This is a story about net losses at the Market. Needham, that is, not The Stock Market. As Kevin Wilson sang, ‘Everything that could go did go wrong.’ Eight goals conceded, nearly nine but that was off-side, two penalties conceded and a man sent off. There were also five cautions. I should have known since my toast had fallen butter side down at breakfast and I was moaned at for going to a match when it was my son’s birthday.
The opening match against Kettering left us all with some optimism; it was a narrow defeat against a well-drilled team. Needham Market had given Bedworth a walloping at their place on Saturday, but no-one could have predicted such a score at Bloomfields tonight. Perhaps the coach wriggling its tortuous way into the ground in a narrow lane was a sign. ‘Go on.’ I encouraged the driver, ‘You can get a bus through there.’ He did and parked with nonchalant ease and we strolled in to the developing stadium to see a truly magnificent pitch, a very tidy ground and were given a fine welcome.
Shortly before the team emerged I noticed the lyrics of a song being played on the public address system – ‘In the morning you know you won’t remember a thing’. So, I am sitting up late to get it all off my chest before I am tempted to forget. It being a mid-week game, one or two players were obviously unavailable, which placed Charlie smith at full-back. There was no Macsen Fraser, Jack Green or Lewis Ferrell.
Hitchin began well enough with Trey Charles suggesting that he might make good use of his pace but in his first go the ball was neatly taken from him and almost immediately there was a Needham counter bringing a cross from the left held by Michael Johnson. He also gathered a free kick from thirty yards. At the other end Josh Bickerstaff was involved in a dispute with Keiran Morphew who was perhaps instinctively protecting his goalkeeper, Jake Jessup. The referee’ had words’ and smiled in response to the somewhat caustic remarks from Canaries’ supporters whose invective would make a saint blush. Adam mills had a pop for the home side and Johnson was safe in the save. He also dealt with a corner – but not the next one. Every time the hosts won a corner it created worry.
And yes, from a corner the Marketmen took the lead when Joseph Marsden rose to the occasion unchallenged and it was one-nil, with an unchallenged header. All right, you can have that, I thought – your first home goal of the season. Sometimes I am given to such generosity and finer feeling. We had only played seven minutes and soon the Canaries will be on song. Oh Lordy, I was entirely wrong. Isaac Galliford was strutting his stuff, then he won a corner which Jeremiah Kamanzi cleared with such prominence that it set up a counter-attack along the right flank, culminating in a diagonal shot of some vehemence that went wide.
A Galliford cross that sailed over the cross bar brought a rather robust and naturally biased barrage of opinions from the Top Field faithful, who referred to the seven foot nine keeper as ‘a pansy’ ( he was anything but), and poked fun at Morphew’s flowing pony tail. The keeper, Jake Jessup, gradually endeared himself to the visiting supporters and the flow of play enabled him to have a meaningful dialogue with our Fixtures’ Secretary.
The ebullient Bickerstaff in disputing something or other found himself in the referee’s black notebook and this was just before another Needham cross struck the cross bar, and, as often happens it falls fortuitously to an attacking player, which was Luke Ingrams and he was no slouch in doubling the hosts’ lead. We were just short of the quarter of an hour mark.
Good gravy, two- nil already – sort it out you chaps. Now hear this – this was the start of a purple patch for the Canaries who began not only to play well, but they seized the initiative, got a goal back and looked odds on to equalise. I am not making this up. Hitchin redux. Permit me to dwell on this part of the match as it was a period of fine, aggressive play and it did look like a Hitchin strike would be notched up erelong.
There was a good deal of positive action in the Marketmen penalty area with some hasty clearances, conceded corners and we anticipated a lusty shout of ‘Get In There’ as the home net bulged. We were rewarded as Bickerstaff finished a move in imperious style. Now get the equaliser we urged. But the anticipation exceeded the event and that bit of fine pressure dissipated and from then onwards the home team took control. At 2-1 there was a real chance of imposition but it was swept away with an almost unbelievable ease.
A greater anticipation in defensive marking might have stemmed the tide a little but from a home free-kick, after twenty-four minutes, Jamie Griffiths was presented with a free-header which he gleefully converted and thus the hosts restored their two goal lead and already the Hitchin pressure was dispelled. Needham Market took effective control and went on to match their best home win since 2007 when they defeated Ipswich Wanderers by the same score as tonight’s. Incidentally, they recorded their best way win, 10-1 against the same team in a FA Cup Match in the same season. Wanderers, we feel your hurt.
Galliford did try to cut in from the flank in possession – his cross was cut out by Jake Dye and Adam Mills had a run and shot which was blocked. Galliford tried again and this time Callum Sturgess cut it out. Then, no slouches in the counter Luke Ingram charged at the Hitchin defence and enabled Joseph Marsden to make it 4-1 from an apparently unstoppable lob. Then there was an undisputed penalty, following a goal-scoring denial by Matt Spring, who was cautioned. Marsden sent Johnson the wrong way and placed the ball in the bottom right corner. It was a perfect penalty.
Worse was to come from a Hitchin point of view with Marsden scoring from a free-kick for the fifth goal. Then Josh Bickerstaff denied a goal-scoring opportunity, received his second yellow card and a dismissal and Marsden slotted home the second penalty into the same bottom corner, thus achieving one of the two hat-tricks on the night. It was now 6-1 and that was the incredible score at the interval.
Shell-shocked Canary fans headed for the cup that cheers as well as inebriates. I am made of sterner stuff since such a score-line was no shock to me as I had watched Dunstable Town routinely thrashed game after game last season and once with the same score-line as tonight. I must admit I did not think that such a walloping would be handed out to Hitchin. I sincerely hope it is a one-off. In the board room it was like Fawtly Towers, but instead of ‘Don’t mention the War’ it was ‘Don’t mention the Score, and would you like a sandwich? Do take two.’ I had been at Needham Market once before in a Dunstable Town FA Cup defeat and I have a lasting memory of notable hospitality and a stand full of families with their packed lunches – and I left with the impression that I had visited a real Community Club. Their ambition has paid off as well and the stadium is developing to match that ambition.
The game may have been over as a contrast but we still had forty-five minutes and the word on the terraces that double figures might be achieved. The ten men were augmented by the substitutions of Kyle Davison-Gordon and Charlie Thake for Matt Spring and Trey Charles. The hosts made their substitutions and gave some academy players an airing since the victory was secure.
But the hosts did not relent and as the game progressed they put in more crosses than a league of vampire hunters. One header nestled on the roof of the net – but there was something from Hitchin. They got forward when they could and had a chance or two. But again home corners were their undoing. For a while I was telling myself that Hitchin were drawing the second half (it consoles but slightly), and from the corner Luke Ingrams had a free header to complete his hat-trick. Two hat-tricks from the hosts and diplomatically they were given a joint man of the match award. Seven-one.
It was scant consolation that, with the ball in the Hitchin net yet again but an off-side decision ruled it out. As the referee reorganised after this little bit of mercy I had a little bit of interest in meeting a fellow pipe-smoker among the home fans. He was on his way out but had a chat with me, a brother of the briar, and I had a nerdy moment as I identified the make and model of the pipe he was puffing. I was not, I point out, wearing an anorak. We watched the next bit of the game like two old engines in a siding, discussing the merits of St Bruno and Erinmore now it has moved production to Denmark. It took away the pain of the score a bit. He left the ground and thus missed what I thought was the best goal of the game. Before this, substitute Ezra forde came close and be of good cheer as Hitchin, demoralised by the score still plugged away to make it look a bit more respectable.
And that last goal – what a beauty – a deep cross from the right saw Adam Mills athletically raise his foot so high but enough to make contact and hook in that eighth goal in the first minute of stoppage time. This was the worst defeat since an 8-2 reverse in 2013/14 against Hemel Hempstead. I thank Chris Newbold for that information but he and others did mention a ten goal walloping from Slough. We have all seen it before, when the team is given a good hiding after a promising spell during the game. When the merciful whistle ended that part of the misery, we stood disconsolately and before we trooped off Mark Burke the manager came across and thanked the supporters for attending. He then apologised for the abject performance and said ‘it was an embarrassment’. It took some balls to do that and took the full weight of the defeat on his shoulders. He will feel that defeat deeply.
On the coach we constructed solace. It could have been nine but for the off-side. We have now played against two of the top four. I liked that one. We did score from open play. There were unmelodious snatches from ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ and ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. Yes, even if you are bottom of the league after two games. We took a Suffolk Punch and were groggy on the ropes. And where are we Saturday? Suffolk – Lowestoft no less and they lost tonight. Their spy tonight will probably go home and say just win corners and the game will look after itself. I have not been to their ground in the town that is the most easterly in England. Perhaps it will be an outpost of progress for Hitchin since our next opponents have had just as poor a start to the season as Hitchin – so it should be a bit of a ding-dong, as both clubs will want to register the first positive result in the campaign.
Come on- it is just two games so we must be of good cheer and just acknowledge that Kettering were canny as Needham Market were on song, and have scored twelve goals in two games, conceding just one. Their tact, diplomacy and sensitivity in the board room almost made me wish that that ninth one had been legitimate. I did say almost.
Jake Jeesup, Jake Dye, Callum Sturgess, Jeremiah Kamanzi, (George Exworth), Keiran Morphew, JJ Wilson, Joseph Marsden, HAT-TRICK – 34 MINUTES, 39, PENALTY GOAL, 45 PENALTY GOAL, Gareth Heath, captain, Luke Ingram, HAT-TRICK, 7, 14 AND 75 MINUTES, Jamie Griffiths, GOAL, 24 MINUTES, (Reece Dobson), Adam Mills, GOAL90+1.N Other substitutes- James Carragher and Bradley Cook.
Michael Johnson, Toby Syme, Charlie Smith, Matt Spring, cautioned, (Kyle Davison-Gordon), Dan Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, GOAL 23 MINUTES, dismissed for two cautions, Trey Charles, cautioned, (Charlie Thake), Kieran McCaffrey, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Michael King, cautioned, Isaac Galliford, (Ezra Forde). Other substitutes – Patrick Tshikala, Scott Belgrove.
Referee: Michael Robertson-Tant, assisted by Christopher Hastings and John Hyde, who all had generally good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN