THERE was a sense of relief that Hitchin had ended their recent indifferent run in the league when Lewis Rolfe popped up with a late equaliser on the artificial pitch at the Trico Stadium.
Not only were Hitchin without a win since the turn of the year, but they had also failed to score a goal in 2018. That said, Redditch were also in desperate need of a positive outcome under their new manager, Tim Harris, having gone five league and cup games without a victory. Two teams, then, drifting into no-mans-land in the table crying out for a stirring performance or two.
For much the first half, the game lacked quality although there was no lack of endeavour. Hitchin had a very early chance when Toby Smyth crossed for Robbie Burns to shoot over from just inside the penalty area, and Josh Bickerstaff met a low corner with a flick that was deflected away from goal.
But defensive frailty came to the fore, as it has a week earlier against rampant Kings Lynn, when Redditch opened the scoring after 15 minutes. It was too easy for the Redditch to stroll through the Hitchin defence and the impressive Adam Davie had a simple task to stroke the ball home.
Canaries goalkeeper Michael Johnson prevented a second for Redditch when he acrobatically tipped over a header from team-mate Kevin Byrne.
Hitchin could have gone in level at the break, however, when Burns, on the run, hit a fierce shot that was well saved by Redditch keeper Ethan Ross.
Two minutes into the restart, they finally grabbed a goal, but not from open play. Bickerstaff’s shot hit a defender on the arm and a penalty was awarded. Lucas Kirkpatrick scored with ease and his frustration was all too evident as he tussled with Ross for the ball to speed up the game. Ironically, it was a tackle on Kirkpatrick that sparked-off a 22-man “handbags” skirmish in the 50th minute, ending with Redditch’s Jordan Mills being shown the red card.
Despite having a numerical advantage, Hitchin failed to push on. Redditch’s Ashley Sammons had a long range effort that Johnson palmed away over for a corner and at times, Hitchin were exposed by the pace of the homesters’ attack. But the Canaries might have taken control if Connor Vincent hadn’t had his “Ronnie Rosenthal moment” after Kirkpatrick had created an open goal. Vincent ballooned his effort over the bar and was promptly substituted.
It was a miss that almost proved costly, for with 16 minutes to go, Stuart Fleetwood volleyed Redditch in front once more. This was the catalyst for some all-out attacking by Hitchin and they pressed for an equaliser. It came with five minutes remaining, substitute Patrick Tshikala’s effort rebounding off a defender and Rolfe volleyed low into the net.
It could have been even better for Mark Burke’s side, with an added time cross by Bickerstaff being nodded down by Dan Webb and substitute Brett Donnelly just failing to connect at the far post. On the other hand, Redditch could claim they were denied three points when they broke away in the dying seconds. A draw, though, was a fair result.
Redditch: Ross, Rosser, Mills, Jackman, Ezewale, Mutton, Dunkley (Simpson 60), Ashley Sammons, Fleetwood, Davie (Mbunga 77), Page
Subs not used: Stareo, Murray, McKenzie
Hitchin: Johnson, James, Syme, Rolfe, Webb, Byrne, Kirkpatrick, Smith (Tshikala 85), Vincent (Donnelly 65), Burns (McNamara 75), Bickerstaff
Subs not used: Charles, Walster
Referee: S. Postin
Report by Neil Jensen www.gameofthepeople.com