Pre-season friendlies have a charm of their own, given the unspoken notion that they are not really for the benefit of spectators, but for overtaxed managers formulating their best starting eleven. As a reporter I was perplexed to see that we had two number seventeens on the pitch at one time and up to three with no numbers, including one who scored both of the late goals for this first win in the fledgling season, albeit in the last ten minutes of a quiet and ponderous game. To add to the informal charm, I was handed a team sheet written on the back of an A4 envelope with no guarantee of accuracy, which was quite prophetic as it turned out and had one player designated simply as Mo. I was also given no details of the opposition or of the officials.
Arlesey are now in the Spartan Premier Division and it is a league notorious for the difficulty in gaining promotion as until this season only the campions went up. I do believe that there is some facility of the runners-up to enter a play-off prospect.
Whilst it was nice to record a first win, it must be said that Hitchin took their time about it, but it is fair to say that they had the ball in the net four times with only two being legitimate. One thing was apparent was that Jack Green seems to have made the right back position his by right and he had a full involvement until his substitution in the second half. Dev Simms showed willingness and some deft touches and Matt Foy’s wholehearted involvement was extended to getting a sore reprimand from the referee.
Harry Draper revelled in the role of the bustling old-style centre-forward, even if he got a bit of a bashing on the bonce in one challenge. Hitchin were stronger going forward but, as is often the case with the senior team, they became a bit too elaborate for their own good. Square balls, back passes, ponderous moves proved inconclusive in the initial stages, since the orange clad home keeper was not called upon anything that could be classed as heroics.
Free-kicks for both teams were lacking in quality. However, Hitchin dominated possession, as might be expected, but were met with plucky and determined resistance from the Spartan side. Hitchin did get the ball in the net, courtesy of Foy, who finished the move despite knowing full well that the whistle had gone for off-side. Foy had been denied a couple of times from crosses by the alert home keeper. From an Anderson corner we saw a kind of shot that bounced unkindly over the bar.
The home keeper went on to save well from Foy. An Arlesey free-kick wide on the left saw Horlock make a routine stop. Foy combined with Draper and the result was a low shot that was easily gathered, but it was a flowing move, the kind that augurs well.
A move from Arlesey along the left resulted with a ballooned shot over the bar. These attacking moves were isolated in this half and they made a better show in the second period, but it is fair to say that Charlie Horlock was not fully tested. But it was workmanlike rather than thrilling, which on some ways, was expected. He was called upon to palm away a decent looking cross if not quite like a chap rising from sleep for a stretch; it did not produce a sensation of urgency. The number of good, constructive moves from Hitchin were limited but showed that they could play with a degree of imaginative fluency.
Jack Green had a chance to lob one into an unguarded net but he was unceremoniously bundled over and the hitherto fussy referee decided to forgo the yellow card this would normally obtain. A Webb cross to Foy saw a shot go wide and a late shot from Arlesey was safely held by Horlock. So, the half ended without score. I got a result though, as Bill Rogers, Kate Deller’s dad, presented me with a Tyrolean pipe, which I am puffing gratefully on as I write this.
As expected, the substitutions in the second half were so large and confusing I could not keep up but I did notice that Max Ryan had been substituted and then emerged again late in the game. Mo Ahmed came on and made his mark with an early shot – and he presumably impressed manager Mark Burke who told me that we have got our mojo back and that I could quote him on that. There was some more fancy stuff but it was still inconclusive in terms of a goal.
Draper and Simms combined and the result was the ball went into the net but was ruled offside. Gertcha. Substitute Joe Gauge conceded a corner which resulted in an earnest Arlesey player blasting over the bar when it fitted into the category of Should Have Done Better. This second period saw Hitchin domination successfully challenged at times and it was good to see Josh Bickerstaff come on to give his usual commitment.
The earnest performance of the home side was looking as if they might earn a creditable draw, but with ten minutes to go James Verney was able to shoot on the turn and notch the opening goal. He bagged a second five minutes later to secure the result. But we must not overrule the gusto and commitment of the hosts who played well throughout.
Of the eleven (!) listed substitutes, nine put in a second half appearance, which is more or less standard for meetings of this kind. We wish our hosts all the very best in their Spartan Premier campaign. It was good to see their long serving secretary Chris Sterry shouting encouragement from the terraces.
As a game, it was moderately entertaining, revealing more to the respective managers and Hitchin travel to Pitstone and Ivinghoe in two days’ time for another workout before facing an Arsenal XI on Saturday at Top Field.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Alex Anderson, Charlie Hayford, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Max Ryan, Lewis Barker, Harry Draper, Matt Foy, Dev Simms.
Second–half Subs: Ciaron Gordon-Stearn, Taishan Griffiths, Marcus Crowther, Joe Gauge, Josh Bickerstaff, Lukas Didik, Mo Ahmed, Kieran Barnes, Leon Okuboyejo, James Verney (TWO GOALS – 80 AND 85 MINUTES. Unused substitute: Scott Belgrove.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN
Apologies – no details of the opposition or officials were given.