This was not a spectacular game, as the lack of score suggests, but there were two pivotal moments, one in each half where the Canaries were denied a goal by the cross bar and the post. Either moment could have garnered the points, but the consensus was that today’s goalless draw and a point apiece was an equitable result.
At the stop on the outward journey we shared the coach park at Corley Services with the team coaches of King’s Lynn Town, Lowestoft Town and Welwyn Garden City. Ensigns were dipped and courtesies exchanged. We arrived in good time at The Grove and it has been a dozen years since Hitchin’s last visit to this very impressive stadium.
Team news was limited. Lewis Ferrell began his two match suspension and Harry Draper was still unavailable owing to tonsillitis. Tonsillitis asked someone – did he not play for Panathinaikos? Morgan Penfold was back, albeit on the bench. In the corresponding fixture, as I recall, The Yeltz took the lead then after conceding an equaliser fell apart and conceded a further four goals. The only goals scored today were from the flotilla of small children who peopled the pitch after the game and had a lot more enjoyment than we did.
Under new management, the Yeltz were anxious to please their persistently vociferous supporters, who banged their drums and chanted incessantly, heedless of their limited repertoire. But from the outset, it was Hitchin who looked the more dangerous going forward. We had an off-side in the first ten seconds which was unusual. It was windy, cloudy and cold and Alfie Cue was wearing natty black gloves.
Halesowen had a foray or two along the left, with Jack Kelly looking willing. They had a free-kick which went out to the left to Wright, but it came to nought. Hitchin enjoyed the better possession, with Michael Cain sending in decent passes. Forde was unable to reach one of these, and this was not an isolated statistic. Cue was brought down for a free-kick, and Chesmain managed a shot that was held comfortably by Daniel Platt.
Chesmain managed another one, with the goalie again holding it well. Ezra Forde had a blocked shot next, and then Jack Till was well tackled on his forward run by Jack Green. Ivor Lawton combined Jack Kelly and Samir Nabi and a shot from Jack Till went wide. Cain picked up on the edge of the area but the return pass was intercepted. The Yeltz had a corner, headed away by Dowie. Hitchin began to be more insistent but found the home defence unyielding. The versatile Bickerstaff was playing a central role in defence, and Chesmain was able to marshal a few good attacking moves. It was not, however, riveting stuff. Belgrove won a free-kick, taken by Galliford, which was well defended. Chesmain, taking a pass from Dowie put in a blaster of a shot that struck the underside of the bar but it bounced forward of the goal line. That would have been a memorable goal after twenty-three minutes. It was, however, the closest we got to a goal in the first half, although Galliford’s following shot needed a good save from Daniel Platt.
He had another go that was put out for a corner. This was delayed as there was the usual jostling that brought the usual reprimands. Cue’s cute back heel to Galliford saw the latter fouled but the resultant free kick was of no consequence, as Cue shot rather wide. The home drums increased in tempo, which did not have the same effect on the game. Green put one over the bar after thirty-four minutes. I noticed an uninviting kind of pond, outside the ground deep below the terracing, where errant balls had seemingly long nestled with no hope of recovery. I think they have been there or even added to since my last visit.
The half drifted to a close with not much more happening in terms of goal attempts, as passes tended to be over hit or were intercepted. Hot soup was the order of the day in the board room, and I think we all looked forward to a more memorable second half. This hope was largely unfulfilled but the Yeltz had an opening flurry where they may well have taken the lead, but it was only very late in the game that they had a better chance when substitute Lee Hughes skimmed the ball off his shaven head, but Johnson held it well.
Both teams made eventual substitutes- whose eagerness was apparent and Jay Bird for Hitchin had many moments of promise. Whilst I am not saying it was deadly dull it was more of a case where both teams if they could not win, dared not lose, as both were in need of points, Halesowen more so, given their perilous position at present. Cain shot wide in one Hitchin attack, underlining his presence as the Hitchin star man today. Nabi had a shot after a partial clearance from Bickerstaff. A Halesowen wasted shot went skywards from Bragoli, who had the decency to hold his head in abject apology to the home faithful who beat their drums and chanted until the final whistle – great support from them.
Belgrove had a similar miss and I began to wonder if a bit of magic from a set piece might settle matters either way. Galliford assisted Cue, who shot wide and looked miserable about it as well. Forde lost his way on a forward run, and Till had a tilt that favoured Johnson. Nabi was replaced by Curley who was cautioned a little later. He and Griffiths were the only cautions in a generally clean game that was controlled impressively by the youthful referee.
Penfold came on for the disconsolate Cue, and The Yeltz employed Fitzpatrick and Hughes for Coyle and Till. Cain’s cross was cut out and it seemed that only a precious moment would make this defence yield. Cain’s pass to Forde saw the latter shoot wide. Penfold’s cross was defended but Chesmain had a shot blocked and then Cain’s effort took a deflection.
The game needed a goal and perhaps if Chesmain’s strike in the first half had gone in we might have seen a better match. Curley curled in a cross that was robustly cleared and Forde’s shot at the other end could have been a lot more effective. The shadow of a nil-nil was already encroaching as was the view that a point away from home was a fair return.
It could have been better as a free kick from Hitchin was seen to strike the inside of the far post. Galliford’s earlier free kick had been routinely defended but this later one was so painfully close. Cain had put another straight at the keeper – but the one that might have mattered lingered in the memory on the somnolent coach journey back to Hitchin.
The Galliford free kick rebounded off the inside of the post and that really was the last significant away effort and apart from Hughes and his late effort there was not much else to these closing stages and I expect that there is a degree of satisfaction felt about the sharing of the points. It is clear that Halesowen are rebuilding with their new management duo but they will have to work hard to haul clear of the drop zone.
Hitchin face another away trip next Saturday (16 March) where they face King’s Lynn Town who will be anxious to make amends for their somewhat heavy midweek defeat to the Canaries at the end of January. As for this match, all those I spoke to, home or away felt that the result was a fair one. But I still think about those two efforts that grazed the cross bar and post.
But a last word here is a salute to the home supporters whose match long enthusiasm with drums, chants and all the rest was indeed good to see and hear. Well done all.
Daniel Platt, sponsors’ man of the match, Samuel Griffiths, cautioned, Jack Kelly, Ivor Lawton, Kieran Morris, Callam Mendez-Jones, Daniel Bragoli, captain, Samir Nabi, (Matthias Curley, 60, cautioned), Andre Wright, Callum Coyle, (Joe Fitzpatrick, 72), Jack Till, (Lee Hughes, 67).
Substitutes not used – Asa Charlton and Enock Ekongo.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, Michael Cain, this reporter’s Hitchin star man, Scott Belgrove, Jay Bird, 69), Ezra Forde, Isaac Galliford, Alfie Cue, (Morgan Penfold, 63).
Substitutes not used – Lukas Didik, Max Ryan and Edwin Mensah.
REFEREE: Mr Greg Rollason, who had a fine game, ably assisted by Mr Niall Smith and Mr Brandon Scaife.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN