The second journey to Suffolk in a week brought another defeat that was, in a way more disappointing than the 8-1 debacle at Needham Market, since it was a victory accidentally constructed for the hosts by glaring defensive errors. Hitchin had wrested the initiative after a tight and even first half – conceded an equaliser and then restored the lead which they really should have held on to and taken the points back to Hertfordshire.
It was an opportunity for atonement for the alarming performance at Needham market, and what added zest to this encounter was that our hosts had also lost their two opening games and with late goals. But if Hitchin missed the bus today, I did so literally as my car was approaching the entrance to the ground as the coach was setting out. I had planned to take my wife and daughter in the car but they did not like the look of the weather and by the time they had made their decision not to go I knew I would probably have to drive.
I arrived at the ground and, unusually, a steward told me to drive right into the stadium, and go under the lee of the stand towards the car park at the far end. ‘Keep your speed down, mate’ were his parting words. That was no problem for me as all my cars are bought second-hand from Lieutenant Columbo. I did notice that the pitch lacked the carpet quality of Needham market and, again unusually, there were barren patches in the goalmouths which normally do not occur until the season is well underway.
This was the first meeting of the two clubs since 2011, which was an FA Trophy came at Top Field and the Trawlerboys won 3-1. Of interest is the fact that the first ever meeting was in the FA Cup as long ago as 1904, with The Canaries emerging the winners.
My private prediction was that this would be a very tough game since both clubs needed to obtain their first points, or, as a grim concession, a single point.
Hitchin were boosted with the inclusion of Jack Green and Macsen Fraser, with Elliot Bailey also making a start. Lowestoft had a chap called Elvis in goal, but he spelt it Elvijs and Hitchin supporter had a dog called Elvis and he and his owner Andrew were turned away. I can only say, despite my sympathy it pays to phone beforehand.
Much was anticipated and The Canaries made a purposeful start with very positive play, with determined forward moves . A free-kcik from Hitchin was punched clear by Elvijs Putnins – but what was good was the positional awareness – with Charlie smith back in his most effective role. In these opening stages it was pleasing to see Hitchin getting to the ball just a bit quicker and anticipating the play. One cross fr green saw the Hitchin player impede Matt Brown, then the hard-working Michael King combined with Charlie Smith but the shot was straight at Putnins. Then, at the other end, Smith saw a defensive challenge eluded for Kieran Higgs, connected with Norwich city, have a crack but Michael Johnson saved comfortably.
Overall, play was very even, with mutual respect apparent. Jacek Zielonka won a free kick following a dispute where the very efficient female referee doled out a reprimand to Lucas Kirkpatrick. This free-kick, centrally outside the penalty area afforded a chance for the hosts – and it culminated with Zielonka slipping the ball to his skipper Adam Smith who had a good shot but Johnson was equal to it. A move instigated by Matt Spring saw a cross intended for King but it zipped across the face of the goal lacking the vital connection needed. A Lowestoft move involving Matt Brown and Shaun Bammant saw Johnson rise to the occasion and snatch the ball from a would be aggressor on his goal.
Macsen Fraser was lively in possession but also a little too generous in sacrificing that possession at times. Bailey on a free-kick, when he was brought down by what is laughingly called a professional foul and Rossi Jarvis was cautioned as a result. Charlie smith hit the free kick with due aggression but it went wide of the post. A good long throw from Lowestoft caused a bit of mayhem and I still wonder why more clubs do not cultivate a long-throw specialist – since it often causes panic. Remember Stoke City’s Rory Delap?
Lowestoft had a fine opportunity when Ben Fowkes had a crack and Connor Deeks scuffed the follow-up. Late in the half, Hitchin had a free-kick, which supporters unnecessarily reminded them would be a good time to score. Smith sent it over the bar and the whistle went with a number of seagulls in this most easterly town in the country gliding over the departing Canaries.
Importantly, we had seen a good half with earnest and enterprising football between two clubs nursing the bruises of recent defeats. More than once I hear the opinion that the game was likely to be a goal-less draw, since they seemed so evenly matched. So much for that as we saw no fewer than five goals in a somewhat dramatic second-half.
My half-time unrelated bit is, well, distantly related. I have a humorous book entitled ‘The Meaning Of Liff’ (sic), and it is all about changing proper nouns into imaginative adjectival use. It takes the names of towns and villages and gives a new meaning. So I looked up ‘Lowestoft’ to find a definition, and found it blessed with two –
‘Lowestoft’ – the balls of wool which collect on nice new sweaters, and also it is the correct term for navel fluff. So now you know. Watford supporters might be pleased to know that a ‘Luton’ is defined as the horseshoe shaped mat that surrounds a lavatory.
‘Royston is defined as ‘the man behind you in church who sings with terrific gusto almost three quarters of a tone off the note’.
‘Dunstable,’ apparently, is a term to define a retired policeman and ‘Hoddlesden’ is ‘an ‘injured’ footballer’s limp back into the game which draws applause but does not fool anybody. One more – of an international flavour. ‘Ljubljana’ is what people say to the dentist on the way out. Hitchin does not get a mention, alas, so I will volunteer one and suggest it is what late middle-aged ladies do to their skirts or dresses whilst they are paddling at the seaside.
I placed myself among the Hitchin supporters behind the goal and found the usual mix of those who were gently philosophical to downright grumpy and I met by chance a former Bedford town supporter who had moved to Lowestoft and yet supported Norwich United. He was diplomatic in not mentioning the net losses at the Market and we were both in agreement that the visitors began the half with more determined intent.
To be goal-less was a lot better than to be 6-1 down and the half began with some good attacking play – with an effort from jack Green well-defended and a neat combination involving Syme, Spring and Smith was suggestive rather than conclusive. Fowkes won a corner for the hosts, which was rather like the cunning Hitchin corner but had a rather negative result as it was booted well away from danger.
Hitchin continued to encroach and following a corner there was a magnificent short from Matt Spring that struck the post and the ball went opportunely to skipper Dan Webb whose follow-up nestled neatly in the corner of the goal. Hitchin had taken the lead, which signalled some relief secure in the knowledge that they had not conceded either. There followed an all too short period of Hitchin dominance that suggested they would indeed take this game by the scruff of the neck and secure the points in a vital away win.
They nurtured their lead, they exploited the timorous nature of their opponents’ play but ehy did not add to their score to secure extra comfort. Smith had a venomous shot that was soundly punched clear by Putnins. Rossi Jarvis has his heel to thank for a fortunate cut-out of what appeared to be a telling through ball and a Josh Curry cross was cleanly held by Johnson. Hitchin were ahead and still held the initiative; but there were some indications of unintentionally casual play that presented the hosts with half-chances, and it occurred to me that the home side were just as eager to avoid a third successive defeat as their opponents.
As it turned out it was a bit of inattention that led to the home equaliser. Lowestoft had essayed some moves of intricate worth that were almost routinely defended but on seventy-three-minutes they seized their chance and following a flowing move, Zielonka was able to score his team’s first goal of the season. It was well taken and was also a fine psychological moment. After two late 1-0 defeats, they had scored and it could only mean that they were off the mark and more success could come their way.
This gave the game an extra bit of intrigue. Indeed the next golden opportunity fell to Lowestoft and when a fellow missed an absolute sitter I heard home fans yell ‘ Oh Fowkes’, which I felt might be a regional pronunciation of a curse but it referred to their erring number eleven. He should have scored. It was a neat headed pass beyond the defence and the chance was a golden and unchallenged one.
Adam Tann was on the spot to cut out yet another would- be telling pass and Bailey’s effort went just wide. The game had been exemplary so far in terms of fair competition, but in a moment where the blood rushed to the head there was a melee following a rash challenge from Matt Brown and the referee whipped out the red card. Exit Brown, protesting all the way. The normal mass protest followed but the referee was adamant. I think she booked Kirkpatrick for something or other but it was a bit difficult to tell. Anyway, eventually, the home side were down to ten men and it was either going to be an inspired ten men or a consolidation of Hitchin dominance.
Well, it was not really the former since Hitchin rather handed it to them in a couple of mad moments involving defensive errors from Toby Syme and Josh Bickerstaff. Then there was one of those substitutions that we like to think are tactical and inspired. Lucas Kirkpatrick gave way to Ezra Forde and within two minutes of his entering the fray he restored Hitchin’s lead, with able assistance from Green. The celebrations were fulsome and it was a smartly taken goal and coming as it did six minutes before the end of normal time it ought to have been sufficient. But, as the philosopher said, you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ and there was some late drama, which was eminently pleasing to the home supporter, but injected pain into the travelling Hitchin faithful.
If the score had remained at 2-1 to Hitchin we would be celebrating an important and morale-boosting victory, but the fat lady had not yet warmed up for her song. For within two minutes a defensive error of some magnitude allowed an equaliser – scored imposingly by the Trawlerboys’ skipper Adam Smith, and four minutes remained. All right, I thought, we will share the points and it was better than nothing
But the horror, the horror…… a dreadful defensive error, with the ball played across the defensive penalty area to no-one but an opponent allowed Shaun Bammant to bag what was the winner. A gift, it was unintentional but still a sheer gift. There was time enough left for some late Hitchin chances but we almost knew they would be wayward and thus Lowestoft gained their first win of the season and Hitchin conceded their third defeat in as many games and thus again, prop up the rest of the division.
It is undeniably satisfying if you are the home side to win, albeit unexpectedly with a late goal and with ten men. It is a tale to be retold… but from a Hitchin point of view this was a real shooting of oneself in the foot. At 2-1 it was all but wrapped up and thus we did the cliché of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory or at least gain a battling draw. Hitchin are now like Norway in the Eurovision song contest. ‘ Nil ‘pwah’. The fat lady sang and she sang of a home win. The Trawlerboys applauded their supporters, the Hitchin lads did likewise but with apologetic gestures, as if, to a man they know this is the poorest commencement of a season for some time.
On the song theme, it is a case of ‘pick yourselves up, dust yourselves down, and start all over again. ‘ Lyrics often encapsulate thoughts – so I will add one more – from Ray Davies of the Kinks to embolden our needs.
‘We get bruised, we get battered,
But we’ll pick up the pieces that scattered
And with emotional glue,
We’re going to stick together body and mind.’
That says it better than I could.
Elvijs Putnins, Josh Curry, Matt Brown, dismissed straight red card, Adam Smith , GOAL, 86 minutes, Rossi Jarvis, cautioned, Adam Tann, Jacek Zielonka, GOAL, 73 minutes, Connor Deeks, Shaun Bammant, GOAL, 88 minutes, (Armani Schaar), Kieran Higgs, (Reiss Awuah), Ben Fowkes, cautioned,( Connor Ingram), Other substitutes – Cion Wren and Henry Pollock.
Michael Johnson, Macsen Fraser, Toby Syme, Matt Spring, Daniel Webb, GOAL, 53 minutes, Josh Bickerstaff, Jack Green, (Trey Charles), Charlie Smith, (Robbie Burns), Elliot Bailey, Michael King, Lucas Kirkpatrick, cautioned, (Ezra Forde, GOAL, 84 minutes), Other substitutes – Patrick Tshikala and Charlie Thake.
Referee: Abigail Marriott, who had an excellent game ably supported by Paul Strearman and Neil Farrow.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN