This was the first League match at Top Field since March and was certainly one worth waiting for since it served to eradicate the negative feelings many of us had when, early last season, The Church saw off Hitchin by almost the same score today, but lost the return to the Canaries.
Skipper Dan Webb was presumably injured and Ben Walster wore the band, and, with perfect weather and a good attendance, off we went, with great expectations of a Hitchin team that had won all eight of their pre-season games and were brimming with confidence.
Having said that, it was Alvechurch who looked the sharper in the opening minutes, with an immediate attack and some good possession football. What happened next was quite remarkable. Jhai Dhillon had moved along the left flank, and as he cut in he was tripped in the box and a penalty was awarded. We had played just under four minutes, and I thought we had just been awarded a corner.
There were wrathful comments from some of the visiting supporters standing near me, and I had to agree that it did seem a harsh decision. I can report that after the game, when I spoke to a few of the Alvechurch players, they conceded that the penalty was indisputable. Layne Eadie took the task and converted emphatically with his left foot. I am wondering if it was the fastest goal of the new season.
Alvechurch responded quite positively with Zack Foster having a shot saved and Lawrie Marsh’s defensive tackle was vital in breaking down another move. Then Hitchin seemed to get into a higher gear with Stead having a shot and Dhillon’s effort needed to be punched clear by Jonathan Brown. Luke Brown’s free-kick was well saved by his namesake. Foster then forced a corner, and from this Joseph Hull shot wide. Both Jhai Dhillon and Rio Dasilva were doing good things on the flanks and from one move Dhillon’s perfect pass was eagerly accepted by Callum Stead who was able to convert with apparent ease. This came after twenty-two minutes, and Hitchin were already comfortable.
Jack Green was no slouch in the attacking action and one of his crosses to Callum Stead needed to be defended, at the expense of a corner. This was cleared adequately but emanating from this was a throw-in to Hitchin, which brought the customary dispute, but in this case it had devastating consequences for Alvechurch. The dispute escalated and, Zack Foster reacted in a hostile manner to a spectator and ended up throwing the ball straight at this gentleman before booting the ball away to underline his frustration. I will say that this player did keep his social distancing before his throw in anger and at least he did not do an Eric Cantona and try a scissor kick. But we all know what the outcome would be. Yes, a straight red card and the walk of shame for a very early shower. In my conversation with an Alvechurch player I did mention that players were to be applauded for their discipline in ignoring the often provocative comments from spectators and it would seem that, correctly, to disregard and get on with things is the best response. But to lose a man when you are two goals to the bad does not auger well for the rest of the match.
I will add that three cautions and one dismissal for Church players in this first half was also indicative. They were out of sorts and were overdue the talking to from their manager at half time. To their credit, Alvechurch did steady the ship a little and we all know how a team of ten can dismiss the handicap with gritty determination. They defended stoutly and did not ship another goal before the interval.
Hitchin’s play had been disciplined and imaginative and I thought that Stead’s two goals against Barnet in the last pre-season had done much to boost his self -belief and today, as he was in that game, the notable man of the match. The defence had been sure-footed, as had the midfield and, vitally, the strikers looked formidable.
With the possibility of another lock down and inevitable postponements that would cause is like a sword of Damocles. We do not know what will happen and can only hope that we are able to get through the whole season without interruption. I will say here what a splendid job the home stewards are doing in gently enforcing the regulations such as the one-way system. I did notice that all were compliant and without complaint.
Surprisingly, on resumption, we had a short period of ponderous play, but The Church were quite solid, yet each attempt at attack seemed easily broken down. They brought on a second-half substitute, one Kevin Da Veiga Monteiro who showed some good touches but his influence was evanescent.
Matters and possibilities were enlivened considerably when, on the hour mark, a rash tackle from Ryan Smith saw the referee point to the spot for the second time in the match, Kieran Cook whacked it home accurately to make it 2-1 and it was like an open invitation for proof that the team reduced to ten men can turn things around, often heroically. That has been the case but not when the team of full numbers scores again, almost immediately.
That is what happened, and full credit goes to the enthusiasm of Callum Stead. He prevented the ball from crossing the line for a goal-kick and, steadying himself, he sent a most inviting pass to Luke Brown who restored the two goal cushion with consummate ease from close range. It was an immediate and lasting blow to Alvechurch from which they did not recover.
Stead was also to feature in the next goal, which had a slight sting in the tail. When a player looks up and sends in a cross and the ball goes into the net, they often claim that it was what they intended in any case, and no-one can prove otherwise. Fair enough; but of body language is anything to go by, it seemed to me that Stead had singled out the urgent Dasilva as the recipient of the cross.
Dasilva shaped himself but the ball went obligingly into the bottom corner of the net at the far post, with no intervention. So, Stead bagged his second of the game and I do not think any Hitchin supporter cares about initial intention; a goal is a goal and it was a bit of a beauty. I will not say fluke. Stead had performed nobly and deserved all he got today.
There were about twenty minutes to go, but the hosts had not finished yet. Stead departed erelong to have his heroic brow mopped and the ever eager Marcus Goldbourne entered the fray. He is an agile and exciting player and, vitally, is hungry for goals. It is no surprise to me that he added his mane to the score sheet – and from a move that has been in evidence in the pre-season games – the clinical through ball from midfield that invites the player of pace to strut his stuff.
This, in the eightieth minute is what Goldbourne did and his finish was wonderful and Hitchin were good value for this emphatic lead. Right at the end there was a chance for a sixth goal and Luke Brown’s fine shot was tipped over the bar by his namesake and we had to be content with just the five and the three points. It was a fine performance by Hitchin and will make them confident for the visit of Needham Market on Monday in the FA Cup – and we have to play them at home in the League not long after.
But the next League game is a tough away trip to Stourbridge, next Saturday, (26 September). There was a buzz of excitement about Top Field today and let us hope that that will continue.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Layne Eadie, PENALTY GOAL, 4 MINUTES, Ryan Smith, Lawrie Marsh, Ben Walster, captain, Rio Dasilva, Jhai Dhillon, (Alex Marsh), CALLUM STEAD, MAN OF THE MATCH, TWO GOALS, 22 AND 70 MINUTES, cautioned, (Marcus Goldbourne, GOAL, 80 MINUTES), Luke Brown, GOAL, 62 MINUTES, Josh Caldicott-Stevens, (Kye Tearle).
Unused substitutes – Nicolay Rusev and Steve Cawley.
Jonathan Brown, Ben Cassidy, (Kevin Da Veiga Monteiro), Zack Foster, dismissed, straight red card, Peter Taylor, (Joseph Daly), Joseph Hull, Jamie Willetts, captain, cautioned, David Bellis, cautioned, Dominic Brown-hill, cautioned, (Jack Birch), Aaron Lloyd, Jacob Wakeling, Kieran Cook, PENALTY GOAL, 61 MINUTES.
Unused substitutes – Taylor Townsend and Isai Marselia.
REFEREE: Mr Lewis Morgan, assisted by Mr Richard King and Mr Christopher Arnell.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN