We all knew this was going to be a tough one. Bedford Town may be a division below, but they are a strong team who reached the play-offs last season (albeit with an unusual administrative rule that meant their participation was only nominal). They provided the Hitchin team with what is known as a ‘wake-up call’, by winning with a comfortable four goal margin.
I always enjoy going to the Eyrie, the pitch is always excellent, as are the facilities. Mind you, I was held in a metaphorical arm-lock by a steward because I was not on The List, (don’t tell them Pike), and I had to wait until Secretary Roy Izzard came to verify my identity and I was thus placed on The List and allowed to enter the theatre of dreams,
It proved to be a bit of a pre-season nightmare when four goals were conceded, one of them being an own goal, another a penalty, plus we had Lewis Ferrell sent off for ‘denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity’. Not the best day at the office, then.
What did not help was the unfortunate propensity for giving the ball away when not under particular pressure. This first occurred after about four minutes and it allowed a clear shot on goal that, fortunately for the visitors, cleared the bar by a large measure. It happened again a minute or so later and Horlock needed to make a smart save. We were waiting patiently for Hitchin to show some aggression in going forward and new signing Charlie O’Keefe showed some desire, flicking in a cross from the left, routinely defended as was Lewis Barker’s. There was a cross for Harry Draper that went wide and we had a slight delay whilst Lewis Barker had his wound stanched.
Hitchin managed decent spells of possession but were often too intricate to be really artistic or effective. Conversely, Bedford tried a direct approach and one telling through ball needed Horlock to leave his line to tidy matters up. Bedford were already looking the more cohesive team in terms of producing chances that were on target. Dowie, however, was looking lively on the right flank and an interchange with Draper was looking good until intercepted. Bedford produced a blocked shot and then, with Hitchin on the ball, they allowed it to be snaffled and what transpired was a snap shot from the hosts that hit the foot of the post, it appeared to roll towards the line and there was a bit of confusion as the referee clearly signalled a goal. There was only a token protest and we had played seventeen minutes. Three minutes later there was one of those errors that seem comical as long as they do not happen to you. A Bedford shot was cleared and a follow-up effort struck Dan Webb on the ankle which sent the ball in an unanticipated direction with Horlock deceived. Two – nil – and an own goal.
Hayford’s free kicks were as promising as before if a little over- hit. Lewis Ferrell defended a dangerous looking cross and then another Hayford free-kick was defended despite full efforts from Dowie and Webb. After Draper was denied a chance to exploit possession, the hosts found themselves with an undefended Hitchin goal, with Horlock off his line to deal with one effort. The Bedford number eleven took aim and saw it defended but it presented him with another go, whereupon he hit the post – it ought to have been three-nil.
An altercation between the home number 20 and Draper contained enough snarling and reprimands to allow the rest of the players to take an impromptu water break. A free-kick, wide on the right, again from Hayford found Webb who tried to get the ball to Ferrell but this was defended well. We were just five minutes from the interval and were yet to see a clear cut chance on goal from Hitchin. The remaining period was played out with the youthful home keeper still untried.
Dowie was brought down and the offending player was cautioned – and the free-kick was routinely headed clear. It had not been a very good half for Hitchin, especially after their tight performance against the fledgling Arsenal XI last week.
They performed much better in the second half, despite conceding two further goals, but there was the usual host of substitutions by both sides. Bedford began on the attack, but a Hitchin foray produced a fine cross that needed alertness from the home keeper. After dowie had been fouled a splendid free-kick from Hayford struck the post. Jack Green, whose pace was notable in the first half in defence showed willingness to be involved in attacks as well and it was a good sign.
When the first crop of Hitchin substitutes took to the field there was a noticeable change and the visitors looked like scoring. Max Ryan’s shot on the turn was suitably dramatic and it needed a fine save. Bickerstaff, another substitute, won a free-kick, which Hayford put over the cross bar. Any real chance of Hitchin reviving their fortunes were effectively obliterated when Bedford’s number 11 scored a fine third goal that found the bottom corner. This goal came after sixty-four minutes and barely two minutes had later a handball inside the box meant a penalty, which was smartly converted by number 11 again. I need hardly add here that I had no access to the home team selection – which is normal in pre-season friendlies.
Substitute Charlie Thake had two goes at goal and Green got in a cross or two. There was lots of effort but in reality, Bedford were just too strong – and they played very well today. I would not be surprised if they gained promotion in the coming season. They could have gone even further ahead if the underside of the bar had not been so unkind. Thake’s shot from a difficult angle after good work, deserved a goal for effort and enterprise. The final blow to the visitors was the dismissal of Lewis Ferrell – and even though it is a pre-season game he will probably have to bear the usual punishment.
Our lugubrious Fixtures’ Secretary summed up his experience by saying he had enjoyed a splendid afternoon ‘spoilt by ninety minutes of football’. Earlier our supporter with the fluffy white dog announced that when it got to 4-0 he would take his departure and off he went at the declared time, pooch and all. We steel ourselves against disappointment, I suppose – but there is one more friendly to go – away to Spartan Champions Biggleswade FC on Tuesday – and then the League programme begins in earnest with the home game against Stourbridge a week today (Sat 10th Aug).
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Charlie O’Keefe, Charlie Hayford, Dan Webb, captain, Luke Ferrell, dismissed, straight red card, Lewis Barker, Jay Dowie, Harry Draper, Mo Ahmed, Dev Simms.
Substitutes- Josh Bickerstaff, Max Ryan, Charlie Thake, James Verney, Alex Taylor, Leon Okuboyejo and Kieran Barnes.
No details of officials or opposing team available – apologies.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN