This was ultimately a gallant display from Hitchin, who came from a 2-0 deficit at the interval, conceded a third soon after resumption and then stormed back with two goals from Bradley Bell and then had a Max Ryan equaliser disallowed for off-side in the closing minutes. I t was so pleasing to see the team still trying to play after being effectively contained by their Conference South opponents.
This was the Hertfordshire Senior Challenge Cup and turned out to be the last domestic cup tie for Hitchin, and watched by an attendance that was only twelve above the ninety-one that braved Broadwater for the Berkhamsted game in the Charity Cup. On such a bitterly cold night it is quite understandable – but for those who did go it must have seemed for a good while that, given The Tudors’ stylish display the gulf between Conference South and the Southern Premier was rather noticeable.
But this was more gradual than immediate – and Hitchin had a rather splendid opening spell that afforded opportunities to take a surprise lead. Stephen Cawley had been permitted to play against his parent club and he was clearly out to make a point – but needed to be substituted owing to injury before half an hour had been played. Hitchin showed urgency, a desire to win the ball and get forward. This was all very well but the hosts were ready for it and somewhat adept at the swift counter move that required careful defending.
Rob Sinclair’s was the first shot to test Horlock and Jake Evans fired over the bar very shortly after. A fine move involving Marsh and Da Silva could have been fully exploited but Sam Beasant was quick off his line to neutralise and then set up another counter move, which saw Sinclair put in another cross.
The pace was impressive from both teams – and already the hosts were demonstrating the kind of sweeping play that exudes confidence. Jake Evans and Sinclair seemed to pop up all over the forward areas – but in a fine moment, Cawley won possession, and there was good play from Jack Green and Rio Da Silva and the move culminated with Cawley’s pass to Marsh and the ball striking the foot of the post. Exciting stuff, but off-side.
Then a shot from the eager Cawley brought a corner and from this Webb’s header hit the cross bar. This though was about as good as it got as Hemel reacted in a way that suggested that they had endured as much as they were disposed to and they began to move forward stylishly with some engaging play that was very slick at times. But the first real break came from a free-kick, centrally outside the area in what was a very inviting position.
Sadly, Cawley’s game was over owing to injury and Brett Donnelly entered the fray. Jake Evan’s perfect free- kick put the Tudors ahead almost with an air of nonchalance. Max Ryan had returned to the Hitchin line-up tonight, now being dual registered with Braintree and we were glad of his presence which he had made felt in that promising opening spell – but he does supply a good deal of Hitchin’s energy in attacking moves. In another fine forward move the hosts appeared to add to their lead the assistant flagged for offside.
There was a shot that went wide from Layne Eadie, but it was mostly Hemel possession and play strongly suggesting that a legitimate goal was in the offing. This came about six minutes before the interval and from an attack on the right, which was finished well by the impressive Jack Midson. Hitchin could not argue – they had been pushed back and found it hard to win the ball. Hemel were using some squad players but the quality of their play was very much in evidence. The best the Canaries could muster was a wild, wide shot from Donnelly, who had an entirely reasonable and trouble-free game.
I was pleased with the way Hitchin had begun the game and created various possibilities – but it was understandable that the higher placed hosts would impose themselves the way that they did and this was to continue into the second half – but a number of substitutions seemed to affect their rhythm and we had an unexpected cliffhanger of the last part of this match which was good for entertainment and a fine boost to the visitors’ confidence.
Interval comments were largely about how the hosts had quietly achieved the initiative and had cruised to that two goal lead that would, in all probability be added to erelong. Home supporters did their best to inject a bit of ‘good natured ill-feeling’ with the usual taunts – but it was more of a chore and a duty than being borne of passion. I can answer the question of ‘Is that all you take away?’ with no it is not, but so many Canary supporters tend to take a night off from domestic cup ties – and of course, home supporters were missing in droves.
It was a pity as this was eventually a very competitive game and we were supplied with the ‘cliché’ of the comeback of the underdog and the thorny drama of the disallowed equaliser. Mind you, we of the Hitchin contingent were quite glad that the game did not go to penalties, The truth is out there and we are not playing our cards close to our chest. But surely we would not have missed all of them? Happily the question is academic.
Well, once underway, Hemel continued to display a nonchalant superiority, spreading play, retaining possession and it seemed the game would be seen out this way. Hitchin had a couple of good goes with Da Silva firing over from the better of these. The third goal for the Tudors was almost embarrassingly simple as Sam Ashford, from gaining possession on the right was allowed to cut in virtually unchallenged and he put in a low and accurate shot that made it three-nil.
This was a cue for the more vocal of the home supporters to sing the question of ‘Can we play you every week?’ but given the conclusion of this match they might not be so self-assured. I say this because it is no exaggeration to report that Hitchin’s dramatic comeback almost occasioned the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
Yes, Charlie Horlock was forced into two successive saves of great quality and Da Silva cleared one from the line – and indeed our former Hitchin hero in Isaac Galliford, who came on as substitute, should really have put the game beyond doubt on two occasions. Perhaps he was the victim of sentiment – but I think not.
Humour was not absent, and when our assistant manager asked a seemingly rhetorical question as he exhorted his team with ‘ Who is listening to me?’ The taunting reply from the Hemel directors’ box was ‘No-one, mate’. Our hooded assistant manager continued undaunted. Life taunts us from time to time.
We were pleased that there was a bit of stylish play from Hitchin to match the sweeping moves of the hosts. Yes, they were generally intercepted, but it was nice to see, all the same. It was three-nil and I was pencilling in notes that would reflect the superiority of technique from the higher placed hosts, but that the score was a fair reflection of the game.
When Kye Tearle came on as a substitute, our secretary Roy Izzard was supplying me with ‘copy’ insofar as this youngster whose number sixteen shirt reflected his age makes him, according to Roy, the youngest player to turn out for a Hitchin first team. Roy’s word on such matters is always unchallenged, and he was earnestly cheering on the youngster who came quite close to being the youngest ever player to score for the Canaries, by definition. Alas, he did not, but Bradley Bell, another substitute, scored not once, but twice and the first of these with a back heel that might have made our absent programme secretary concede it was a bit of cheeky skill.
That back-heeled goal was accepted as a stylish bit of consolation, but after the second went in there was a bit of a panic in the home side and , good lord we saw four cautions for time wasting in as many minutes and was it because our illustrious opponents were getting a bit rattled. Oho, can we play you every week?
Yes, the hosts wasted a couple of efforts that they really ought to have scored from but the underdogs had a bit of bite and when Bell made it 3-2 it was the manner of the goal rather than the goal that mattered. By this I mean there was a persistence close to the by-line to keep the ball in play and insist on trying to get in a fair pass. This is what happened and it was 3-2.
It was not just a quixotic gesture, and eyebrows were raised when Ryan’s header beat Beasant but the assistant ruled it off-side. That is all part of the script one supposes. I chuckled inwardly at the thought of Hitchin getting a late penalty and when the question was asked as to who should take it, there would be players looking the other way, their hands in their imaginary pockets with a non-committal whistling.
It was too late of course. The official digital clock was understating and it ended with a win for the hosts but it had not been as easy as it might have been. I was indeed proud of the show put on by the lads in green. This was no pushover but a tight finish and there was very nearly an upset. But I am pleased that we avoided the penalty shoot-out, all the same.
For a domestic cup tie it seemed to elevate itself beyond that downbeat description, and I am glad of it.
If nothing else it was excellent preparation for the visits of high-flying Royston Town to Top Field on Saturday and then the rejuvenated Leiston on the following Monday.
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD TOWN
Sam Beasant, Jaques Kpohomouh, Tosan Popo, Luke Howell, (Tyrone Sterling), Connor Essam, captain, Aron Davies, cautioned, Jack Midson, GOAL, 39 MINUTES, (Isaac Galliford), Jake Evans,GOAL, 27 MINUTES, cautioned, Aaron Jarvis, cautioned, Rob Sinclair, (Deon Moore), Sam Ashford, GOAL, 55 MINUTES.
Substitutes not used – Mitch Dickenson and Kofi Halliday.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, Max Ryan, Stephen Cawley, (Brett Donnelly), Alex Marsh, (Bradley Bell -TWO GOALS, 78 AND 82 MINUTES), Rio Da Silva, (Kye Tearle, 72).
Substitutes not used – Josh Coldicott-Stevens and Lewis Rolfe.
REFEREE: Mr Lee Grimesy, assisted by Mr tom Cartwright and Ms Joanne Horwood.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN