This was my first visit to the Huntingdonshire club and as I write this I wonder if Chris Newbold, a Fulham supporter, knows that Eynesbury Rovers’ record attendance was 5,000 in 1955 when they played Fulham in a friendly. In that match the great Stanley Matthews played for Eynesbury. It was not as busy tonight, with the casual attire of most spectators matched with what seemed a most casual first half. Since pre-season games are a lot to do with players reaching optimum fitness and since the temperature still exceeded 80 degrees Fahrenheit it is all quite understandable, really.
The Alfred Hall Memorial Ground sees the hosts play in the United Counties League, Premier Division and the ground staff is to be praised for the excellent state of the pitch – it was close-cropped and reminds us that grass is green and not hay coloured like my lawns. I liked the new stand behind one of the goals – a masterwork of scaffolding in Meccano complexity.
There were a number of changes to the Hitchin team that achieved a comfortable victory over Arlesey Town, who play at a level compatible with our hosts tonight. But I must say that the first half performance was rather like my riding a bicycle these days – it took a long time to get going.
In the starting line-up were Connor Clarke, Paddy Tshikala, Matt Spring, Charlie Smith, Michael King, Kieran Barnes and Dan Webb. Matt Spring was almost invisibly substituted early on by Robbie Burns, as if the old warrior was being reserved for greater things erelong. Once again I apologise that I did not have a team sheet for the hosts.
Tshikala came on as a substitute against Arlesey and he was impressive on the flanks – and so he was tonight. An early run, where he took on defenders before placing his cross was typical of his energetic approach. He later moved more infield and became less effective. When he returned to that position in the second half he was a tantalising menace. Early on, Trey Charles had a go and Michael King shot into the side netting after an intricate build-up.
I do not know if anyone will agree with my general observation, that when a team faces nominally lower opposition, their level of intricate play increases. Eynesbury were direct in their approach and I do not fault that in any way. Hitchin were intricate to the point of being a tad laborious. This was echoed by Mick Docking , our programme editor, who asked a repeated rhetorical question of ‘What is wrong with playing it forward?’ If possession is nine tenths of the law then I wonder why dominating possession of the ball did not create more than it did in this first half. George Graham used to ask of what worth were forty delicate passes if it does not translate into a masterful goal.
If patience is a virtue then we had a very virtuous squad who took some time to improve on that shot into the side netting. The home side had an enforced patience but they must be commended for playing themselves into this game and they had one or two efforts that were sincere but inaccurate. As well as this they were up against a miserly Canary defence that looked destined to keep a clean sheet. Tshikala put in a cross that begged connection but it was missed by all. Hitchin were also caught off-side an indecent number of times by an eagle –eyed assistant referee.
It was not riveting stuff and we fell to making remarks about the change of balls, necessitated by an optimistic punt or two that nestled in the undergrowth or eluded searchers in the car park. At one stage we had an orange ball, which might have been used in case it snowed. Yes, it did seem that the more intricate the play it was a harbinger for a disappointing finish. Hitchin were dominant but it took almost to half-time before the first goal was scored. It was a strike worth the waiting and Michael King finished superbly on the turn.
And indeed it proved to be a turning point since Hitchin imposed themselves with greater skill and awareness in the second half, but it must be said that the hosts never flagged and they did manage a consolation goal late on – from the much maligned long ball. They produced creditable chances but these were spoiled by poor finishing and also by stout, precise defending from Hitchin.
At the resumption, Chris Newbold guided me through the substitutions but it reached a point of confusion that brought the relieving remark, ‘Just say there were multi subs’. I did note the appearance of Elliot Bailey, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Ezra Forde and Charlie Thrake. I was delighted that Tshikala was now on the right flank and it was this re-positioning that brought the game’s most elegant moment and a goal within three minutes of the restart.
Tshikala’s spirited run in possession on the right brought a perfect cross that provided Lucas Kirkpatrick with a chance he could not miss and Hitchin were two up. It was a lovely piece of football. More was to come in the next few minutes with hitchin rampant and in definite gear. First Charlie Thrake found the net – disallowed for off0side but moments later he scored legitimately and it was three-nil. Elliot Bailey had a blocked shot after good work and on seventy minutes, in a crowded penalty area, Ezra Forde squeezed the ball past the Eynesbury keeper. Four-nil. This was an adequate reflection of superiority of the senior team, but it did not diminish Eynesbury’ efforts to obtain some compensation.
Thrake had another go with a header but this was saved and at the other end, a promising, well-worked move from the hosts saw the ball blasted high and mighty and a long way from the goal. Eynesbury also had a header that cleared the bar and Thrake also saw his next effort go the same way. – it was close range and I feel he ought to have scored.
As the game entered its last minutes there came the solitary successful strike from the hosts, following a long ball forward that saw the striker stride ahead of the last defender to finish well. This type of goal does show that even the most disciplined defence can be caught out with direct emphasis. The game was thus to me like a novel by Joseph Conrad. At the start you are not sure what is going on and then everything gradually falls into place and one has the enjoyment that comes with patience and understanding.
The Hitchin town squad tonight was:
Michael Johnson, Connor Clarke, Toby Syme, Lewis Ferrell, Dan Web, Paddy Tshikala, Matt Spring, Charlie Smith, Michael King, GOAL, 44 minutes, Kieran Barnes, Trey Charles.
Subs- Robbie Burns, Ezra Forde, GOAL, 70 minutes, Elliot Bailey, Lucas Kirkpatrick, GOAL, 48 minutes, Charlie Thrake, GOAL, 65 minutes, Kyle Davison-Gordon, Jon Butler, Alex Anderson.