Since this game was a Cup-Tie, I privately hoped that the outcome would not be finalised by penalties – but it was. There was no dramatic penalty competition but both teams had a penalty in normal time and The Blues saw their spot-kick saved whilst Lucas Kirkpatrick converted for the Canaries for the only goal of a fairly exciting match.
As is well known, Hitchin played five matches against Bishop’s Stortford last season and won the lot. Manager Mark Burke however was quick to point out that The Blues had a very different team tonight and he predicted a hard game. Bishops are in a different league now, (The Isthmian Premier Division), so this was likely to be the only meeting – unless, of course they are fated to meet in the Trophy or the FA Cup.
After an underwhelming performance at Creasey Park against a very determined AFC Dunstable, Canaries supporters were expecting better things for this, the first competitive game of the season – The Hertfordshire Charity Cup. They began in sprightly fashion and such was the pace of the first sortie that referee Lee Grimsey made an unintentional defensive block. He kept out of the way for the next foray and Matt Spring had a spring in his step and was seen all over the field of play imposing himself with some exuberant play. his cross needed to be put out for a corner, taken by Lucas Kirkpatrick, which looked the business until the referee spotted a foul.
The Blues had a player of pace and skill – one Toyosi Olusanya and he was not afraid to run at the defence but did not always take the ball with him all the way. On this occasion his run was fiery as was his shot that went wide. But it was Hitchin who were the more creative at this stage and they gave the home defence a torrid time. Spring’s diagonal pass was a fine idea but over hit. Isaac Galliford attempted to outwit the entire defence and was muscled off the ball and Jack Green, receiving a long pass from Michael Johnson headed on to Ezra Forde whose effort was held safely by Calum Kitscha. Kirkpatrick tried in vain to get on the positive end of a free kick, but it was the harbinger of no fewer than three crosses when the home defence could not clear adequately – coming from Macsen Fraser ( whose debut was nothing short of memorable), Elliot Bailey and Jack Green.
The hosts defended with some composure and also with some unintentional assistance from short passes. Spring set up Galliford who out mastered himself with his dazzling run; but it was Matt Spring at the controls, exuding enjoyment at his thorough reading of the game. He switched play and also had the simple notion that sending in crosses was the best way to obtain reward. His free kick found the solid Lewis Ferrell but the goal keeper smartly cut out the move. Both Ferrell and skipper Dan Webb were influential in the second half resurgence of the hosts who sought gamely for an equaliser.
Galliford had another run in possession and shot a bit wide for his own liking. Spring and Toby Syme had a neat interchange of passes culminating in a less than venomous header from Ezra Forde. What was noticeable was that this pressure was sustained throughout the half, with some notable variety in the approach work. Passing was neat and anticipatory but spoilt somewhat with the vital one being too long or short. As well as this the Blues’ defence was rather adept at interception at the crucial moment.
Spring sprung or is that sprang upon a loose ball and decided to have a crack at goal but was wide. At the other end Alfie Mason, who became a pain to the Hitchin defence in the second half, tried a shot but the ball was spinning and went wide. Kirkpatrick combined with Web in another move which was met with a defensive header from the very solid and very tall Toib Adeyemi, who may have lacked pace but not strength.
A Spring free kick was comically met with an unintentional defensive header from Ezra Forde. Olusanya tried to utilise his pace once again but he was nullified by the Hitchin defence. Macsen Fraser put in a cross that went for a corner, taken by Lucas Kirkpatrick. I would like him to be made skipper for a match so I could call him Captain Kirk, and he indeed matched that spaceman for heroism tonight. I was standing with his parents, Sharon and Darren and it was revealed that Lucas was a pupil at Manshead School in Dunstable during my time there as a teacher.
More corners came for Hitchin who still sought that important opening goal to complement their supremacy, but it did not come. At the other end Fraser cleared from a Stortford corner and then Galliford galloped away only to see his shot saved by Kitscha. Another move instigated by Kirkpatrick saw Tyler Hayes clear with a defensive header.
Shortly after this the whistle went for the interval and my notes read that we had been bashing the Bishops but had not converted this apparent supremacy into a goal. Yet it had been a satisfactory half as Hitchin looked cohesive in both attack and defence. The announcer was quick to remind us all that if scores were level we would go straight to penalties, without the energy draining extra-time. That rule has its merits since it may save a caution or two or a glaring error caused from fatigue, but we might have lost something along the way.
The home board room had relaxed its normal rule of jacket and tie, which has my approval and a very nice lady glancing at my baggy shorts and tee shirt made it gently clear that next time I should be the model of sartorial elegance. I concurred and we were the best of pals. I then related the anecdote I will now share with you. I was at Woodside Park for the rearranged Bryco Cup Final (for that read League Cup Final) between Thurrock and Dunstable Town. All this occurred many years ago before we all became enlightened. I was standing next to the then Dunstable chairman as the teams took to the field and it was evident that the referee was female.
‘Crikey’, he yelled in full hearing as far as Stansted Airport, ‘The referee’s a tart’. In those days it was rather unusual to have a female official and it did reveal what we now call political incorrectness.
The second half was a good deal more dramatic than the first and was rather exciting if a little unconfutable for those favouring the visitors. Substitutions were crucial and tactical. The announcer was somewhat tardy, leaving his gobbets of information for some time as if he begrudged us the facts. Danny Talbot replaced the imperious Matt Spring and Ezra Forde gave way to Charlie ‘Inswinger’ Smith. The home side took off Olusanya and replaced him with Chi Osadebe. Their inspirational next substitution was bringing on Ryan Charles for Shabazz Omoff. Charles was a revelation and seemed to want to win the tie on his own, exuding as he did both talent and confidence.
But even before this talented player entered the fray the hosts grasped the nettle and looked a different side. They effectively dismissed Hitchin’s dominance and began to test the visitors’ defence time and time again. Charles had a fine run and shot that went wide and Jamie Cureton was now living up to his reputation. He had a shot saved. Kirkpatrick had a shot blocked. A free kick for Hitchin saw Bailey have a go, bringing a good save. Cureton sent in a deceptive pass across goal that was defended. But on fifty-two minutes the hosts were awarded an undisputed penalty and it seemed that all Hitchin’s good work would be eradicated in a single strike.
There was the usual explanation and soothing of tempers from the referee as Jamie Cureton awaited his chance to put the Blues ahead. He struck confidently but Michael Johnson was equal to the task, parrying the strike and in the frenzied follow-up, was fouled and given a free-kick. So, it was still nil-nil. Then but a few minutes later there was the most startling moment of the night when new signing, full-back Macsen Fraser took on Stortford and the world and his dog with an amazing surge forward in possession, looking as if the ball was attached to his boot with super glue. A rash challenged put paid to this glory charge and a penalty was the decision. It was almost an anti-climax to the superb piece of skill and daring from Fraser.
Lucas Kirkpatrick was given the task and he converted smartly and at last we had a goal. It was the sixty-fourth minute and what it did was invigorate the hosts who laid siege to the Hitchin goal, with only Bailey staying forward. Home supporters almost sensed an equaliser and Ryan Charles had several attempts at this with some invigorating play. There were times when the ball cannoned around the penalty area and even an inelegant hoof of a clearance would gain some applause indicating relief. Yet the visitors defended with composure most of the time, counter-attacking when they could with varying results.
There is no doubt that this was now a splendid Cup-Tie in all respects. Ryan Charles had another superb run, his shot being put out for a corner by the now very busy Michael Johnson. Alfie Mason and Jamie Cureton looked increasingly dangerous, aided by the startling skills of Ryan Charles. Johnville Renee was now a very effective wing back and his work needed careful monitoring. The hosts were winning corners and causing some slight panic. Elliott Ronto was also getting forward and one move needed great work from Lewis Ferrell – who set up a quick counter with the eager Galliford. But that man Charles was simply superb.
The next bit of drama was added to by the elements.. Jamie Cureton did hos best to alert the referee to what was never the foul he claimed it to be, and the home player fell as if scythed to the bone in a most vital area of the pitch – right on the ‘D’. As he writhed in apparent agony the heavens opened as if in response to Cureton’s rain wriggle and a welcome downpour will no doubt please the farmers and gardeners in the vicinity. The prolonged downpour made Cureton rise to his feet a bit sharpish. He was not that hurt as he fired off another effort erelong and it was only a whisker wide. Trey Charles, who had come on for the industrious Jack Green had a crack that almost shaved the cross bar.
But the action was unrelenting and there were chances at both ends. Renee and Ryan Charles combined, but Johnson anticipated the cross. Lewis Ferrell tidied up at the back aided by Fraser and Syme and precision was necessary as the hosts pressed at every opportunity. Adeyemi headed clear with an almost studied indifference and Jack Thomas tried a late header to no avail. Hitchin held grimly to the lead and it was still raining when the final whistle went.
As well as being a fine cup game, I feel this was the best preparation for both teams for the opening league games. Players were stretched to their limits – pushed to their boundaries and the feeling of uncertainty about the result kept them sharp. It had been an enjoyable contest and a wholehearted display by both teams.
Cureton will be as disappointed with his penalty miss as Kirkpatrick will be satisfied and overall the team were evenly matched – both enjoying periods of dominance in both attack and defence. The game can be summed up adequately for both teams with the hosts’ Latin motto which translates as ‘At the finish line without fear.’ If all games are like this we will have a very exciting season.
Calum Kitscha, Johnville Renee, Tyler Hayes, Elliott Ronto, Toib Adeyemi, Sam Robbins, Shabazz Omoff, (Ryan Charles), Jack Thomas, Jamie Cureton, captain, Toyosi Olusanya,(Chi Osadebe), Alfie Mason. Other substitutes – Bobby Mason, GK, Freddie Oakman and Max Brassington.
Michael Johnson, Macsen Fraser, Toby Syme, Matt Spring, (Danny Talbot), Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Jack Green, (Trey Charles), Lucas Kirkpatrick, PENALTY GOAL, 64 minutes, Ezra Forde, (Charlie Smith), Elliot Bailey, Isaac Galliford. Other substitutes – Scott Belgrove and Michael King.
Referee – Lee Grimesy, assisted by Graham Swanton and Douglas Lawson.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN