10:23PM, Tuesday 06 October 2020
A Paul Hodges wonder-strike helped Slough Town open their National League South campaign with a 1-0 victory over Hemel Hempstead Town.
Weeks of uncertainty over the National League’s ability to resume without fans has dominated pre-season and the Rebels were met with unfamiliar surroundings playing in-front of an empty Arbour Park.
But undeterred and fresh from an excellent 1-0 away win at Dartford in the FA Cup second qualifying round, the hosts looked the busier of the two sides, playing with a rhythm that belied the disjointed pre-season most clubs have experienced.
Rebels forward Ben Harris had the game’s first real chance in the 20th minute, pouncing on a through ball and turning his man before lashing the ball against the foot of the post.
Minutes later Slough’s number 9 should’ve done better when Hemel goalkeeper Danny Bonness failed to claim a Jack McKnight corner but Harris could only blaze over the bar.
But on the stroke of half-time, Paul Hodges produced a moment of brilliance which deserved to be witnessed by a packed-out Arbour Park.
The diminutive attacker found space 25 yards from goal and lashed the ball into the top left-hand corner leaving the Hemel goalkeeper clutching at thin air.
There can be few reasons to be cheerful over the continual lockout of fans from the top tiers of non-league football but perhaps the sound of the net rustling as the ball found the corner is one.
Hemel improved in the second-half, with the introduction of the lively Ade Cole giving the Rebels backline something more to think about.
Both sides, to their credit, showed no lack of enthusiasm despite the absence of supporters urging them on.
Norwich loanee Louis Lomas, who slotted in comfortably at left back, saw his deflected effort come back off the bar in the 63rd minute.
But when Ben Harris went off injured with 20 minutes to play, the Rebels found themselves increasingly on the back foot.
And were it not for the profligacy of Hemel forward Matthew Bateman, the hosts may have paid the price.
Having already glanced over from close range, Bateman weaved his way through the Slough area with 10 minutes to play but his shot went tamely into the arms of Turner.
Bosses Neil Baker and Jon Underwood switched second-half substitute Ryan Bird into the back four to see out the remaining exchanges and the Rebels held firm.
The full-time whistle may not have been greeted with the joyous relief of the Rebels masses but the roar from the touchline was still in the air as Slough Town kicked their National League South campaign off with a return to normality, three points.
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