The Canaries turned on the power with a vibrant display which brought five goals, and they successfully defused the Amps who now play in Division One of the Spartan South Midlands League.
This came after a moderate, even cautious start, where they quickly adapted to the blustery, showery conditions, on a rather bobbly pitch. Nineteen players of the squad were used and it is notable that so many have stayed loyal to the club after last season’s abrupt conclusion.
The usual pre-season attitudes of informality were enhanced by the new regulations that saw the visiting team assembled in the main stand for their pre-match arrangements. Steve Cawley, who had been excellent in the last two games was omitted owing to injury and Josh Bickerstaff was now among the coaching staff following his enforced premature retirement. There was something of a double-take as Alex Marsh’s brother Lawrie was seen among other newcomers.
A very early kick-off of ten forty-five made it mildly inconvenient for those permitted spectators to arrive in time as parking spaces were rather at a premium. For me it was my first Hitchin match for five months, and, as such keenly anticipated.
Very soon after the kick-off Ampthill won a free kick just outside the penalty area but this was not exploited fully as their number five headed the ball majestically over the crossbar. It was a long time later that they mounted another serious assault. Hitchin played patiently and with controlled possession, but early forays saw long diagonal or forward passes being too heavy. The ideas were clearly there and in midfield there was a solid showing from Ben Walster and skipper Dan Webb.
Ampthill worked hard to contain their higher placed opponents and must take credit for their hard work and keen defending – which they soon had to do in some depth. There was a well-blocked shot from Henry Snee and one that cleared the bar from Alex Marsh. There were many promising moves in evidence but as time went on one or two were suggesting that there was a need for more matter and less art; but this new style of game does require patience.
Forward moves that culminated in long diagonal crosses became regular, one from Lawrie Marsh turned itself, aided by the wind, into a virtual shot. There was a mixture of short showers, gusts of wind and then apologetic sunshine, and after a quarter of an hour the possession was about seventy-thirty in Hitchin’s favour, but the vital first goal did not come until about thirty-five minutes. The goal seemed long overdue and was a little unfortunate for the Amps’ goalkeeper who had parried the fierce shot from Luke Brown into the path of Henry Snee who completed the simple task of a tap-in.
It did mean that Ampthill would have to play in a more enterprising manner, but this eluded them until the late stages of the second half. They had a fairly lively number seven but forward moves for the hosts were severely restricted. Even so, the Canaries did not visibly relax until the second goal went in. Rio Da Silva had shown good pace, and some degree of cunning on the ball. Ironically, his best cross found no connection, and his best opportunity of a goal saw him drag the ball wide of the far post.
The second goal came five minutes before the interval and a smart pass from Da Silva assisted Lawrie Marsh who finished crisply. Hitchin ought to have made it three just before the whistle , with Snee fluffing his lines and his header over the bar came seconds before the whistle.
During the interval I recalled how Ampthill, the mid Bedfordshire town, had achieved a degree of fame after the publication in 1970, of the artist Kit Williams’ illustrated book ‘Masquerade’, which gave erudite clues about the burial of a valuable golden hare. It was discovered in Ampthill Park and there was a later controversy about the person who made the discovery – he had relied on insider information rather than his own erudition, apparently.
There was no masquerade about Hitchin today – yes, it needs to be kept in perspective, but manager Mark Burke has the possibly pleasing task of being spoilt for choice for his starting eleven. The initial eleven had performed well, had played sensibly and with thorough application, but when the usual crop of substitutes were made, those that came on caught the eye. Jhai Dhillon was at his tormenting best on the left and strutted some stuff in the penalty area as well. Lewis Barker, Max Ryan and Josh Caldicott-Stevens applied themselves with skill and enthusiasm – and we also saw late appearances for new goalkeeper Dan Weaver as well as Callum Stead, Marlow Gough and Luka Cardines.
Numerous substitutions often affects the rhythm of a team but this was not the case, as it was a good blend of experience and callow youth. Only precise defending kept out one early effort inspired by Dhillon, and for Ampthill, the only relief from defending came from a free-kick that was high but not mighty enough to deceive Charlie Horlock, who was probably grateful for the chance of some action. He was substituted late on and had the satisfaction of keeping a clean sheet. Feel a bit of sympathy for Dan Weaver who was involved in the defensive faux pas that led to the Amps solitary goal, which was greeted lustily by the home supporters.
More stout defending was called for in the Amps’ penalty area and it does need to be said that their resolution in this respect did prevent at least two further goals. Callum Stead dazzled with some smart work but gave us the anticlimax of a weak, scuffed shot. Then an Amp defender smartly cleared the ball right off the goal line before Luke Brown’s outstanding control and finish made it three nil to the cruising Canaries. This goal came shortly after the hour mark.
It was Stead’s steadfast assistance that enabled Lewis Barker to notch the fourth goal after sixty-seven minutes. Luke Brown was wide with his next effort and then came that botched clearance that gave the home players some consolation as they scored their goal. Right on time in the last seconds Luke Brown finished nonchalantly to make it 5-1, his second goal of the game, and sealed the emphatic victory.
Elbows were touched amid the polite applause. It had been an enjoyable game, and for a decent opening spell, the Amps had contained their senior opponents, but once the scoring began it became more difficult for them.
Hitchin’s next pre-season game is at Stotfold on Tuesday (25 Aug ) – not at Roker Park, but at their new ground. They are also a Spartan League team.
Charlie Horlock, Kye Tearle, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, captain, Ben Walster, Alex Marsh, Lawrie Marsh, Henry Snee, Luke Brown, Rio Da Silva.
Substitutes (all used) – Jhai Dhillon, Dan Weaver, GK, Josh Caldicott-Stevens, Lewis Barker, Max Ryan, Callum Stead, Marlow Gough, Luka Cardines.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN