Let me begin at the end – Hitchin were seeking an equaliser and late pressure close to stoppage time forced three successive corners. Efforts were made, typically frantic; the post alone denied what would have been a deserved equaliser and a share of the points. That spirited comeback was the culmination of an imperious last ten minutes and had the Canaries played like that for all the game, they could have grasped maximum points for only the second time.
Hitchin’s fame may have spread following brief television exposure, but it did not translate into a correct spelling of the club’s name on a small noticeboard at the turnstile where I gained admittance. It was spelt ‘Hitchen’ as in kitchen and a jovial apology was offered following my tentative correction.
Hayden Road is no Nene Park of course, but it is perfectly adequate, has received vital renovations and is a neat ground with a fine pitch. Injuries had meant a change in the team that had faced Solihull Moors, and we also received news that the veteran Matt Spring had accepted a post as assistant manager at Hemel Hempstead, but Hitchin retain his registration. Jack Green and Macsen Fraser were on the injured list. To finish my introduction I may point out that Diamonds had a player called Diamond and Rushden is honoured by being the birthplace of the noted writer of country short stories and novels, namely H E Bates.
An early attempt on the left was quickly thwarted, but not before the ball was crossed into the box, but the bounce favoured the keeper. Diamonds built an attack from defence and they managed a shot that brought a corner – taken by Nathan Hicks, headed behind for a goal kick. An up and under aiming for Jack Bowen saw the player shoot and hit the post but after the whistle had gone for an off-side.
Michael Cain and Jay Dowie tried to get through, but a portly defender called Liam Dolman was instrumental in preventing it. Dolman’s appearance belied his ability as a player – he made up with skill that which he lacked in athleticism. Chesmain seemed to shape for a shot but changed his mind, and in doing so he allowed Zac Reynolds, ( formerly of Chesham United and Dunstable Town) to clear the lines. Reynolds later displayed that he has lost none of his attacking instincts as a wing back.
Ben diamond had a blocked shot but Nathan Hicks kept the move going, but all that was gained was a throw-in right by the corner flag. This was cleared but immediately Hicks and Bowen strode into another effort. Sam Brown belted in a cross landed on the roof of the net. Treymayne Charles was imposing himself on play and a forward flick by Charles won a throw close to the corner flag – a cross was aimed at Belgrove but was too strong for him to control effectively.
There followed an excellent chance for Ezra Forde who proved the assistance for a shot from Isaac Galliford, held by Ben heath. We had played thirteen minutes, and it was quite even so far. Dolman made a hefty clearance from a cross, and there followed a chance for the hosts instigated by diamond, but it was well contained. Jack Ashton received a bit of a reprimand for taking the ball away from the spot allotted for a Hitchin free-kick.
It is often said that the first goal makes the game come alive and this occurred on twenty-four minutes with what can only be described as a goal of supreme quality. Ben Farrell had got in a shot defended by Chesmain and Diamonds won a corner. Farrell’s clean header was held by Johnson. Heath sent the ball forward, and Westbrook’s pass saw Johnson save really well from Hick’s double chance, but the hosts kept possession and Diamond’s jewel of a shot brought the opening goal. Cue the altered lyric of Diamond is a goal’s best friend. From the restart Diamonds had another good chance and thus they had seized the initiative with some emphasis.
Some neat Hitchin passing was thwarted by Dolman’s pedestrian but effective intervention. Charles controlled a cross well but Sam Brown matched it with skilful defending. Hicks and Brown combined and Farrell put it out to Reynolds whose cross was beaten away with Galliford passing to Charles, whose shot was blocked. Cain had a further shot blocked and the hosts built from the left with close passing, but Galliford intervened and Chesmain managed a deflected shot, held by the keeper.
Galliford’s good control was aided by Bickerstaff, but Reynolds intervened at some discomfort to himself. Chesmain’s next cross was too deep but play from Hitchin was still positive. Johnson cut out an advance from Ben Diamond, and Bickerstaff’s lofted forward ball asked too much of Chesmain. Galliford was robbed of possession on a run, but the visitors regained the ball for another thwarted forward move. Reynolds had a decent run on the flank getting in a cross defended by Dowie. Charles managed a shot that was weak but on target, being set up by Galliford, who saw a later run put to a stop by Hicks. We were right on the interval whistle and that memorable strike was the major difference between the teams. One or two mentioned that they expected Hitchin’s performance to be under par following the full house game against the Moors, but I suspected that they would embrace the return to normality with the more normal attendance that these games attract. Much of Hitchin’s lay was positive; they had put in shots on target and had been very positive, but the Diamonds’ defence was well marshalled.
League games have not augured too well for the Canaries and they do need to garner points sooner rather than later as painfully suggested by the position of being second from bottom, with nothing but tough games to follow. Some see the team as a work in progress, with players yet to achieve their full potential. It is all very well having games in hand on those above them – but points have proved hard to achieve.
Having enjoyed the splendid half-time hospitality of our hosts, I took up position hoping for a second-half rejuvenation. This did manifest itself but not until the home side had doubled their lead following a melee in the goal mouth. Before this occurred there was much to commend Hitchin’s recommencement. They had a free-kick or two, with Webb sneaking forward and Belgrove looking for a chance to snaffle up. There was a shot from Galliford that the goalkeeper fumbled out for a corner. Charles tried a volley but just did not manage it at all.
Brown and Hicks had a go and the latter had a fine shot that was deflected by Johnson onto the bar and out of play for a corner. That could have been number two. The corner came in with an optimistic shout for handball loftily ignored by the referee. Belgrove fired one well wide and another possibility had gone. Johnson held another snap shot and it was clear that the hosts were fired with a determination to maintain their lead.
From a home corner came one of those goal-mouth scramble but it was put in at close range by Jack Bowen and Hitchin’s task was now monumental. Fifty-two minutes and two goals to the bad – not a very pleasant prospect at all. Diamonds followed with what was a bit of a wasted effort given the opportunity, but they did secure a corner. Bickerstaff put one across to Dowie who slipped the ball to Charles and then Galliford shot not that far wide. Galliford looked the business but was shepherded off the ball with relative ease. Jack Ashton cleared the next cross, but Hitchin were still trying hard.
There were no substitutions yet from either side and we had reached the hour mark. Chesmain was involved in a forward move, thwarted initially but Galliford persisted in a smart move and cross and Ezra Forde made it 2-1 in what was a pleasing, fluid move. So, as commentators have a habit of saying it was ‘game on’.
Well, it was and it wasn’t for every move forward by Hitchin seemed to be matched by effective counter play to exploit the space left by the visitors piling forward to keep their momentum going. There was some zip to Hitchin, with Charles crossing the ball but it was too close to the keeper. Hitchin needed to defend and this they did with alacrity. They had a free kick in promising positions, but there was a wild shot from Chesmain, with perhaps greater possibilities being there had he passed the ball instead. Easy to say that as, had he scored we would hail the moment as a visionary one.
A neat turn from Hicks saw him have a pop but it was well wide. Dolman was routinely heading the ball away from danger, and then we saw Diamonds win a corner that was so deep it went out for as throw-in. Belgrove was well tackled in possession, but they regained the ball and a cross was cut out, vitally by Ashton, which effectively prevented an equaliser.
A Hitchin free kick at about twenty-two yards was aimed at Bickerstaff but the ball had too much pace for effective connection. Diamonds made a substitution, Clifton for Farrell, and Hitchin brought on Kieran Barnes for Cain. The decision of the referee not to award what looked like a definite free-kick for Hitchin led to the official dealing robustly with vociferous disagreement. All very familiar, of course.
We had reached seventy-five minutes. Westbrook made a vital intervention, and soon there was a foul that gave Hitchin a free kick, following the booking for Ashton. Webb was lurking on the edge of the area, and the ball went on to the area and was sent aloft and then Hicks found himself cautioned. Ferrell headed this one clear. Forde’s effort was headed away and Hitchin seemed for the moment ponderous in getting forward.
Hitchin went into the eightieth minute with some determination but first had to face a free-kick that went for a corner, one of those that ignored every player and went for a throw. Time may have been against the visitors but we must feel gratified for their thorough effort to gain the equaliser, punctuated by the concession of free-kicks. Charles and Belgrove combined and Barnes’ cross won a corner. This was a short one with a Belgrove cross headed clear by Dolman. Webb headed just over the bar, academically so as the off-side flag was raised.
Charles was replaced by Robbie Burns and there was still hope in every foray. Burns played it out to Chesmain and there was a chance for Burns that was defended. Bickerstaff played out to Chesmain who crossed too close to the keeper. Four minutes remained of normal time. Ah, the what could have been in those last dramatic minutes.
Yes, there were those three successive corners, the usual confusion in the penalty area, and one shot hit the post. Belgrove’s shot took a deflection that the goalie just put out. This was Hitchin fighting spirit which was commendable if ultimately unrewarded. An equaliser would have been justified given this spirit. What a dramatic ending with all kinds of appeals for real or imagined infringements. Diamonds put the ball into the trees to dampen the enthusiasm but the whistle went and, truly, Hitchin were denied a point by the foot of the post, denying Jay Dowie. Close, but no cigar. I found it incumbent on myself to hop over the barrier to retrieve my pipe knife which I had dropped in the excitement and a home supporter joked that it was the first time he had seen a pitch invasion after the final whistle.
This means that the Saturday visit to Stourbridge is even more vital and that will indeed be a huge task for Hitchin; as well as that the game against Stratford is postponed owing to their replay victory and, I was given to understand that the team may now face Coalville instead. Check the website for final confirmation on this. So, no points tonight despite that wonderful last ten minutes and that memorable flurry in stoppage time. I enjoyed the game and my visit to Hayden Road and report that our hosts were very gracious in victory, with one of their officials saying that we had really deserved a point and my inner thought was that by Jove we really needed at least that. But another day, another dolour that might yet turn to a handsome victory. We shall see.
AFC RUSHDEN AND DIAMONDS
Ben Heath, Zac Reynolds, Sam Brown, Jack Ashton, cautioned, Liam Dolman, captain, Jack Westbrook, Jack Bowen, GOAL ,52 MINUTES, Ben Farrell, (Dan Clifton), Tom Lorraine, Ben Diamond, GOAL, 24 MINUTES, Nathan Hicks, cautioned. Other substitutes – John Dean, , Declan Rogers, Patrick Casey and Nathan Pickcworh.
Michael Johnson, Jay Dowie, Noah Chesmain, Josh Bickerstaff, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, (Kieran Barnes), Scott Belgrove, Ezra Forde, GOAL, 60 MINUTES, Isaac Galliford, Treymayne Charles,(Robbie Burns), other substitute – Kieran McCaffery.
REFEREE: Mr Ben Cooke, assisted by Mr Niall Nestor and Mr Ryan Allison.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN