This was my first visit to The Victoria Ground for some years – and in those days it was Rovers and not Sporting. It was emphasised that Sporting is a new and separate team but understandably many home supporters looked back in nostalgia – chanting “Green Army” even though Sporting now sport red shirts and navy shorts. But there is a nod to the past as their away kit is the old Rovers colours of green and white stripes.
Bromsgrove Sporting the club has been very successful and has maintained average home attendance figures approaching a thousand.
It was 966 today and the two dozen from Hitchin were the happier. As the players entered the arena the song “Vindaloo” was playing and when it got to the bit ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ my private thought was that if the Canaries went down by an a one goal margin it might almost seem respectable given the Rouslers lofty position in the table. The irony of that was welcome.
I have often said that Hitchin have the pleasing tendency to raise their game when faced with the top teams and so it was today but it must be said that Bromsgrove were below par. But this game did not really come alive until the second half which was frantic to say the least.
Hitchin named Brett Donnelly in the starting line-up and Jhai Dhillon was back after his recovery from injury. Donnelly was in the Stephen Cawley role and did well and Dhillon provided a threat on the left. This threat was replicated by Bromsgrove’s Greg Mills and in this relatively uneventful first period the better chances came from the flanks.
The teams had battled to a 2-2 draw in October with Hitchin bagging the equaliser in stoppage time. The visitors settled fairly well on a pitch that shows the evidence of its weekly pounding since the venue is shared with Worcester City, who had, I noticed, a handful of supporters at the game.
An early cross from Mills brought a corner and this brought a shot that cleared the bar. The exciting Shaquille McDonald looked like he might be tormenting the Hitchin defence but after he received a peach of a pass he scuffed his effort.
What was noticeable about these early and indeed later exchanges was the number of interceptions as well as the ill-judged passes and over hopeful long balls. Whilst it was wholly acceptable that no early goal had been conceded, there was not at this stage a real threat from Hitchin and when Lewis Barker was cautioned for a challenge I was not alone in thinking it might have been a bit harsh since there seemed no malice afore thought – but it was dangerous enough to warrant the card. I just hoped that LB would not have his fire fanned in later stages and suffer dismissal since his presence was vital.
The best effort from Hitchin came from a Ryan Smith shot that needed a careful save from Daniel Platt. Charlie Dowd had a fine run in possession which was well blocked. Dowd reprised this move and put in a decent cross that brought a corner.
Mills’ next effort went over the bar and a late cross for the impressive Alex Marsh was just too heavy for connection. Inconclusive play led us to the interval without a goal but the second period provided an electric pace and a growing atmosphere.
I think any neutral reader will understand my short report of the funeral last Wednesday of Hitchin stalwart supporter and volunteer John Grey. I was greatly touched by the moving ceremony and a respectful attendance of club officials joining John’s family. Right at the end of the service after the solemn farewell from the presiding member of the clergy John was borne away to the strains of “Colonel Bogey”, which was the tune for Hitchin’s entry in days of yore. I felt honoured to be there and had the proud feeling of being among an extended family. Bless you, John.
Bromsgrove began in earnest and this was an early test for Dan Webb and the defence he marshalled so well. Nerves were in evidence when Charlie Horlock fumbled from a corner but recovered. We phewed, I think.
Then, following a Hitchin free- kick, Rolfe’s pass was met by Dan Webb who was bundled over and Hitchin were awarded a penalty. Déjà vu. But this time it was converted. Secretary Roy Izzard predicted it whilst the Chairman informed a home fan that ten from fourteen had been missed.
Selected for the spot kick was Layne Eadie and he did as before – he fired with power right down the middle and although Platt pushed the ball against the bar I am sure it had already crossed the line. At last – a converted penalty..
We were only in the forty-nine minutes in and we expected a deluge of attacks from the hosts. This was not before Ben Walster was cautioned for his ‘celebratory’ launching of the match-ball out of the ground into a distant part of Worcestershire.
This deluge did happen but without real venom. Horlock punched away a corner and Gift Mussa headed an effort harmlessly behind following another.
Indeed in defence the hosts had curious moments of laxity. They were fortunate that Dhillon did not fully punish one severe goalkeeper error and that Donnelly did not follow through successfully from close range.
Hitchin were now looking the better team. The hosts when they made maximum substitutions it was like a desperate act and when Hitchin made their changes it was more tactical.
The ebullient Marsh contested every ball and had a super game – deservedly scoring a headed second goal. Much was owed to the enthusiasm and skill of Rio Da Silva who cut in from the flanks at any opportunity. His cross provided Marsh and thus it was 2-0.
Bromsgrove reacted predictably and had their best period of the match and full credit goes to the Hitchin defence for their sheer determination. Not only did they contain successive efforts, they created many counter attacks both through the middle and on the flanks. Nevertheless I was impressed with just how quickly the home defence recovered.
Da Silva had a shot blocked and a cross cut out by Platt. A fine flick from Donnelly gave Marsh yet another chance and he did come close to achieving this. Urged on by home supporters, Bromsgrove pushes forward and at times quite stylishly
The pressure they exerted did bring the reward of a goal but had Lewis Rolfe elected to clear rather than attempt a passive pass it might have been avoided and made the last stages less hectic. Following a point blank save of high merit from Horlock, substitute William Shorrock blasted home with urgent emphasis and it raised the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
The goal was timed at seventy-four minutes and it meant a stern test for the visitors. In two assaults on the Hitchin goal there were optimistic appeals for a home penalty which were in hope rather than expectation.
Barker tried a speculative shot from range that was well worth the effort but the pattern was frantic home attacks and cunning counter moves from the visitors who may well have made at least one count – but the Bromsgrove recovery was good.
Hitchin substitute Diogo Freitas Gouveia showed a bit of continental flair with an acrobatic clearance in the penalty area with an overhead kick. It was not show-boating but his only viable option. He and fellow substitute Jacob Hutchinson proved to be a bit of an energy draining menace to the tiring hosts who continued to seek an equaliser.
But Hitchin contested the ball with real application and as such they deserved not to hang on but to see the game to its conclusion. It was a deserved win on the road for the Canaries and owes much to the team selection and the fine timing of the substitutions.
It demonstrates that on their day and with cohesive play the team can and has beaten one or two of the best teams in the league. Bromsgrove officials were gracious in defeat but did not spare themselves a wedge of criticism against their team who were only really galvanised when two goals to the bad.
The one thing needful is for the Canaries to put in a similar performance against next week’s visitors to Top Field namely Peterborough Sports. Yes we can recall that astonishing 4-0 win at their place but it will be anticipated that they will look for reparations.
But for now we heartily congratulate the team on a handsome win and three more points that more than ensures safety and will instil a degree of confidence.
Daniel Platt, Harry Higginson, Jack Wilson, Gift Mussa, Thomas Taylor, Leon Broadhurst, Greg Mills, Liam Spink, ( Joshua Quaynor) , Shaquille Mc Donald, Richard Gregory captain, (Reece Styche), Charlie Dowd, (William Shorrock, GOAL, 74 MINUTES).
Substitutes not used: Max Beardmore and Lewis Chester.
Charlie Horlock, Lewis Rolfe, Layne Eadie, PENALTY GOAL 49 MINUTES, Ryan Smith, Daniel Webb , captain, Ben Walster, cautioned, Lewis Barker, cautioned, Jhai Dhillon, Brett Donnelly, (Jacob Hutchinson, 73), Alex Marsh, GOAL 71 MINUTES, Rio Da Silva, ( Diogo Freitas Gouveia).
Substitutes not used: Josh Coldicott-Stevens, Kyle Tearle and Joshua Bickerstaff.
REFEREE: Mr Richard Eley, Derby, assisted by Mr Kieran Hatfield, Swadlincote, and Mr Paul Kirkuk, Burton on Trent. All had sound games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN