To be within seconds of a narrow 1-0 victory, then to concede and be eliminated on penalties was the grim outcome of the FA Trophy replay. Full credit must go to the Isthmian League side who thoroughly deserved to progress as their tenacious spirit was the hallmark of both games in this tie.
A tricky journey to Bedfont was compensated for as the stadium displayed a fine, compact design, all round cover and a superb artificial pitch that accommodates in turn some thirty Bedfont teams. Right next door, and I was informed ‘just four inches away’ is the home venue of Bedfont and Feltham, who also had a game tonight. The unceasing flow of approaching aircraft to the adjacent Heathrow airport was another unusual feature.
Hitchin supporters were still ruminating on the almost incomprehensible failure to win the first game at Top Field, what with dominant possession and the finer chances. But cup football is unpredictable and so it was tonight, as the two teams battled to a conclusion and the right to face Paulton Rovers in a home tie next week.
The game began as the original tie – with Hitchin on the attack and Bedfont defending stoutly. Lewis Rolfe fired in the first shot, but it went way over the bar. From my airy perch I did actually see the first goal – but it came from the stadium next door and it was a smart header. Hitchin took a lot longer to get their solitary goal tonight and many chances were spurned by the persistent over-hitting of forward balls. The Canaries had nominal wind advantage but it proved to be of very little advantage, as the visitors could not seem to gauge with any accuracy the way the ball kept zipping off the surface.
There was some enterprising stuff from Jhai Dhillon, and later it was just a little too elaborate to be effective, and there was an attempted overhead kick from Lewis Barker. Many first touches looked clumsy, passes went astray – but the pattern was, at this stage as before – Hitchin enjoying possession, Bedfont happy to defend, with the chance of a break, and neither keeper being tested as yet.
Cawley won a free-kick, centrally just outside the area and Walster fired this directly at Dimitrios Kyriaztis, the goalkeeper hero of the last round. For the hosts, Andy Ali had a half chance and Mekhail McLaughlin tried his luck, giving Horlock no problem. Imran Uche had a similar shot a little later and a defensive error from Joe Gauge let in McLaughlin whose powerful strike drew a notable save from Horlock, at the expense of a corner.
A dink from Dhillon cleared the bar and Walster headed wide on another attack. Bedfont were playing themselves nicely into the game and it became a very even contest – but, without doubt James Verney, who blasted over from about three yards should have notched the opening goal that would probably have been somewhat crucial. It might have compensated for the monotony of over-hit forward balls and poor free kicks.
A header from Webb won a corner – this too was too weighty and other efforts were well defended. Hitchin had again been the more enterprising but this would be dissipated in the second half and in extra time. Going to the interval goal-less was a disappointment when we recalled the simplicity of Verney’s chance. One positive was that the Canaries had not looked like conceding as yet – but the signs were that the hosts would be a more prominent attacking force in the second half – which they were not at Top Field.
Yet I will say that this first half was mediocre, with Verney’s glaring miss the lowlight and Horlock’s splendid save the highlight. Greater accuracy in passing from both teams was necessary. Bedfont began the second period well enough with a good move involving Imran Uche and Max Oldham. Dhillon made a couple of incursions into the opponents’ penalty area which was quite exciting until he omitted to send in the inviting low cross. Barker had a weak shot and a decent cross from Dhillon from the left flank was cut out by Kyriaztis.
After Walster had seen his shot clear the bar we saw a bit of dodgy defending by Bedfont, nervously playing the ball across their penalty box and being nearly caught out in the process – one back pass even went for a corner. Verney was replaced by Devonte Simms – the only Hitchin substitute deployed tonight. This might have been seen as a master stroke since it was Simms who laid claim to the opening goal after the hour mark – but it was a curiously untidy goal, and as the players celebrated we espied the referee consulting one of the assistants as there had been a strong hint of offside. The goal stood and we thought that now Hitchin had their noses in front they would be able to defend this lead or even add to it as the hosts would have no option but to go forward – and perhaps leave a hole or two at the back.
They did attack and Michael Kinsella had two successive goes – the forst blocked and the second saved by Horlock. Bradley Bell had a pop himself, and the effort was deflected for a corner, and from this a Webb header cleared the cross bar. Bell was fouled on the run next but the free kick was negligible. Cawley found himself free on goal and went for power rather than placement and missed ingloriously. A second goal would have seen this tie won. Instead Bedfont were getting to grips with this game and finding they could expose some weaknesses in the Hitchin defence.
Hitchin were playing deep – almost as if they were going to see out the last twenty-five minutes absorbing pressure the way their opponents had done in the first game of this tie. The face was that Bedfont were becoming stronger and more confident – but they still had to score to send this into extra time Ezekiel Bademosi was a persistent presence, with good runs and a shot on target. One Bedfont cross was tantalisingly close to goal and Horlock had to push the ball onto the top of the net for a corner. Oldham had a blocked shot and we wondered why Hitchin had seemed to lose the attacking enterprise. A few minutes of decent possession football might have steadied them all the more but they were now under some pressure and finding it a little too hot too handle.
More than once the last man needed to be precise in control and clearance – both Webb and Walster were called upon for defining defensive headers , but still the hosts came forward, heedless of time running out. But it did seem that Hitchin would ride it out and squeeze the win with that slightly bizarre goal on the hour mark. One or two errors, through frustration had crept into Bedfont’s play and glancing at the electronic score board it displayed just minutes to go. These minutes were awkward for Hitchin owing to the hosts’ persistence and they had their reward in the last minute of the game when they scored a fine equaliser through Imran Uche. It was coming was our inner thought, and deserved for sheer tenacity and it was fulsomely celebrated as it had saved the tie and now we would go into extra time.
That half hour was as tight as a drum with the ball going inconclusively from end to end. Hitchin supporters had joked about a penalty shoot out as eight of the last nine penalties have been missed or saved – and, yes we did go to penalties and Walster’s initial miss proved to be the match loser. The penalty drama followed the grim half-hour of extra time where neither team looked like penetrating to good effect. The effort and the endurance were there, but chances were somewhat limited.
In the first period of extra time there was a good chance for Bell whose shot was deflected for a corner. Dhillon had opportunities but could not get in the requisite cross – indeed towards the end Bedfont hit the foot of the post – but Hitchin’s good fortune was all used up and they went down 5-4 on penalties.
The penalties were thus-
Walster missed the first – but Rolfe, Simms, Dhillon and Bell scored theirs.
For Bedfont – well, they scored all five through Oldham, Bedemosi, Kalu, McLaughlin and the winning strike came from Williams.
The general pessimism we had all felt about a penalty shoot-out – shameful though it might seem was proved correct – but we did expect Horlock to save at least one. Never mind. It is Bedfont who will take on the Somerset based team of Paulton Rovers and in this we wish them luck and thank them for their fine hospitality this evening. Hitchin, barring a couple of domestic cup ties can now fully ‘concentrate on the league’ and it is a thorny thought to realise that they ought to have won this one at Top Field – but, as I say, cup football is cup football and the eager Eagles of Bedfont deserve their success for theor organisation, enthusiasm and – well, tenacity.
Dmitrios Kyriaztis, Veron Kokurincov, (Adrian Tache, 66), Jayden Clarke, (Keanu Williams, 72), Michael Kinsella, Joe Jackson, captain, Ezekiel Bademosi, Imran Uche, cautioned, GOAL, 90+2, Andy Ali, Max Oldham, Nathan Wood, (Brandon Kalu), Mekhail McLaughlin. Other substitutes- Jack Torbett, Darryl Sanders, John Roberts and Harry Churchill. GK.
Charlie Horlock, Max Ryan, cautioned, Ben Walster, Lewis Rolfe, Dan Webb, captain, Joe Gauge, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, Steve Cawley, James Verney, (Devonte Simms, 60). Other substitutes – Josh Bickerstaff, Josh Mollison GK, Jack Green, Marcus Crowther,Theo Reed.
REFEREE: Mr H Gilroy, assisted by Mr C Griffin and Mr B Caraghin.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN