Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but this collection of jewels was potentially off the Christmas card list of Hitchin Town supporters, since the Northamptonshire side had snatched a deserved lead and looked like inflicting a third successive home defeat on the Canaries. That would have been too much to bear, and then a third penalty in two games was awarded and this time it was converted and it saved the game and earned a point, a precious point.
What I particularly liked about this game was the pace and endeavour from both sides. Whilst the visitors were the more creative overall, they were matched by a similar fighting spirit. On the team sheet was a new name at number nine for Hitchin – one Ross Hannah, signed from Stevenage, apparently.
The hosts began well, well-intentioned and keen to atone for the two points surrendered from profligate penalties at Banbury. Ben Acquaye, an impressive player of pace and verve, won a corner – one of many in this half. Hitchin tidied up from these – not always with grace and favour – but they did defend as well as at Banbury. Horlock was called upon to defend a shot from Acquaye, and this was one of a number.
New signing Hannah sent a fair pass to /Okuboyejo, who was short of the mark and not for the last time – but this earnest player had a major say in how this match eventually turned out. Diamonds were beginning to ask questions, and were slick in the counter attack. Anderson had a chance at this time but the effort cleared the bar with unwanted exuberance. Okuboyejo also had a shot but
Sam Johnson’s cross was a fair one, and defended – they went in another that brought a wild shot that went wide. Seventeen minutes in and the pace was still hot. Diamonds won a corner that Horlock pushed away with both hands,which was a nice variation. Green appeared to be cautioned, but I am not entirely sure why, but no matter. On we went with this intriguing match. Okuboyejo tried a shot that clipped a defender and was thus easy for Ben Heath, pretty in pink and wearing a number thirteen shirt.
The visitors were, like Banbury, quite stylish and a little more dangerous, bu theere was some cool defending from Lewis Ferrell and skipper Dan Webb, aided by Layne Eadfie who will only grown influence. A long throw from Diamonds brought a back header that had to be tipped out for a corner. There was a chance for Matthew Slinn that was beaten away. I felt that the main difference was that Rushden were the more probing side at this stage and they did look like they had a goal within them.
Despite this the first half did not see a successful strike and we had fair reasons to feel satisfied with the Hitchin showing so far.
I did notice that among the spectators that there were one or two ‘spies’ from Barton Rovers, who are at home to Hitchin on Saturday in the FA Cup and they were not exactly quaking in their boots. Yet it had been a decent half of clean play, with the visitors being marginally superior.
It did occur to me that this was the third home game and it almost seemed that the hosts were the away team, who, if not exactly hanging on, were having a hard time in getting forward with some good effect. Diamonds were fourth in the table and were proving to be an well organised side, playing decent football.
I wondered if the second half would turn out to be as eventful as that frenetic second period at Banbury – not quite , but there was a penalty – ~Hitchin’s third in two games – and it was hoped that they could score a goal from open play.
Hitchin’s play so far had been like the curate’s egg – good in parts – the biggest disappointment being the able construction of forward moves where passes connected well with forward players – but then there was a cross from Ryan that nearly fell for Dan Webb who could not get his shot away.
Jack Green had been impressive and so had Charlie Horlock, who kept one out from Julian McDonald. Ryan hit one on the spin that almost left the premises and thus cannot be put doen as a shot on target. No substitutions for either side had been made at half-time, which may be indicative, but this was to change quite soon.
Patrick Casey got in a cross grabbed by Horlock, who then made a wonderful save from Acquaye , even if this was negated by the off-side flag. There was a fine shot on the turn from Jack Ashton, from a tight angle, and there was a feeling that the visitors were going to keep this slight initiative.
Free-kicks from either side did not raise the temperature, but the visitors, in switching play, patiently did keep up the subtle pressure that had imposed. A shot from Ryan brought a routine save from Heath. It was still a tight encounter but left the feeling that the first goal would be the only Diamonds’ long throw brought a corner and this being only partially cleared brought another cross that resulted in a headed goal from Jack Ashton who picked the only space available to him but it was well taken and it made Hitchin’s task all the more difficult. The goal was times at sixty-eight minutes and, even with the time left we felt we might be looking at a third successive home defeat.
Okuvboyejo’s cross in a reatliatory attack was defended – and Anderson’s shot was wayward.
Diamonds made two swift substitutions. I made the note that it was not certain that Hitchin would equalise but it looked increasingly unlikely as time went on. Importantly the effort was there. Hannah was doing his best on his debut which may be described as promising but quiet.
Horlock made a great save from a belter of a shot from Ryan Dove and then diamonds made their third permitted substitute – with Dove being replaced. Anderson made way for Dowie and I wondered if the subtle control imposed by the visitors would be broken in open play.
But time was ticking and a maximum of a quarter of an hour remained to save this match from ignominious defeat. An equaliser did come but not from open play. A bright moment saw Okuboyejo presented with a realistic chance but superlative defending from Casey prevented the equaliser. For me it was the finest piece of defending in the match.
Chances for Hitchin came and went, usually with final balls that had too much weight. Five minutes of normal time remained. Then, with an uncharacteristic sloppy reverse pass from Diamonds saw Okuboyejo seize upon it and scamper forward with intent, with just Heath to beat. – This resulted in a foul from goal keeper Heath, who was cautioned before he had to face the penalty awarded against him.
Well, a penalty it may be but who was going to take it after those two misses at Banbury. It was Eadie and he blasted home with some emphasis and celebrated in front of the Hitchin supporters behind the goal as if he knew this had saved the game. I say this because it seemed to me that Hitchin played out the last few minutes as if they were defending a hard earned point. That equaliser came with just two minutes of normal time to spare.
Yes, there were late chances for both sides but they went begging and the points were shared and I wearily remind those who do not need reminding that the Canaries are still seeking their first league win of the season. But a point salvaged is, in a sense a point gained. Further points are held in abeyance as the team travel the short distance on Saturday to Barton Rovers for the FA cup encounter.
Relief may have mingled with some disappointment but we take what we can when we can, and there is every reason to believe that improvements will continue and the attitude of the team is pleasingly positive.
Charlie Horlock, Alexander Anderson, (Jay Dowie, 76,) Layne Eadie, PENALTY GOAL, 88 MINUTES, man of the match, Jack Green, cautioned, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Max Ryan, Lewis Barker, Ross Hannah, Leon Okuboyejo, Joseph Gauge.
Substiutes not used – Josh Mollison, GK, Marcus Crowther and Lusaed Kastrati.
RUSHDEN AND DIAMONDS
Ben Heath, cautioned, Patrick Casey, Sam Brown, Jack Ashton, GOAL, 68 MINUTES, Alex Collard, Sam Johnson, (Nathaniel Gosnal-Tyler, 70), Ben Acquaye, Matthew Slinn, Julian McDonald, cautioned, (Tom Lorraine, 72), Ryan Dove, (Jack Bowen, 76), Nathan Hicks.
Substitutes not used -Jesse Akubuine and Niall Cooper.
REFEREE: Mr N Morrison assisted by Mr C Martland and Mr J Ogunba.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN