle in the far corner, it was back to all square again. That Billingham strike was the 100th league goal for Stourbridge, joining Hemel in the 100+ club for the season.
Once again as Stourbridge looked to be taking hold of the game, more hesitant defending and there was Toomey again to make it 4-3. A definite suspicion of offside but the assistant referee was having none of it.
Then came the incident that could have sparked some controversy. Although, at the time, I certainly didn't see any problem when Luke Benbow was put clean through with the Hemel defence seemingly appealing for offside. As it happened, Benbow wasted the chance. This was followed by a host of Hemel players berating both Benbow and the referee. As I say, at the time, I and no-one around me knew why. Now, having seen the video, I can see what the argument was about. Hemel put the ball, out of play for an injury to a Stourbridge player. This was not obvious from the other end of the ground. Then, after a long delay for a substitution, the throw-in was taken and belted downfield. The Hemel players stopped, thinking it had been played back to their keeper, but Benbow kept running and attempted to score. I suppose only the player himself will know if he realised that he ball had been deliberately put out. If he did, then I certainly wouldn't defend his actions. If he didn't, as I and many others in the away end didn't, then it may have been an honest mistake, Either way, he missed, so it had no bearing on the result.
A very entertaining game of football played at a proper football stadium with plenty of atmosphere. Hemel has the air of a club that is heading up the leagues. I tipped them for the league title and, although Stourbridge matched them at times, I see no reason to change my prediction.
Hemel Hempstead Town - @hemelfc
Stourbridge FC @sfcofficial