Oh crikey… O’Connor!
After their enforced rest owing to postponements, the Canaries were indeed lost amidst the Poppies today where the welcome sunshine returned. The weather was so pleasant it was like coming from a black and white film to a ‘techicolor’ main feature.
Against Frome Town, in their last match, Hitchin began ponderously and finished flamboyantly, but such swagger deserted them today at Latimer Park where they were soundly beaten. All four goals for the hosts were scored by man of the match Aaron O’Connor, who was substituted just after the hour mark. As his heroic brow was mopped in the dugout he may well have wondered if he had stayed on if he could have scored a double hat-trick.
With a home game against Slough Town on Monday and the League Cup final on Wednesday, Canaries’ manager Mark Burke made a number of changes from the team that had overwhelmed Frome last week.
Toby Syme replaced Kevin Byrne at right back, and also starting were Jack Green, Jonny McNamara and Robbie Burns – all three being on the substitutes’ bench last week. The “bench” this fixture also contained Desejada Dasilva and Daniel Olaniran who were second-half replacements along with Byrne.
Kettering had suffered a late and narrow defeat at King’s Lynn Town midweek and were anxious to obtain maximum points as they push strongly for a play-off place. Their narrow win at Dunstable last Saturday was perhaps a little suggestible of “nerves” and they are also scheduled to travel to Gosport Borough, who, like the Bedfordshire side are fighting for Premiership survival.
But there were no “nerves” today and the hosts rook full advantage of their visitors’ timidity. Kicking towards The Tin Hat End, Kettering essayed a shot in the first minute – which was wide but was like a declaration of intent. Ben Toseland looked dangerous on the left flank and the best moment for Hitchin in the opening few minutes was a half-chance for Jonny McNamara.
The opening goal came after just eight minutes and it was cleanly executed in a move of deceptive simplicity. Lindon Meikle’s cross was firmly met by Aaron O’Connor and resistance was but token.
Hitchin came back with a shot from Jack Green that was deflected for a corner – and it was indeed a crafty corner that could well have gained the equaliser. Charlie Smith deceived all by shaping for a “long” corner but instead he slipped the ball short to Josh Bickerstaff whose surprise at being picked out accounted for his “air shot”. Had he connected firmly he may well have tested the home keeper. An equaliser then may well have affected the outcome.
Than at the other end , Hitchin keeper Michael Johnson made an untypical error that almost led to a second goal, but what transpired was two successive corners, which were defended, if a little nervously. Johnson did not have the most memorable of games and this was not helped by the ironic cheers from Poppies fans behind his goal who greeted each miss-kick with a varying crescendo. I am pleased to report that they also applauded the many vital saves as the hosts turned the screw.
Kettering were already very comfortable but did not add to their lead until the thirty-seventh minute, and the goal came after a neat interchange of passes. Wilson Carvalho combined with Miekle who supplied a perfect cross for O’Connor to double the lead and his personal tally. I thought that the best goal of the game from a pure footballing point of view as the next two had just a touch of good fortune about them.
Kettering had been gently rather than forcefully insistent and this worked well, given the overall meekness of Hitchin’s response. They found it difficult to get into their opponents’ half and home defending was precise and authoritative. Up front for the Poppies, Rene Howe looked ungainly but he rarely lost out in a challenge, and his team made their wealth of experience count.
The interval came and it occurred to me that the normally over enthusiastic tannoy man had been hitherto silent. Before the kick-off pop songs had blared and then not a word of commentary or announcement. This was rectified in the second half and the announcer, restored to sound was as detailed as ever. If Hitchin were to rectify their own performance it needed a good deal more than what we had already seen, and perhaps endured.
Of course it did not help that within three minutes of the restart Kettering went three up. This was one of those cheeky long balls over the defence and a successful avoidance of the off-side. With defenders stranded, O’Connor completed his hat-trick with what was, really, a tap in. Seven minutes later a fourth goal was snaffled, unwittingly aided by goalie Michael Johnson who had prevented one strike with the aid of his back. Michael Richens’ shot thus rebounded to the well-placed O’Connor who converted with ease and a degree of jubilation.
Carvalho may well have got number five but he dragged his shot just wide. Kettering did ease a little and this permitted Hitchin to play their best football of the game and with barely ten minutes of normal time left, the anxious McNamara was brought down and Josh Bickerstaff scored a perfect and undisputed penalty.
If there were plusses to this performance then we must point out assured performances from Matt Spring and Josh Bickerstaff, but on the day of the Grand National , Hitchin were not at the races today, and I might extend the metaphor with a Tommy Cooper gag that he had backed a horse at twenty to one and it had come in at about half past five. I may also add the comment from a gentleman wearing a Hitchin scarf in the board room who commented that Hitchin had horses but Kettering had tanks. I had to think a little about that but I think I know what he meant.
So, I will finish in another little metaphor concerning Hitchin’s next home game, and will quote a line from John Betjeman – “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough.” A decent performance is needed as a precursor to the League Cup Final against Didcot on Wednesday.
Kettering Town – Paul White, Gary Stohrer, Ben Toseland, Tom Marshall, Gary Mulligan, Orrin Pendley, Lindon Meikle, Aaron O’Connor, Rene Howe, Michael Richens, Wilson Carvalho; Substitutes – Matthew Stevens for Aaron O’Connor (62), Rhys Hoenes for Rene Howe (68), Ben Milnes for Tom Marshall; Unused substitutes- Liam Bateman, Brett Solkhon
Hitchin Town – Michael Johnson, Toby Syme, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Rolfe, Dan Webb, Matt Spring, Jonny McNamara, Charlie Smith, Connor Vincent, Robbie Burns, Jack Green; Substitutes- Daniel Olinaran for Charlie Smith (65), Desejada Dasilva for Connor Vincent (69), and Kevin Byrne for Jack Green (76).
Kettering Town – Rhys Hoenes
Hitchin Town – Dan Webb
Kettering Town – Aaron O’Connor (8, 37, 47, 54)
Hitchin Town – Josh Bickerstaff (penalty, 81)
Referee- Edward Pidduck, assisted by Thomas Burt and Liam Mayes. All three had good games.