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Hitchin Town 0 Bideford 1

Sunday, February 23 2014

Hitchin fell to a disappointing defeat on Saturday when they hosted Bideford at Top Field.

After a minute's silence in tribute of former Hitchin Centre-Half John Kettleborough, the Canaries got the game underway.

Right from the off it looked as though it was going to be a game with a long injury list and a long list of names in the book. To say both sides were verbally robust in their approach would be putting it mildly. In fact, if somebody had brought along a 'Swear Jar', then Hitchin could have probably funded a new ground the size of the Emirates.

Both sides had a good, early chance but neither could capitalise on the opportunity. Hitchin's Callum Donnelly had some time on the ball but regrettably shot sky high and soon after, Bideford's Richard Groves all but emulated Callum and he too failed to keep his shot on target.

Unfortunately, Bideford's start to the game was marred by an injury to Sean Downing. With only a few minutes gone, Downing swung for the ball to keep it in play but missed and fell to the ground in obvious pain. At first it looked as though he may have been caught by Lewis Rolfe but it subsequently turned out to be an accidental, self-inflicted injury. Downing was clearly distressed whilst receiving treatment and was met with a round of applause from both sets of fans when he eventually left the pitch in just the 6th minute of the game. He was replaced by Graham Mercieca..

With play resumed, Hitchin went on the attack but it broke down when a disappointing cross from Simon Martin allowed Bideford to clear quite comfortably. The resulting Hitchin throw-in came to nothing.

Soon after, Bideford looked to have a promising break of their own, when a disappointing corner from Callum Donnelly gifted them with the ball and a generous amount of time and space. However, clearly unhappy with his corner, Callum worked hard to get back and stop the attack, winning the ball back via a great, well-timed tackle.

Lewis Rolfe had a couple of good, first-half chances. A lofted shot after pressuring the Bideford defence unfortunately went just over the bar and later, after some great passing between Callum and Charlie Smith, Charlie slipped the ball to Lewis - only for him to lose his footing and completely scuff his shot.

Charlie Smith had a couple of good chances too, with the first coming from a nice lay-off just outside the box. Unfortunately, it almost seemed like he had too much time and the anticipation of it meant his shot went sky high. His second chance came from a free-kick in a dangerous area, an area currently known as 'Charlie Smith Territory' amongst the Hitchin fans. It is not difficult to see why either, as the effortless curl he seems to get is impressive. Although, this time, it curled high over the bar.

In the latter stages of the first-half, Bideford's very own Rory Delap - Graham Mercieca - threw the ball deep into a crowded Hitchin box. Tahj came out to receive but missed and a botched clearance made for a panicky few seconds for the Canaries. However, after frantic play from both sides in the area the referee blew the whistle for a foul on Tahj.

Bideford's Matt Hockley was booked just before the end of the first-half. I am not quite sure whether it was for a foul or for his behaviour towards the referee but it certainly was not surprising to see the referee brandish a card. If anything, there could have been more cards shown in what was a heated first-half between the two sides.

Half-Time 0-0

Hitchin started the second-half brighter than the first. This was evident from the instant pressure that Simon Martin and Kim Forsythe were putting upon the Bideford defence, even if that did result in what looked like an impromptu game of 'bundles'. Both players, along with a couple of Bideford defenders and the Bideford goalkeeper all bundled over in the area and created a fairly amusing pile-up.

Shortly after, Sam Barker tried his luck from long range but his shot didn't quite have the angle or power to trouble Bideford keeper Steve Oliver.

One of the best chances of the game came when Hitchin's Garry Jones put in a great cross and Kim Forsythe leapt to make a strong connection with the ball and headed towards goal. Steve Oliver, however, pulled off a great save to deny Forsythe a goal.

On the 54th minute, Garry Jones made way for Michael Noone, with Mitchell Bryant replacing Kim Forsythe just 4 minutes later.

Both substitutes looked to make an immediate impact. Michael Noone put a great cross in the box but it was just over the head of Simon Martin and shortly after, Mitchell Bryant forced a save out of Oliver, which then was cleared for a corner.

Hitchin soon became the more threatening and Mitchell Bryant made ground in the box with his quick feet. Callum took over but his attempted cross went wide and out of play.

Hitchin made their final substitution in the 70th minute, with Charlie Smith making way for Jemale McKenzie-Lowe. It was clear that McKenzie- Lowe wanted to make an immediate impression but his tenacity to do so resulted in a clumsy tackle on Bideford's Matt Bye and he picked up a yellow card.

Mitchell Bryant again showed some good skill with his feet and found himself in a promising area in the box. His attempted cross with the outside of his boot sadly, lacked the pace required and the goalkeeper gathered comfortably.

Then, on 81 minutes, a body blow for Hitchin as Bideford's Craig Duff scored. It was an excellent strike and Tahj could do little to prevent it from going in but it was a hard hit to take so late on in the game.

Minutes later, Hockley was lucky to escape a second yellow. After going to ground protesting he had been caught in the face (much to the amazement of the home fans and surrounding players), he was involved in some pushing and shoving in the box. The referee called him over but just gave him a warning.

The referee, somewhat, added to the already temperamental environment when he inexplicably blew the whistle to allow a Bideford player back on the pitch after treatment. Assuming he was stopping play, Callum Donnelly caught the ball mid-air from the goal kick and turned to see what the referee had blown for. On reflection, it is hard to establish what was the more ridiculous - the fact that the referee blew the whistle in the first place or the fact that Bideford players were appealing for Callum's catch to be handball!.

In the latter stages of the second-half, Tahj made an excellent save to deny Kevin Squire and that was the last real piece of action of the game.

Over the 90 minutes it would be fair to say Hitchin did not deserve to lose the game. They were in no way overpowered by a team that currently sits in the top five in the League and Hitchin's defence was far more confident than their opponents'. However, it would be unfair to take anything away from Craig Duff's great strike and he deserves credit for making the most of the opportunity given to him.

Full-Time: Hitchin 0 - 1 Bideford.


Hitchin: Tahj, Rolfe, Ann, Barker, Webb, Pearson, Smith (70' McKenzie-Lowe), Donnelly (C), Martin, Forsythe (58' Bryant), Jones (54' Noone). Unused Subs: King, Wharton.

Bideford: Oliver, Sampson, Reed, Downing (6' Mercieca), Hockley, Gerring, Groves, Bye, Howe (68' Squire), Sullivan, Duff. Unused subs: Milton, Barker, Phillips..

Hitchin Man of the Match: Callum Donnelly (C)

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