It has seemed a long time since the Canaries had a game. Since that game storms and rain have caused various postponements.
The trip to Coalville, still renowned for the philanthropic George Smith, who did so much for this mining community in former times, was one of trepidation given the walloping they dished out to Hitchin last season. This was mitigated to some extent by the narrow home win for the Canaries – and was remarkable for the fact that it was the Leicestershire side’s first defeat of the season.
The League table showed that the Ravens’ defence was one of the meanest in the division which would be a challenge to Hitchin who, and we are proudly aware, have beaten some of the top teams away. Could there be a repeat of this success? The answer was yes and I like to believe that this latest win was in recognition of our Club Secretary’s birthday.
The usual pleasing custom of pre-kick off handshakes was dispensed with under general advice concerning the Coronavirus outbreak. Yet, despite this the players routinely pressed the flesh at the conclusion of the game.
What transpired was a workmanlike win for Hitchin in a very tight encounter. The early stages saw patient probing from both sides without serious threat on either goal.
There was a stylish flick from Thomas McGlinchey that was monitored by Charlie Horlock. A good Hitchin move on the left involving the impressive Layne Eadie and an eager Rio Da Silva won a corner. Brett Donnelly connected but was gently reprimanded by the referee for not so cunning handball. Donnelly had an interesting tussle with Stuart Pierpoint, playfully hanging onto his neck but it was pleasingly just a jest and both experienced players had committed games that suggested their enjoyment levels are still high.
McGlinchey followed his earlier effort with a fair shot again held by Horlock. A home corner was well defended and a huge clearance from Horlock presented Alex Marsh with a heading opportunity but it lacked the power to test Saul Deeney.
After twenty-eight minutes of even opportunities the Ravens took the lead from a free kick from the left. It was a curious goal in a way as Billy Kee’s low driven shot found the net without a touch from anyone else. It looked a poor goal to concede but Hitchin responded strongly.
But this was not until Kee had another crack on goal that went wide. Donnelly’s fine pass to Da Silva saw the latter run out of pitch before he could cross. In the thirty-third minute Hitchin equalised in an emphatic manner. Horlock’s majestic goal kick found Marsh whose pass to Jhai Dhillon who struck well to score with Deeney getting a hand to it too late.
After this Hitchin looked dangerous again with Marsh again combining with Dhillon but it only won a corner which was curiously poor. Ben Walster saw a number of opportunities for his long range passing and if they did not all come off it did keep up some pressure.
When Eadie was fouled, Joe Doyle-Charles was cautioned. The free-kick was adequately defended but it did enable Donnelly to try his luck with a shot on the turn. The most exciting moments of this first half came in the last few minutes when both teams had chances – Webb with a header and Stephen Towers really wasted his chance. Da Silva manfully tried to hoodwink the referee with a neat foul that had it gone unnoticed he had a free run on goal.
At the interval it was I think a fair reflection of a goal apiece. I repeat here my description of workmanlike as both teams had probed for weaknesses and had been well matched. Eadie, Walster and Dhillon had been outstanding and the overall Hitchin performance was a huge improvement on the corresponding fixture last season. The game at Top Field was similar to the one today and again was won by a single goal margin.
There was an irony in Donnelly’s booking at the start of the second half as another referee might have given him the benefit of the doubt and today’s official ignored Donnelly’s smiling disbelief. There was some pleasing combination play from Hitchin, which if not ultimately successful was good to see. Similarly Coalville constructed some smart moves with McGlinchey and Stephen Towers having opportunities.
A Walster cross found Dhillon who penetrated the penalty area to good effect but only won a corner. This caused defensive mayhem with Da Silva getting a vital touch and the much improved Lewis Barker heading Hitchin ahead. Da Silva was replaced by Diogo Freitas Gouveia immediately after the celebration.
Coalville pushed forward and forced Horlock to concede a corner. This, like others was defended but there were a few worrying moments when The Ravens harried the Canaries into errors that were thankfully slight rather than serious.
Marsh had a shot saved after some pretty build up play and some equally impressive play from Coalville saw substitute Thomas Berridge fire weakly. A free kick on the halfway line saw goalkeeper Deeney stride forward to blast it and Barker headed clear.
Further substitutes were made and notable here was Max Ryan brought on in stoppage time and found himself cautioned for time wasting after only a couple of minutes in the fray. Horlock was similarly dealt with as the hosts pressurised for a point. Berridge set up one move and receiving a return pass he blasted over the bar.
It is a fact, universally acknowledged that if your team is leading by a single goal, time added seems eternal and if you are losing it runs out all too quickly. Hitchin needed to keep calm in these closing minutes but there was sterling defending from skipper Webb and Hitchin saw the game out in the pleasing knowledge that they had achieved the double over sixth-placed Coalville.
It was a deserved win achieved through a disciplined performance. Hitchin’s recent away form has been impressive and today’s win replicated the much praised win at Bromsgrove.
What is needed now is a similarly tight display against Peterborough Sports on Monday.
Saul Deeney, Stuart Pierpoint, cautioned, Scott McManus, Stephen Towers, captain, Kalern Thomas, cautioned, Joe Doyle-Charles, cautioned, Jake Bennett, (Timothy Berridge, 70), Kian Taylor, Billy Kee, GOAL 28 Minutes, Kairo Mitchell, cautioned, Thomas McGlinchey, (Leandro Brown, 85).
Substitutes not used – Sean Bowles, GK, Ellis Storey and Alexander Dean.
Charles Horlock, cautioned, Jack Green, Layne Eadie, this reporter’s Man Of The Match, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, Captain, Ben Walster, Lewis Barker, GOAL, 63 MINUTES, Jhai Dhillon, GOAL 33 MINUTES, (Max Ryan 92), Brett Donnelly, cautioned, Alex Marsh, cautioned, Rio Da Silva, (Diogo Freitas Gouveia, 63).
Substitutes not used – Joshua Coldicott-Stevens and Kye Tearle.
REFEREE: Mr Lewis Morgan assisted by Mr Richard King and Mr Christopher Arnell.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN