Hitchin hit home six goals, three in each half, in a handsome victory at the Eyrie over Bedford Town, who play in Division One Central of The Southern League. With no disrespect to our hosts, the one goal conceded by the Canaries came through an elementary defensive error.
After just a few minutes play, there was no indication that the home side would be so overwhelmed as they began brightly with good attacking play from fine possession football. An early free-kick, just outside the penalty area. There was also a promising move between Brett Longden and a sprightly Connor Tomlinson, but the finish was lacking.
Before we had played ten minutes there was a swift counter move from Hitchin and Alex Marsh did exceedingly well to keep the ball in play from a long diagonal ball, left to right. He slipped a perfect pass to the waiting Luke Brown who opened the scoring.
Three minutes later Bedford were level but it was clearly an error. I always wince when even professional teams indulge in close passing in their own penalty area, as dispossession can quickly become an uncomfortable reality. This is what happened. A failure to clear the lines with an admittedly inelegant (but effective) punt up field saw Connor Tomlinson snaffle the opportunity and thus the equaliser.
After a weak, but on target shot from Alex Marsh, a Bedford move involving Drew Richardson and Tomlinson, saw the latter’s shot saved by Charlie Horlock. This again came from a needless loss of possession from Hitchin.
A cross from Jhai Dhillon was defended at the expense of a corner, and one for Bedford saw Horlock palm the ball more or less out of danger and Matty Harriet’s intended shot was well blocked. Dhillon was encroaching in his inimitable manner and he again forced a corner. Bedford had a slight spell of pressure, relieved by an optimistic penalty appeal from Hitchin and an offside against them was the decision.
Hitchin regained the lead after another positive move and Alex Marsh connected with the cross to finish neatly. We had played twenty-five minutes and at a pleasing pace. A Will Summerfield free-kick was held by Horlock, but another needless loss of possession by Hitchin resulted in what was a botched attempt on goal.
Alex marsh was then presented with a clear chance, being unmarked and in a scoring position and goalkeeper Connor Sampson did very well to prevent the Canaries from going further ahead. Hitchin’s third goal came on the half hour mark when Lawrie Marsh tapped in from a perfect cross. Dasilva and Walster both had a go and both saw their efforts clear the cross bar. Alex Marsh’s header went wide after yet another dine forward move and the hosts were prone to errors in defence.
There was a contentious incident where Hitchin claimed a penalty and I was amused when the referee consulted the linesman who admitted with honesty that he ‘did not see’ the alleged offence. Neither did I, but it was heartening to see that the official also missed the crucial moment, showing I was not alone in my ignorance.
Hitchin had wrested control as the half headed towards its conclusion and they continued to attack before the whistle went after what was a very entertaining half, even if errors had crept in. There was a distinct energy about the play and a fine commitment from both teams.
During the interval I thought how pleased we were to see the season more or less underway, mostly unencumbered by the new and largely necessary regulations. It was a first for me to have an ‘e’ ticket. I did recall that the only match I saw during the lock-down was Mansfield Park versus Northanger Abbey, a classic encounter, no less.
The attendance of 227 was encouraging, given the limits being imposed on clubs, but what is clear is that each club has its own method of coping with the current crisis and the guidelines imposed. Social distancing is obviously being interpreted differently by so many.
Being three-one down I did expect Bedford to give it a good go in the second half and they certainly started off with the best intentions. Tomlinson instigated or was on the end of some good moves, but again the final pass always seemed to lack potent accuracy. After this initial flurry of earnest endeavour, the hosts wilted somewhat as Hitchin regained the initiative – but there was an appreciable period before the next goal of the game.
Dhillon and Eadie were both keen on runs in possession, and a smart cross from Eadie invited Dasilva to tap in the fourth but he just could not connect. A cross from Tomlinson was also inviting but no Bedford player was in reach. Dasilva had a good run but he took one touch too many. Then the home player in the number eighteen shirt shot straight at Horlock, who held. The Hitchin goalie also held a headed effort, but most goal attempts now were coming from the visitors.
There was an incident which left Horlock prone, with players apportioning blame, with a home player optimistically placing the ball on the penalty spot, but it turned out to be a free-kick for Hitchin. A little later Steele obstructed Brown and it was the latter who decided to take the Hitchin free-kick from a very inviting position. It was executed perfectly and Hitchin increased their lead.
This was after sixty-seven minutes and it was indeed a free-kick and a goal to savour. Substitutions were rapidly made. Snee and Goldbourne showed energy and commitment and were soon in the thick of it. Ryan and Coldicott-Stevens added their bit as well. Indeed it crossed my mind more than once that from the squad it would be a tantalising problem to name the strongest starting eleven.
Dhillon did his utmost to get on the score sheet and he had some pleasing combinations with the lively Marcus Goldbourne. After seventy-five minutes Dhillon finished emphatically from within the penalty area, courtesy of a subtle assist from Goldbourne, whose later shot was held by Sampson.
There followed an inexplicable miss from Tomlinson who was unmarked and well-placed, unlike his disappointing shot. The sixth goal came from a cross from Eadie, which Sampson initially did well, but he fumbled the ball and Alex Marsh made the most of the opportunity and it was six-one – a bit harsh on the hosts who had played with imagination and pleasing commitment, let down by erroneous finishing.
Those who thought that the pre-season games hitherto had been no great test may have been encouraged that this performance against a Bedford team of fine potential would be more difficult. It was, but only in parts and every Hitchin supporter present can only be encouraged.
There are a couple more games to come in the pre-season programme with contrasting opposition in Harpenden Town and Barnet, but with the Crowd Funding exceeding expectations and the makings of a very strong squad lead us to believe that Hitchin can enter the fray of league games with a good deal of confidence.
So we came to the end of an entertaining game that had a very emphatic score line, and this run of wins in pre-season seems to portray a squad of players who are happy with one another and keen to get underway with the serious stuff.
Connor Sampson, Danny May, Brett Longden, Joe Steele, Ross Watson, Matty Harriet, Matty Sparrow, Will Summerfield, Connor Tomlinson, GOAL, 12 MINUTES, Drew Richardson, Dan Walker.
Substitutes: (apologies for lack of forenames) Howe, Robinson, Ayre, Page, Newman, Hitchcock, Carpenter, GK.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, captain, Alex Marsh, TWO GOALS, 25 AND 79 MINUTES, Ben Walster, Lawrie Marsh, GOAL, 30 MINUTES, Rio Dasilva, Luke Brown, TWO GOALS, 9 AND 67 MINUTES, Jhai Dhillon, GOAL, 75 MINUTES.
Substitutes used: Lewis Barker, Josh Caldicott-Stevens, Max Ryan, Henry Snee and Marcus Goldbourne.
Other substitutes: Nikolay Rusev and Marlow Gough.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN