It is as well to start with a short report of the successful Seraph Saturday charitable activity held last Saturday at Top Field, which raised just over £2000 with £500 coming from the players. All at Hitchin Town are proud to be associated with charitable causes as a true community club.
Player news for the trip to Worcestershire today included news of Harry Draper’s loan period being called to a halt. Colchester United have supplied a left back on work experience terms, called Al-Amin Kazeem, which when I first read it, I felt it sounded like the magical words used by a magician when performing a trick. I hope this young player provides some personal magic. The other player was Nathan Mullings, reportedly transferred from Dunstable Town. Jay Bird was out injured, having suffered concussion in a midweek game at Milton Keynes and Alfie Cue was presumably unavailable.
Today’s visit to Alvechurch, I was told by secretary Roy Izzard, was the first since 1979, and Roy was indeed at the match but could not recall the game in any detail, which is understandable. Alvechurch had impressed at Hitchin in the drawn game in the corresponding fixture, and they picked up maximum points today in their push for the play-offs.
In Spring sunshine, and with the backdrop of some splendid wooded hills on one side, we endured rather than enjoyed a most curious first-half. When I say endured I implore you to understand the frustration of Hitchin being denied the lead twice by the frame of the goal and then conceding two goals through static defending which more or less put the game beyond their reach.
The pitch had a pronounced slope from one side to another, just like that at Hungerford, and the stand behind one goal looked decidedly odd with its apparent list, but the pitch was in fine fettle. The hosts, in amber shirts and black shorts faced Hitchin in their white shirts and green shorts and for a while not a lot happened. An early Josh march went harmlessly for a goal kick, and there was considerable tussling in midfield, ad defences were tight.
A Galliford free-kick was robustly cleared by Tom Tonks, who went on to be quite influential in his play. Ash Carter was able in defence and also able to send good passes out to the flank. Aaron Lloyd’s pass to Tonks was defended and the low cross was defended. A free-kick to Alvechurch, wide on the right was taken by Tom Turton , which was sliced away but following free-kicks had an ominous aspect to them. Hitchin countered when they could but always seemed a man short at this stage.
Nevertheless play was even and we still awaited a meaningful assault on goal from either team. Belgrove was brought down for a free-kick that had possibilities, since it was centrally placed and delayed whilst the referee admonished one or two home players in an almost paternal manner. This led to a blocked shot from Dowie before the ball went into touch.
We had played seventeen minutes and it was not scintillating stuff as yet. Turton sent in a heavy cross dealt with by Anderson but the hosts came again, with Tonks having a go before Johnson put it out for a corner. This was headed away for what was a decent long throw, punched away this time. Another long throw resulted in a wild header way over the bar and I agreed with the player who called out ‘switch on’, which was preceded by the usual adjective.
Alvechurch were adept at building from the back but the first shot came from Galliford who shot wide. It was clear that the hosts were determined to recover from their surprising 1-5 reverse to Barwell midweek. Play continued to be mediocre but here was, at last a bit of real excitement to come before too long. Cain turned, slipping the ball to Galliford but it came to nothing, but Hitchin were holding their own and beginning to make some penetrative moves.
Belgrove received a through ball, appeared to stumble but before he stumbled to the floor he was able to pass to Galliford who shot from a tight angle and the effort struck the underside of the bar. It would have been and should have been a remarkable goal. This was after twenty-seven minutes. That might have changed the course of the game. Tonks went for another effective long throw, cleared with an acceptance that this might be a probing tactic.
A Hitchin free-kick from about twenty-five yards was headed away for a throw. Ryan’s throw was headed clear. Anderson was out of position when Josh March was presented with a free shot which he wastefully sent wide. Belgrove was fouled and the free-kick for Hitchin was put out for a corner, taken by Galliford. This presented skipper Webb whose header skimmed the top of the cross bar. We were painfully aware that had the frame not been so unkind, we would have had a probably unassailable lead after thirty-eight minutes. Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.
But from here things went awry. A swift move on the right from The Church saw a decent cross that was converted by Tonks. It was, really against the flow of play – or so it seemed. Lewis Ferrell dived in despair to try to prevent the effort but he was unsuccessful and picked up a bit of an injury necessitating his replacement by Edwin Mensah, in the last minutes of the half, which again showed a lapse of concentration as the hosts nicked a second goal with about a minute to go.
This was scored in stoppage time by Aaron Lloyd. Tonks won a free-kick, wide on the right, and Mensah came on for Ferrell before this could be taken. This was defended but the same situation was replicated for the goal; well – almost. There was a throw in from the right in about the same place and this was sent across neatly for Lloyd to head home. It must count as a defensive lapse as well as a seizing of an opportunity, and it seemed a cruel reflection on play since Hitchin had come so close to scoring two goals themselves and now found themselves two goals down, and that was the score at the interval.
We were a little subdued in the boardroom as we ate a sandwich or two. It was a small room with an intimate atmosphere. Before the game as we sat chatting, a chap had wandered in holding a broom and wearing a flat cap. He let slip that the broom was a good thirty years old and turning to us he muttered ’watch your wallets’ and having dispensed the warning he left the scene to our polite laughter. There is an interminable array of characters in non-league football which is indeed enriched by them. Alvechurch’s present home is indeed modest and a little quirky, but they are on the move within three years three miles up the road to what will be a new stadium built to Step 2 standards, which reflects their ambitions.
Our Fixtures’ secretary, Chris Newbold, having heard of his beloved Fulham’s defeat against Manchester City transferred that gloom by suggesting that the Canaries would not recover from these setbacks and indeed his disappointment limited him to just two helpings of curry after the game. If he had only nibbled a sandwich the poor chap would have needed counselling. Indeed the commencement of the second period did suggest that there was not going to be a classic fightback – but for a brief period a fighting draw did look a distinct possibility. But not yet. Alvechurch seemed to underline their comfortable lead by cutting out any forward moves with ease and acting nonchalantly at over hit Hitchin passes that rolled lazily into touch. We stood behind the goal and the fence was so close behind us it allowed no easy access from those passing by to another part of the ground. If two people of over ample proportions met head on, well, they would have reached an impasse, so narrow was this corridor.
They were not as cramped on the field of play as some passes into space seemed to underline. There was a good shot from Zack Foster that was not that wide. There was effort but it was easily interpreted by the home defence, the memory of the Barwell defeat adequately recompensed thus far. Ezewele was as lively as he was in the first period along the flank and his run brought a corner for The Church – which was sliced away unconvincingly. Belgrove’s cross to Cain was over hit, and the home side countered again.
Tonks sent a pass to Foster who crossed but there was an off-side – but it did suggest that Hitchin might be caught on the quick break. They desperately needed to score and not to concede further. A tremendous tackle from Jamie Willett’s halted Galliford’s run and Ash carter was also a tall presence in defence. Galliford was fouled and he took the free kick which went over the bar by a few inches.
The tannoy man announced a substitution but the system was ineffective. He would have done better just to shout at the top of his voice. Jack Green had come on for Max Ryan who had taken a knock. Tonks’ cross to Roberts brought a wayward shot and we were now approaching the hour mark, with no further sign of a Hitchin goal.
A cross from Foster was cut out by Johnson, with Green starting a move that ended with a wasted pass. A good run and a shot from Roberts was held by Johnson. A green header went for a goal-kick. Dan Crane in the home goal was injured and it incurred the wrath of Hitchin fans who thought he was milking it, and from one comment, having his hair done. When he came to his feet, looking fit and zesty there was the withering comment from an away fan, ‘when I am nearly dead I want that physio’.
But hope was reinstated on the seventy-third minute when Hitchin scored a well-worked goal. March had been presented with a free shot which he wasted and it could have brought a third goal – but the next goal was Hitchin’s. Galliford, on a forward run in possession was fouled by Tonks, who was cautioned, and the free kick was a beauty – but so was the magnificent save from Crane, with Bickerstaff attempting the follow-up, which was prevented. But Gallifords’ resistance sent a telling pass to Belgrove who made it 2-1. We had played seventy-three minutes and there was hope.
Yes, but it lasted no more than a few minutes as Josh March made it 3-1 following a fine free-kick wide on the right. March was not really marked well and he was allowed a clean finish. All three home goals were, in a sense, scored direct from set pieces. It was a bit of a choker all the same and despite further efforts from Hitchin they were unable to reduce the arrears and the game drifted away from them.
Those three points are vital for the hosts’ play-off ambitions and none other than Chris Newbold computed that Hitchin need a point from the forthcoming St Neots game to be absolutely safe from relegation – a word we have not been using for some time, given the improved form of the Canaries in their recent outings.
Nevertheless it was something of a disappointment as those two efforts that struck the ‘woodwork’ could well have been goals – but such is life. I wil also say that misfortune did not end there as, on the return coach journey, whilst deep in my book I heard a sudden commotion and it transpired that the coach lavatory door was jammed. One supporter, whom I will not name, to save his blushes, had inadvertently locked or jammed the door on his exit and there was a bit of a queue from those who were eager to prove that one does not buy beer but merely rents it. They had no receptacle to pay their rent and the driver received urgent appeals. He swung the vehicle dramatically into Watford Gap to allow the supporters, players and officials to relieve themselves appropriately. We then returned to the somnolent appraisal of our lost chances today and hoped for better things against St Neots at home next week.
Another day, another dolour.
Dan Crane, Josh Ezewele, Zack Foster, Tom Turton, Jamie Willets, captain, Ash Carter, Dave Bellis, Tom Tonks,GOAL, 38 MINUTES, cautioned, (Rahis Nabi, 47), Aaron Lloyd, GOAL, 45 +1, James Roberts, cautioned, Josh March, GOAL, 77 MINUTES,, (Mitch Botfield, 82 minutes), Substitutes not used – Andre Landell, Kieran Cook and Charlie Price.
Michael Johnson, Max Ryan, (Jack Green, 57 minutes), Alex Anderson, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, Lewis Ferrell, (Edwin Mensah, 44 minutes), Michael Cain, Scott Belgrove, GOAL, 73 MINUTES), Ezra Forde, Isaac Galliford, Josh Bickerstaff. Substitutes not used – Al-amin Kazeen, Jack Thomas and Charlie Thake.
REFEREE: Mr Matthew Scholes – who had a decent game and was well assisted by Mr Mark Griffiths and Mr Alexander Ovens.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN