This was the first ever meeting between Hitchin Town and the newly formed (2016) Biggleswade FC. It does seem prestigious that the Bedfordshire town can boast three senior non-league teams – the other two being the well-established Town and United. The Spartan Premier Division champions share Langford Road with Town and also play in all green.
What a joy they were to watch in what I consider to be the most entertaining of all the pre-season friendlies, as the game was notable for its attacking spirit throughout. There was an exuberance about this final friendly, as if in acknowledgement that when the season begins the game will take on a different tone.
After an initial shot from Harry Draper, we saw how accomplished the hosts were as a passing, industrious side who consistently played as a hard-working team with established understanding. Hitchin responded manfully but in truth they were given a hard game and I do believe it will stand them in good stead. The pace was brisk and I did think that the hosts would not be able to sustain such alacrity but they did – and I suppose that multi-substitutions of dead keen players assisted them in this matter.
Keen to attack, the hosts soon exhibited signs of danger and they took the lead with a well worked, sweeping move after just seven minutes. There was good work from Michael Sampson and what was on my team sheet Sean Monagle but the scorer was announced as Alex Marsh. Since there was a bevy of later substitutes not apparent on the team sheet, I will go with that. My confusion may be understood when the announcer in the second half announced substitutes as ‘pretty much everyone has come on’. Should have brought my boots then, you never know.
The goal came from a swift move on the right and the cross was tellingly accurate, as was the finish – nestling in the bottom left corner. Hitchin responded well, with a decent cross from Josh Bickerstaff and a fine shot from Draper only just drifted wide. Another fine move involving three home players saw a fair chance that was well defended. Hitchin won a corner, taken as usual by Hayford and Max Ryan sent his effort wide. Okuboyejo sent in a cross aimed for Thake, but Joe Connell was able to clasp the ball to prevent any damage. Lawrie Marsh had a shot at the other end as did Tom Coles and the latter effort only just cleared the bar. Lee Northfield tried to latch on to the cross from Sampson but Josh Mollison cut it out well. A rampant effort from the hosts was deflected for a corner, which brought another.
But Hitchin were resilient and as this half progressed they began to gain a firm foothold and equalised with about ten minutes of the half remaining. It was a smart move, coming after Draper had a shot blocked. Thake tucked away the cross and Hitchin had a good spell with perhaps the home team a bit more pleased at the half-time whistle. Right at the end of the half we saw a central free-kick from Hayford sail over the bar – but Hitchin had concluded the half strongly.
It had been an excellent first period of crisp, attacking football, with plenty of chances for both sides – but the passing moves from the hosts was notable as was their desire to work for one another. Hitchin’s response after conceding had been largely positive and the equaliser saw the game finely poised for a second half.
I freely admit I lost track of the bewildering number of substitutes for both sides in this second period – but I understand that both management teams need to see their players in action but it did not alter the game’s attacking perspective – yet it was abundantly clear that the hosts set out to seize the initiative and when they did, it was unrelenting. I thought the pace would lessen but it did not and the game was quite thrilling as it fairly roared through the half with skill and energy from both teams.
The home side began in earnest with a number of attacks on the left and I quietly agreed with the chap who said to me at half-time that Biggleswade ought to have been harried more, and not given any space. It will be of interest in just how this talented side will cope with the greater physicality of the Southern League – and they will meet teams of more overt ‘muscle’ than Hitchin Town.
Hitchin had brought on Ciaran Gordon-Stearn as a goalkeeping sub for Josh Mollison, who had enjoyed a satisfactory half. The hyphenated one did very well with one or two notable stops. One of these was from Lawrie Marsh and he did well defending two successive corners from the hosts who were getting a serious grip on the game now. There was a fine shot from Charlie Thake that was deflected for a corner and Coles had a low shot saved by Gordon-Stearn. Draper managed another shot that was wide of the mark and poor old Luke Ferrell, so disconsolate after his dismissal at Bedford Town found himself cautioned for an industrial challenge.
Just after the hour mark the hosts took the lead and I will go with the announcer here who said it was ‘made by Lawrie Marsh and scored by Alex Marsh’. The cross was searching and the finish was smart. It was a goal richly deserved from persistent attacking play full of positive and energetic moves.
Then, as is the custom in these pre-season games, there was a gradual and almost overwhelming change of personnel. This did not alter the game’s perspective of Biggleswade attacking dominance relieved at times by earnest Hitchin counter attacks, which were generally well defended.
There was a wonderful reflex save by the home keeper that prevented the equaliser for Hitchin and one home attack saw the ball strike the foot of the post. The home number eight was cautioned as was Draper, the latter for unnecessary dissent. There could have been more goals but both defences were tight – but the lion’s share of attacking play was from the hosts. They were not invulnerable and took one or two risks that would no doubt be exploited in the coming competitive games – but I liked their propensity for repeated attacks – especially after gaining possession by snapping at their opponents’ heels. They could well be called Biggleswade Harriers.
There was some good stuff from Hitchin, especially after they first went behind – and it might be the case that the season’s fortunes will not be fairly assessed from the somewhat uneven sequences in pre-season games. As far as this one went, it was entertaining and enjoyable and will give Mark burke plenty of thoughts as to his starting eleven against what will be a strong Stourbridge team on Saturday.
I am with Secretary Roy Izzard here – being pleased that the pre-season games are over since they do touch on the bizarre at times and often give no real feeling of the depth of the team’s potential. I enjoyed the game and even the drive home through a downpour. It never rains but it pours and we all look forward to the start of the season proper.
We wish to thank Biggleswade Fc for their welcome and their Chairman, Jeremy is a hands-on chairman who was a perfect host. We wish his team well for the forthcoming campaign.
I will now give the teams as provided in the initial list but there were many variations:
Joe Connell, Michael Sampson, Sam Kelly, Lawrie Marsh, Michael Fisher, Dan Newton, Sean Monagle, Tom Coles, cautioned, Tim Cookman, Lee Northfield, Ryan Inskip.
Substitutes: Kieran Barnes, Matt Richardson, Luke Oswick, Sam Kelly, Matt Reynolds, Sean McMonagle, Charlie Joy, David Lenton, Josh Holmes
Josh Mollison, Charlie O’Keefe, Alex Anderson, Charlie Hayford, Joe Gauge, Lewis Ferrell, cautioned, Max Ryan, Harry Draper, cautioned, Charlie Thake, Leon Okuboyejo, Josh Bickerstaff (c).
Substitutes: Taishan Griffiths, Jay Dowie, Lewis Barker, Ciaran Gordon-Stearn, GK, James Verney, Alex Taylor and Mo Ahmed.
The referee was Mr Simon Bates, but I did not find out the names of the assistants, and the attendance is a TBA.
1-0 Alex Marsh, 7 minutes, Charlie Thake 1-1 , 35 minutes, Alex Marsh 2-1 61 minutes.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN