A point apiece was not the desired result for both teams. The Greenbacks have yet to taste victory in the League and the Canaries have only registered a solitary success so far – at home to Redditch United. Both clubs would have regarded this game as one where three points was distinctly achievable. It was the current bottom club versus third from bottom, and while it is a bit early to talk about a six pointer – it is fair to say that many left the ground a little disappointed.
We are not ungrateful for the point and it must be pointed out that the game was rendered very difficult owing to a swirling, tree-bending wind that persisted throughout. It was expected that Bedworth would go all out to break their duck and at one stage they led 2-0 and their goalkeeper, Adam Harrison had saved a weak penalty from Josh Bickerstaff.
Bedworth now boast an artificial pitch, the merits of which were discussed sporadically, but it does allow for intensive use; indeed when I arrived a junior game was in progression and I did manage to see a rather smartly taken goal. There was also a short gymnastic display before kick-off.
In this senior game, the Greenbacks elected to kick with the wind in their favour and they did make the most of this. Hitchin’s goalie, Michael Johnson was making his hundredth league appearance today and it was reported that Fraser, Burns and smith were still in the injury list.
Opening eagerly, the Greenbacks attacked on the right flank with a run from Kai Tonge which brought an early corner that was headed well over the bar by Bradley-Maslen-Jones. Another effort, this time on the right saw Luke Rowe win a corner. This was cleared by Matt Spring. Clearly the ball was doing a lot of work in the wind, and Hitchin were still adjusting to these conditions – finding out that a lofted ball could be held up or zip away into touch with demonic pace. It was needful to keep the ball on the deck but neither side managed to do this with real consistency, so we had some interesting aerial combat at times.
A move involving Galliford and Dowie was successfully challenged and a half chance for Galliford was ended with the award of a free-kick for Bedworth. Jake Whitmore and Rowe exchanged passes and the former managed a shot, gathered quickly by Johnson who promptly set his team in motion, bring an effort from Chesmain that was saved.
The blustery wind did not prevent those long diagonal passes – some worked, a lot did not, but one to Dubitat had possibilities but it was shut down effectively. After a Belgrove effort was securely saved, Hitchin had a real chance to take the lead when they were awarded a free-kick, centrally just outside the area and, facing a five man wall Chesmain struck skilfully and his shot hit the very top of the post. It would have been an audacious lead, against the wind and all that.
Whitmore received a caution for a foul and Hitchin had a free-kick wide on the right. Spring took this and tried twice to cross the ball but an opposing boot and body interposed themselves and the chance was lost. Then there was a quick ‘shufti’ up the other end, with Anderson and Ferrell both partially clearing but the ball fell invitingly for Luke Rowe who converted cleanly to give the host a lead. This was after twenty-three minutes and it was an important goal since the second half would see the wind advantage, such as it was, pass to Hitchin.
The Greenbacks were looking for a few dollars more and they increased their lead in semi-comical circumstances. Hitchin had received a routine free-kick and we are accustomed to seeing Johnson stride out to deliver these. He is seen as a sweeper keeper and if often seen at some distance from his goal-line – which was duly punished. Given the conditions and the unpredictable flight of the ball the kick ought to have been left to an outfielder – but it was not. The kick was wayward and, with Johnson striding back to his unguarded goal, Levi Rowley calmly, nurturing the gift of possession, lofted it over the keeper’s head and thus the home lead was doubled, giving home supporters a definite hope that their first league win was closer than they had hoped.
When you are down at the basement though, things are never easy and within a minute of this ‘head in your hands’ goal, Hitchin were awarded a disputed penalty. Not only did the Greenbacks appeal in numbers to the adamant referee, (who booked a couple for good measure) but supporters from both sides thought it harsh. One chap standing near me thought the decision was ‘flicking ridudgelous’. When the brouhaha had dissipated somewhat a calm Josh Bickerstaff consigned hope to his left boot and took what was a weak penalty, easily saved by Harrison at the mild expense of a corner. Hitchin were helping Bedworth win the game, or so it seemed. The visitors had thus hit the post and missed a penalty and the cupboard was bare. But the effort was there – Green shot on the run, Belgrove cut in but the cross was too heavy, Galliford was robbed of possession before he could inflict any harm. A free-kick was aided by a flick from Bickerstaff.
In a flurry of late first-half activity, Hitchin forced no fewer than three corners and with a couple of minutes to go, they were were rewarded when Lewis Ferrell headed a goal that such pressure deserved – but there was still some way to go, and a one goal deficit was, in real terms not too bad, given the earlier misfortunes. I considered that the score was probably fair as the hosts had played with distinct endeavour and were obviously going to be told that they were forty-five minutes or so from a needed win.
I had listened to part of a conversation about the merits of the ‘all weather’ pitch, and have seen a good few on my travels. Clubs report good profits from hirings but a rather significant amount of the proceeds needs to be banked for the burdensome task of having the entire thing renewed after about eight years or less. It was not a pleasant image that was conjured when someone pointed out that the ‘crumb’ or ‘black dust’ is caused by the inclusion of shredded or ground down old pneumatic tyres. This manifests itself when the ball bounces. I do think, however, that it puts a stop to those goal celebrations when the player travels a good few metres on his knees and annoys the home groundsmen. One thing that is possibly overlooked is the lack of postponements. I once went to Bedworth (with another club), long before the new laid artificial pitch and it was raining so hard that the referee called off the game at ten to three. That is annoying in itself but the far reaching effect is that the visitors are obliged to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday night with a team lacking players who could not get the time off – and a weakened team is put out and more often than not they are defeated.
Defeat for Hitchin today was quite unthinkable, given our position just under that red relegation line on the league table. Hitchin had finished the half on an attacking ‘high’ that had brought a goal and now they had the wind behind them that had not relinquished its strength. Ironically, Hitchin, although they equalised with a goal of quality, did not maximise the ‘wind advantage’. Bedworth found themselves under some early pressure but they rallied sufficiently to cope with it and instigate counter-play when they could.
For example a good combination from Parrott and Dubitat caused a bit of concern but then Spring floated in a cross that actually ran along the underside of the bar for a metre or so, with no-one within reach to finish. But Hitchin looked likely to score, with Green, Chesmain and Galliford getting forward well. The visitors now began to dominate possession and just needed to fine tune their efforts, taking the unpredictable wind into consideration.
The deserved equaliser came just before the hour mark and a fine cross from Scott Belgrove was volleyed happily home by Isaac Galliford – it was probably the best goal of the game and well executed from the defensive half. As it stood it looked as if it now favoured Hitchin to go on and win, but to their credit, the hosts applied themselves rigorously in defence and contested the initiative with some success. Substitutions seemed to have the effect of nullifying clear goal chances and there was some outstanding defensive play from Maslen-jones as well as a decent run by Whitmore that sliced through the visiting defence.
There was a ten minute period of midfield contention, a stop for an injury that was utilised as a useful water break, but there were tell-tale signs that the points might be shared. Then there was a real bit of excitement when Hitchin had two chances to snatch the lead, with efforts from Belgrove and Green, and conversely there was a spirited counter form Parrott and Maslen-Jones that put the cat among the Canaries. Substitute trey Charles had some opportunities, but the best effort came from Jay Dowie, and I thought his fine shot was going to bag the winner but it went narrowly wide, to use a contradiction. There was also a teasing glanced header from Ferrell that might have done the trick. Green and spring combined and the resultant shot from Charles was weakened in power by taking a deflection that made it easier for the keeper.
Bedworth had defended well and countered suggestively but Hitchin just did not press their advantage home when they were applying their best pressure. To my mind, both sets of players had put on an entertaining match under difficult conditions. It was even hard to watch at times with the wind gusting as it did.
After the final whistle there was the observation that even though Hitchin extend their unbeaten run to nine games (which is worth a big mention), the League form is not concomitant with the performances. Bedworth officials were gracious and wishes us all the best for the big FA Cup Game with Leatherhead next week (with Tring Athletic visiting midweek for a domestic cup tie). I thanked them for this and then thought that for the whole of this game, that coming encounter was far from my mind. An improvement in League results is way overdue and we yearn for the tonic of an emphatic victory.
But all is relative and I went away recalling the plaintive spoken thought of a home official who asked himself, ‘Do you think we will get a win before Christmas?’ As I have said, when you are in the nether region it is always difficult – but not impossible. No team that has gone nine games without defeat can be said to be poor, and a few classy or even prosaic goals from open play might well turn things around.
But for now we put the league games in abeyance and have two cup-ties in a week , with county neighbours Tring, doing well in the Spartan Premier, and we renew acquaintances with ‘The Tanners’ who will come to Top Field for what should be a belter of a game in the Emirates FA Cup (tickets can be purchased here). Whatever the result of this vital encounter (and its huge rewards), I firmly believe that manager Mark Burke will be concentrating on the League, even if it is temporarily on the back burner.
Adam Harrison, Jake Whitmore, cautioned, (Ryan Baldwin), Luke Rowe, GOAL, 23 MINUTES, Elliott Parrott, Bradley Maslen-Jones, cautioned, Tom Sharpe, captain, cautioned, Kai Tonge, Reece Blackmore, cautioned (Lewis Noon), Danny Dubitat, (Lyesden Christie), Levi Rowley, GOAL, 39 MINUTES, Barry Fitzharris, cautioned.
Other substitutes: Delroy Gordon and Mark Albrighton.
Michael Johnson, Alex Anderson, Noah Chesmain, cautioned, Matt Spring, Lewis Ferrell, GOAL, 42 MINUTES, Josh Bickerstaff, captain, Scott Belgrove (Trey Charles), Jay Dowie, Hitchin man of the match, Ezra Forde, (Charlie Thake), Isaac Galliford GOAL 58 MINUTES, Jack Green.
Other substitutes – Josh Mollinson and Dan Webb.
REFEREE: Mr Andrew Ellis assisted by Mr Daniel Stokes and Mr Thomas Durno.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN