Town concede late again as Hungerford held to a draw in pulsating clash with Hanwell
Hungerford Town were denied a third successive home win by a 91st minute equaliser from in-form frontman Sam Evans in a pulsating 2-2 draw with Hanwell Town this afternoon.
The Crusaders, who remain unbeaten at home this season, twice led through spectacular strikes – first from Elis Watts and then Conor McDonagh – but were pegged back on two separate occasions by the towering 21-year-old, who rescued a point for the visitors when he poked home a leveller in the first minute of seven added.
Prior to kick-off, players, coaches, staff and spectators joined together to mark Armistice Day.
Town skipper Rhys Tyler and his counterpart Callum Duffy laid wreaths of poppies in the centre circle before the last post was sounded ahead of two minutes of silence.
The hosts took the lead after just three minutes when Elis Watts, fresh from committing his future to the club with a new contract, curled a superb free-kick beyond Sam Beasant. Hungerford, who were unchanged from last weekend's excellent win against Totton and started the game with a high intensity, were awarded the free-kick in a central location some 25 yards from goal after Sam De St Croix was fouled. Up stepped Watts and the Welsh winger bent his effort into the back of the net via the inside of the post to hand the home side the ideal start.
The full-blooded first half was fairly limited in terms of chances but there were a number of excellent last ditch interventions. First, Town's Jack Alexander timed a crunching tackle to perfection to thwart a counter-attack after a clearance had cannonned off Evans and allowed the visitors – known as the Geordies since their foundation in 1920 by a group of Newcastle fans living in West London – to break. Then, after 21 minutes Hanwell's Isaac Olorunfemi made a vital sliding interception in his own six yard box to cut out Conor McDonagh's dangerous cross. Five minutes later Dwayne Duncan, who was outstanding in the heart of the Hanwell defence, kept his cool to challenge Sam De St Croix when the midfielder looked to be bearing down on goal.
Hanwell were having to deal with a lot of balls into their box in the first half and a chance fell to Jack Alexander midway through the opening period after Adulai Sambu shrugged Olorunfemi off the ball down in the far corner and his subsequent cross was cleared to Alexander on the edge, but the versatile midfielder's venomous strike fired over Beasant's bar.
Having made a slow start, the visitors were beginning to grow into the game and almost equalised after 29 minutes when Bernie Tanner's strike from range skipped up off the Bulpit Lane surface right in front of Ryan Clarke, with the veteran goalkeeper doing well to turn the ball onto the crossbar. The rebound dropped straight onto the head of the waiting Evans to nod in, but the 21-year-old was at least a yard offside and the linesman flagged to rule it out.
Three minutes later Town, who were forced to use a staggering 11 goalkeepers last season, were concerned for Clarke after he went down following a collision with Evans – which could have been avoided had the linesman not waited for the conclusion of the move to flag for offside. With the hosts having no goalkeeper on the bench, Clarke gamely carried on after extensive treatment to his right knee. The former Oxford man effectively played the remaining hour on one leg, with Jack Wright taking his goal-kicks.
Neither side made changes in personnel at half time but Hanwell came out for the second half with a renewed vigour and equalised from the spot in the 53rd minute. Sam Oguntayo, who caused the Crusaders all sorts of problems after the break and had already been involved in two threatening moves since the restart, was fouled in the box by Jack Wright, whose lunge for the ball was the one blemish in an otherwise solid showing from the former Dorchester man. Sam Evans, who scored a hat-trick in a 4-4 draw with Winchester City last month, stepped up to take the penalty and beat Clarke – who guessed the right way and got a hand to it – low to the keeper's left.
The game was beginning to open up and was turning into a tale of two wingers as Elis Watts and Sam Oguntayo continued to impress on their respective right flanks. However, perhaps the moment of the match belonged to Conor McDonagh, who restored the Crusaders' lead with a quarter of an hour left to play. Having been well-marshalled for most of the game by Dwayne Duncan, the 30-year-old ventured into the right channel in search of the ball and, after collecting possession, headed for goal before curling a left-footed strike into the top corner to add to his already impressive goal tally for the campaign and make it 2-1 to the home side.
Challenges were flying in and tempers ran high 10 minutes from time when Watts was brought down following a strong challenge. A scuffle ensued and at one point Town boss Danny Robinson looked like he was set to square up to Sam Evans, perhaps sensibly backing off after realising the Hanwell frontman is almost twice his size.
There was still time for more drama as the hosts relinquished their lead in added time when Evans notched his 13th goal of the season. The Crusaders were unable to clear a corner from the left and Evans reacted quickly to fire past Clarke for his second of the afternoon.
There followed a frenetic finish to the game with both sides having one final chance each. Substitute Herson Alves sent a free-kick over the bar in the 95th minute before Great Evans, not long after he was introduced, latched onto a flick on and drilled a half-volley agonisingly wide of the far post with one of the final actions of an entertaining clash, with neither side likely to feel too disappointed with a point.
Hungerford are back at Bulpit Lane again in midweek when they welcome Danny Robinson's former club Winchester City, who Town put five past in the FA Trophy in October, on Tuesday night.