After the debilitating low at Lowestoft last week, Hitchin finally secured their first points of the season with a narrow victory over an initially timorous Redditch United. It could and should have been a higher score but for an embarrassing penalty miss and another effort ruled off-side, a clatter against the cross bar but a narrow win is better than a slap round the chops from a bloater.
Today marked the debut of full-back Noah Chesmain, whom, it may be recalled was outstanding against the Canaries whilst playing for Maldon and Tiptree. He not only made an impressive start but signalled his commitment for the loan term by actively celebrating the goal with his new team mates, which is always a significant sign. He was also instrumental in the manoeuvre that led to this solitary goal.
The late loss at Lowestoft had probably been simmering and Hitchin began in the best possible way, with an immediate attack. Indeed they went on to dominate the half and really ought to have more in the bank than the one goal. The visitors came to Top Field with one win and two defeats in their three games and would of course have liked a better start. Nevertheless I was a little surprised at the hesitancy that characterised their play and their inconclusive efforts at forward play. This was compensated by a much better second half performance that injected a degree of nervousness into the game and made the outcome worryingly uncertain.
Macsen Fraser and Jack Green combined in an effort that was defended but the latter was impressive on the right flank. He received a pass direct from Michael Johnson and the shot was just tipped over the bar, being the first of a number of impressive saves from Louis Connor. Never underestimate route one – what it lacks in elegance it often gains in goals. The corner was partially cleared and Spring sprung to the loose ball to send his shot just over the cross bar. This was good stuff indeed.
Ezra Forde was bustling and had a fair shot on the turn, gathered by Connor and centre –half Liam Francis cut out a promising move. There was good defending too from full-back Jamie Ashmore. Not so good was the over exuberant back pass by Francis that came perilously close to an own goal, needing Connor to tip the ball out for a corner. This was indicative of the pleasing pressure applied by the Canaries.
A combination from Charlie Smith, Jack Green and Elliot Bailey won a corner, which was swung inwards yet defended, and there followed a half chance from Redditch’s Shaquille Wittingham. The goal came following a free-kick from Chesmain who was then able to send in a high cross to skipper Dan Webb who converted the chance from close range.
It was with the flow of play and richly deserved. Hitchin pressure continued unabated, with the visitors really finding it difficult to get possession. A move involving Ezra Forde, Jack Green and Elliot Bailey was defended well and a Forde effort then went wide of the mark. Another forward ball to Bailey was just a shade too heavy. A further effort saw the post struck and the follow-up was academic as the off-side flag was raised.
Forde and Green combined for another go but the bit of imprecision led to Redditch having their first real threat on goal when Montel Gibson, working well with Jamie Ashmore saw Michael Johnson cut out the chance. The spring fired fiercely seeing the ball clear the bar. Gibson was doing good things on the right flank but lacked meaningful support – then a Hitchin free-kick culminated in Lewis Ferrell seemingly doubling the hosts’ advantage but the flag went up before the shot was unleashed. A two goal advantage would not have flattered the home side at all; such was their overall dominance hitherto.
Boyd- Munce and Gibson made a fair move for the visitors and from a corner Declan Benjamin let fly a hooked shot that went wide. It was perhaps their best move of the half. Chesmain had a shot that was deflected for a corner and the second one was cleared. Joel Meade perhaps typified Redditch’s mute showing when he sent a through ball into entirely unoccupied space that simply required Johnson to amble from his line and send the ball forward once more. Redditch did have another go when Stefan Moore combined with Whittingham but this cleared the bar.
A spring cross was deflected for a corner and this was defended well by Francis. It was just a little worrying that the Hitchin lads had played so well and yet had only one goal to their credit and it was highly probable that the visitors would not be as mute in the second period. So, just a slender lead at the interval and the expectations were high, mingled with a bit of hopefulness.
During the interval I thought about the Elvis the dog saga and the refused admission at Lowestoft, I cast my mind back to the time when I allowed a dog to be admitted to Creasey Park. I was overseeing a reserve match against London Colney, when their first team manager arrived with his pooch. I politely explained that the council forbade entry to dogs, see rule five on the notice board, (what a jobsworth). The manager made a fair point that the ground was hardly bustling with spectators and that he would keep his dog under control with just a threat of no supper.
I have a dog myself, an ebullient border collie called Lola , whom I wished to take to Obedience Training, but she refused to go. She once invaded the pitch at Totternhoe and confused the roles of holding midfielder and goal keeper, but that is another story. I reluctantly allowed the dog in and blow me down, before I could relight my pipe the manager’s dog attacked a spectator, ripping his shoe and biting the unfortunate fellow through to the bone. Blood spurted through the wrecked shoe, the spectator went to hospital and I was really in the dog house. I know our Elvis ain’t nuffin’ but a hound dog but I bet he did not enter any shoe business, but I do understand the reticence concerning dogs.
There were no substitutions at the interval and I felt confident that Hitchin would thoroughly impose themselves on what had been tepid opposition despite the modest score line. Well, they kept a clean sheet, but the tenor of the final victory had a little nervousness about it. The diffidence brought about by three straight defeats, however unjustified we feel two of them were, led to a falling away of control and a bit of resurgence from the visitors.
Elliott Bailey, who could do with a morale boosting goal, won a free-kick, taken by Charlie Smith; this led erelong to a fair shot from Noah Chesmain. Wittingham had a run with the ball to find himself robbed of it, but an Ashmore cross won a corner for the visitors. This led to Joel Meade shooting wide and it was a bit of an alarm call. A solitary goal advantage is always fragile. Green put in a long pass that went for a corner and following this a penalty was awarded to the home side for an infringement I did not see but the referee did.
Bailey was allocated the task and it would, I thought, be a double whammy. A two goal lead would enable Hitchin to enter the comfort zone and Bailey could gain a boost to his confidence. I spoke too soon for the penalty was embarrassingly high and more of a rugby punt. It is not good to see a spot kick clear the bar at such a height and Bailey will feel that miss a lot more than we may realise. This was about nine minutes into the second half and I feel it would have made a sizeable difference. Substitutions began to be made and there was almost a tangible feeling of the initiative changing hands.
Forde was astute enough to espy Bailey running into space but the forward pass was too heavy but then a controlled back pass afforded the visitors a decent chance which was wasted. Then Boyd-Munce and had a good go but it was well defended. Spring and burns conspired together, winning a corner, which went pout for another that came to nought. Macsen Fraser, ever eager with his red boots, slipped the ball to Spring who struck firmly but found only the side netting.
A second goal for the hosts was needed since the visitors were now finding it a lot easier than they did in the first half to go forward with some venom. Isaac Galliford’s introduction as a substitute added a degree of impetus and in his best effort he saw a seemingly goal bound shot hit the cross bar, and as well as this Robbie burns had a shot well saved. Wittingham had a shot saved at the other end and a Hitchin free-kick was deflected for yet another corner, cleared by Francis. Galliford drew another excellent save from Connor and Johnson, importantly cut out an excellent cross from Redditch as we approached the last, nervous ten minutes.
These minutes – and what seemed an inordinate ‘time added on’ were played in frenetic mode which ensured an exciting end to what might have become a ponderous game. Hitchin prevailed and were worth the three points. They were positive from the kick-off and had the ability to contain the threats from a Redditch side that were a lot better in the second half than the first. But I will say again that a more significant lead ought to have been established by Hitchin in a first half of generally pleasing dominance.
Moreover, they kept a clean sheet and Bailey really ought to have tucked that penalty away, since it would have made matters a lot more comfortable as well as improving the goal difference made unholy by Needham Market’s eight goal romp. The first half demonstrated Hitchin’s potential as much as the second period demonstrated that the ‘convalescent’ period post Lowestoft/ Needham Market is not yet completed.
But the three points were vital and I say, tongue in cheek, a little, that we are now clear of the relegation zone. What follows is a bit of a task away at Biggleswade Town on the Bank Holiday Monday, where we face some former players who will, quite naturally, want to put one over their former team.
Getting off the mark is important, particularly when we all are aware that this should have been the case at Lowestoft – and I am pleased to say that there were no defensive howlers today – and the controlled back pass was just to keep us on our toes, so to speak.
See you at Biggleswade.
Michael Johnson, Macsen Fraser, Noah Chesmain, Matt Spring, Dan Webb, captain, GOAL 19 MINUTES, cautioned, Lewis Ferrell, Jack Green, ( Michael King, 90), Elliott Bailey, (Isaac Galliford, 63), Ezra Forde, cautioned, Lewis Ferrell, Jack Green, this reporter’s man of the match, ( Michael King, 90), Elliott Bailey, (Isaac Galliford, 63), Ezra Forde, cautioned, Robbie Burns, Charlie Smith, (Lucas Kirkpatrick, 81), other subsitutes- Trey Charles and Patrick Tshikala.
Louis Connor, Jamie Ashmore, Jordan Mills, Joel Meade, Liam Francis, Caolan Boyd-Munce, (Max Loveridge, 80), Montel Gibson, ( Tom Winters, 63), Declan Benjamin, Stefan Moore, Joseph Stokes, (Leam Howards, 57), Shaquille Whittingham; other substitutes – Nyeko Sinclair and Giancarlo Gabbiadini.
Referee: Mr E Kaye, assisted by A Simmonds and D Markwick – all of whom had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN