Yes, it was a bizarre winning goal, with comedic overtones and could easily have been prevented if the goal keeper Liam Castle had elected to gather the ball to his chest and not try to clear it on the half volley. It turned out to be the only goal of the game and it saved it from being a fairly dull, goal-less draw – and most vital it was three points which means there are now five teams below Hitchin in the League table.
It was Canaries versus Canaries again and, oddly, the home side had dispensed with their yellow and green for a lime coloured kit that was not that easy on the eye. Talking of kit, many may have noticed that Hitchin goal keeper paid a great tribute to the peerless Gordon Banks, who had died aged eighty-two. Michael Johnson wore a replica kit of Banks’ blue jersey, white shorts and socks – yes in that game against Brazil where he made the most famous save of all time from the great Pele in 1970. Michael’s jersey is suitably inscribed and will be auctioned for charity erelong.
Hitchin team news saw the debut of a loan player, Morgan Penfold, from Peterborough United, Chesmain’s loan has been extended and there was no Michael Cain, with Alfie Cue on the list of substitutes. This was a return to Leicestershire and Hitchin supporters wanted an improvement on the last trip, to Coalville, where the team had lost 4-1.
There was a real community (and spacious) feel to the hosts’ home stadium, set as it is alongside a cricket club and a bowls venue for both indoor and outdoor games. The only negative aspect was the rather ungainly slope to the pitch which, on the day, worked to the advantage of the team playing down it. Herts FM Radio found a suitable perch and were soon rapidly commentating on a game that might charitably be summed up as ‘not a classic.’
The corresponding fixture saw an unexpectedly poor Barwell performance in their 2-0 defeat at Top Field and today they were better, but only in the second half. Hitchin began the game well, gaining a little reluctant praise from two ‘ground hoppers’ next to me. Of some importance to the team was the early departure of Scott Belgrove with a leg injury, and he was replaced by an eager Max Ryan.
Kurtis Revan’s early cross was cut out by Johnson, who today was as safe as the Banks of England, and by that I mean Gordon. Hitchin were kicking down the slope and it did prove advantageous to some degree. A forward ball to the new man Penfold saw the striker side-foot it stylishly but ineffectively at the goal keeper. Draper was brought down to a shout for a penalty, but all that was gained was a corner. The ground hoppers were bemoaning the fact that the Barwell programme was one of a growing number that have gone online, and they have a point of view shared by many.
Draper had a pop and it came off the goalkeeper’s legs, which was replicated by Johnson later in the game. Hitchin were, at this stage, the better team and on the fourteenth minute they gained a free-kick, centrally outside the area and Noah Chesmain, sized it all up against a wall of four. He hit it straight at Castle who, as I have said, thought he would loft it forward on the half-volley , but in raising his kicking leg he was aghast to see the ball slip under it and Hitchin had taken the lead- which may have been deserved but not in such a remarkable manner.
What crumbs of comfort that is offered in a difficult season, Hitchin will take without recourse to conscience. Justification is ‘what goes around comes around’ and so it proved to be. The error did not seem to motivate the hosts to any degree of urgency. They did provide chances for their front men, even getting the ball into the net that was disallowed for a foul on Johnson. Jai Rowe took a corner that was defended well, and I must say here that both Ferrell and skipper Webb were in good form today. Chesmain put in a cross for a Bickerstaff header that was cleared. Penfold and Draper were up front but fragile to challenges, but Galliford was his usual box of tricks.
The partially bearded Jack Green was reminding all and sundry that he was an effective right back. Chesmain deflected for a corner to Barwell, taken from Brown-Hill. This was the one that found the net and was disallowed. Penfold got into the penalty area but was cut out by the goalie. A Barwell corner form Brown-hill was snatched out of the air by Johnson.
At the other end there was a magnificent piece of action when Galliford fired on in that looked bound for the top corner when castle atoned for his error by making a real Gordon Banks of a save, one-handed and at the expense of a corner. A second goal then would have been rather significant, and may have made Hitchin’s task less onerous in the second period.
Although there were a couple of uncomfortable moments, Hitchin contained whatever was thrown at them and finished the half in comfortable mode. Belgrove had departed in discomfort but Maxx Ryan had done well. Webb was outstanding in defence and all was well, relatively speaking.
Scores so far as relayed by Chris Newbold were encouraging, and we enjoyed our interval repast. Secretary Roy Izard gloomily but prophetically suggested that the slope may work against Hitchin and we did indeed find the second half to be full of tension. It was a half where the visitors relinquished possession but defended stoutly and sometimes nervously, yet still had opportunities to increase the lead – notably when Penfold dragged a shot wide when he ought to have scored, given his fledgling professional pedigree.
The home crowd was devoid of the usual small knot of chanting fellows, which was not totally undesirable, but the atmosphere throughout was a little sombre. Barwell made some useful substitutions. I say useful but in real terms it was a trifle alarming. Stanley Mugisha was a revelation. He ran the defence ragged but just failed to ram the point home. Nigel Julian sent in some measured crosses that deserved better reception and Jamie Towers, before his substitution asked some serious questions.
Sure, the pressure was with Barwell as they descended the slope with optimism, but hat little bit of star quality was missing, and mention must be made of good Hitchin defending – Webb, for example intervened with two defensive headers that were pivotal. Revan was still very active, crossing where he could, chasing back when he could not. Brad Gascoigne was commanding in defence and counter play. He even got in a header or two.
Hitchin were holding on to the lead but living a little dangerously, reliving the pressure with a little bit of time-wasting that did not fool the very competent referee, who indicated his watch in a decisive manner. Was this to be a ground out win? Well, I found the second half to have its tedious moments unrelieved by exciting football, but a job was being done, however untidy it might seem.
No, not a classic, but at least we can say that the defending under pressure was largely successful and that the team prevailed for maximum points. It was not an ‘ugly’ win , but it was one where the team prevailed in an unexceptional second half. Penfold’s miss was of some significance, but it was a rare chance in this half. There was a good deal of time added on for stoppages but it did seem that that freak goal would be the decider and so it was. Hitchin therefore did the double over the Leicestershire side who have endured indifferent home form thus far.
A Barwell effort found the roof of the indoor bowling club and rolled uncharitably down the other side, no doubt to be claimed by an errant schoolboy walking the family dog. Bickerstaff provided a move that resulted in a Galliford corner that was unaccountably wasted. Johnson lived up to the Gordon Banks shirt, plucking the ball from the air and picking the ball up in leisurely fashion when challenged by a Barwell forward. Johnson saved one golden effort from substitute Tomkinson – albeit with his trailing foot. But the threatened equaliser was prevented by hook or by crook. Nigel Julien was spraying in a cross when he could, but there was no real sting to the Barwell attack, despite their commendable efforts. Johnson was busy but effective.
Toby Byron came on and in one off the ball episode he found himself cautioned for restricted retaliation.
There was no crowing over this narrow win. We all knew that, but for that unexpected goal, this would have been a sharing of the points. To bag all three makes up for those times when the Hertfordshire Canaries have blown it in the closing minutes. We will take it, we will look with some satisfaction at the table and see that we are rising above the danger zone and points at this stage in the season are of huge importance.
No doubt home supporters will feel frustrated at their team’s lack of punch, but it really was one of those days. And, no doubt again, this will be consigned to history and they will move on.
Hitchin face Royston Town yet again in a cup match on Tuesday – a domestic competition, but it will be taken very seriously, since it represents the sole remaining chance of some silverware. Stratford Town are the next visitors to Top Field and they are a hard side to beat. But today, we can only say, for, this relief, much thanks.
Liam Castle, Elliot Percival, Eliot Putman, Ruben Desrosiers, Brad Gascoigne, Nigel Julien, captain, Jai Rowe, (Henry Eze, 65,), Dom Brown-Hill, Jamie Towers, (Stanley Mugisha,75), Kurtis Revan, Eddie Nisevec, (Alex Tomkinson, 58).
Substitutes not used – Brady Hickey and Aiden Print.
Michael Johnson (reporter’s man of the match), Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, GOAL, 14 MINUTES, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Josh Bickerstaff, Harry draper, cautioned, Morgan Penfold, (Toby Byron, 80, cautioned), Isaac Galliford, Scott Belgrove (Max Ryan, 14).
Substitutes not used – Alfie Cue, Edwin Mensah and Lukas Didik.
REFEREE: Mr Mark Tinsley, Nottingham, a patient and competent game, ably assisted by Mr Jordan Bancroft and Mr George Enever, also from Nottingham.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN