A win at last, a veritable win. After a losing sequence of five it might have suggested that if there were a few games left Hitchin might have another winning streak. But this was enough – to come back against a sprightly Puritan aside whose own form has been mediocre this season. In the last two meetings between the clubs Jack Self of Banbury scored both goals in a brace of 1-0 victories.
Then there was the wind. It had lashed all night and was still very strong and proved to be helpful to both teams when it was nominally in their favour. The Puritans won the toss and looked to make the most of the advantage in the first half. Play was uncertain as the players tried to acclimatise to the blustery conditions and predictably the ball was over hit more than was normal.
Banbury looked lively on the left, particularly with George Nash and Matt Taylor who combined dangerously several times during the game. Isaac Galliford and Charlie Thake had an early moment of promise, cut short by the advancing goalie, Jack Harding. Free-kicks by both teams were of negligible quality at this stage. Gallifords’s run involved Jay Bird and Scott Belgrove but the wind helped the ball out of play.
The opening goal had a feeling of deja vu about it. Hitchin had launched a promising attack that was beaten away for some swift counter play by the Puritans. We had played just fourteen minutes. Galliford was unable to get a shot away and Belgrove tried to keep it going to no avail. Nash went away on the left and the swift move was finished sweetly by Amer Awadh. From this point the hosts had more possession and a second goal looked a distinct possibility.
A Hitchin free-kick in a good position occurred two minutes later, which was defended well. There was a decent shot from Georgio Rasulo that drew a fine save for a corner from the orange clad Michael Johnson. This was headed away but Banbury forced another corner. Johnson gathered this quite safely. Galliford had a shot blocked by Charlie Wise, conceding a corner, taken short. Max Ryan Managed a shot that was straight at Harding.
Taylor’s cross following free-kick brought another home corner, taken by Rasulo, in the twenty-third minute, cleared close to the goal from Bickerstaff who was happily in the right place then and later – particularly in one chance for the hosts early in the second half. A long throw from Harry Whitehead saw him win another corner for the Puritans. This was again gathered by the reliable Johnson.
In one foray, Ryan finished the good move by blasting over the bar. A Banbury cross was again cut out by Johnson. Green’s pass to Anderson saw a cross to Thake that was cleared by Nash, but Hitchin were now pressing. They managed a sumptuous equaliser after thirty-six minutes. A fine anticipatory piece of play from Al-Amin Kazeem afforded Galliford the chance of a shot that was beautifully struck with Harding not able to make any contact. It was a delightful goal by any standards.
The half ended inauspiciously when Charlie Thake went down with an obvious injury and he limped off to be replaced by Ezra Forde. Thake’s participation in the Hertfordshire Charity Cup Final on Monday is thus in doubt. Please note that this game has been moved to Monday since Tottenham Hotspur appealed to us to change the date to avoid the clash – and they did not want to lose supporters in droves coming to our match instead of their Champions League semi-final, first leg….(ahem).
I think Hitchin supporters, who were numerically strong today, were well pleased that the half had ended even in score as they anticipated that the wind might well be helpful to the Canaries in the second period, and thus it was to be.
Nash and Taylor were soon up to their tricks on the left, forcing a corner, taken by Rasulo, beaten away only partially, and Nash sent in a pass – with Bickerstaff there to prevent what looked like a certain goal for the hosts. Bird went on to have a blocked shot, and Ryan’s shot brought a really notable save from Harding. It was lively stuff. Jack Green’s persistence in the next move was only just intercepted.
A Hitchin corner was greeted with what became a feature of the game’s progress. Small boys were invading the Hitchin supporters’ position behind the goal blowing distant junior cousins of the vuvuzela. This effort was cleared and at the other end, Ricky Johnson’s header from Kazibone hit the post, and that was another warning to be heeded. Banbury won another corner and then another. It was taken short for the sake of variety and the home fans were finding their voices. They had a free-kick, wide on the right and set piece worries were justified when Wise almost got in a glancing header. Bird’s flight was looking good but Ezra Forde fired wide, which was just as well as he was off-side.
Galliford’s corner shortly after the hour mark saw Ryan hit the ball against Kazibone and that was the end of that attack. The youthful plastic trumpet players were incurring the wrath of the Hitchin flag brigade who pointed out that if such infernal tootling persisted the deemed offenders would be blowing their trumpets from an undesirable and probably painful source. Small boys will be small boys, of course and they increased the volume with additional gestures. They also sought, with success, considerable reinforcements so we had a bit of a carnival atmosphere to bring the curtain down on the league season.
Bickerstaff was on hand for yet another bit of precise defending. Galliford’ was trying to reach a good cross from bird but it was just cut out by Charlie Hawtin and not for the last time. At this time some barking dogs added their bit to the vuvuzelas. Oh Well. Forde tried to win a free-kick in a good position but it fooled no-one and on we went at the same good pace. Banbury had a free-kick after seventy-two minutes, just forward of the half-way line. It caused only a little discomfort. My reporting was temporarily interrupted when Chris, the owner of Elvis the dog, (who still does not like Lowestoft), asked me to photograph the bunched away support. I agreed and caused hoots of derision when it transpired my thumb was the centre-piece and so we had to do it again. I hope the photos turned out well. The vuvuzela boys allowed this before recommencing their cacophony.
The party atmosphere was enhanced when Hitchin took the lead. But before this there was a cracker of a shot from Belgrove, after good work by Forde that the keeper was just able to push against the bar and out for a corner. This was no meaningless end of season game but a thoroughly competitive match and entertaining as well. Galliford had a pop as well bringing a deceptively routine save. Wise then blocked another shot.
Hitchin took the lead with seven minutes to go. They had been threatening going forward with the wind and it was substitute Forde who can claim the goal even though it came off the keeper at the second effort. Yes, there were Banbury moments after this but it seemed nothing would deny this much awaited win, which in terms of league positions meant that we finished eighteenth rather than nineteenth.
It was a pleasant ending to the match but for me it was tinged with a bit of sadness when it was confirmed that my former club, Dunstable Town, had lost at Sutton Coldfield and were relegated out of the Southern League, having finished bottom of the table for two successive seasons in the respective divisions. It means a return to the Spartan league that they had fought so hard, and successfully to be promoted from, in heady and happier former days.
So, one game to go and it would be just fine to end the season with a prestigious win against Hemel Hempstead Town and thus earn a bit of silverware.
Jack Harding, Charlie Hawtin, Matt Taylor, Matt Richards, Charlie Wise, Harry Whitehead, Greg Kaziboni, (Lee Henderson, 85 minutes), Giorgio Rasulo, Ricky Johnson, Amer Awadh, GOAL, 14 MINUTES, George Nash. Substitutes not used – Edmund Hottor, Jamie Heapy, Eddie Odhiambo and Charlie Barnett.
Michael Johnson, Alex Anderson, Al-Amin Kazeem, Max Ryan, Dan Webb, Josh Bickerstaff, this reporter’s Hitchin star man today, Jack Green, Scott Belgrove, Charlie Thake, (Ezra Forde, 42 minutes, GOAL, 83 MINUTES), Isaac Galliford, GOAL 36 MINUTES, Jay Bird. Substitutes not used – Edwin Mensah, Matt Nolan, Jack Thomas and Nathan Mullings.
REFEREE: Mr Neil Pratt, (Evesham), assisted by Mr John Roskilly, (Pershore), and Mr Paul Sparrow, (Evesham). All had satisfactory games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN