A point is a point and for both teams it turned out to be a hard earned one, where potency up front was underlined by prolificacy – and the same result as the one at Banbury earlier in the season when the Puritans were briefly in the top spot. That encounter was memorable for the two Hitchin penalty misses within minutes, but for a good while it seemed likelier that the visitors would break down the stubborn Canaries’ defence.
Hitchin’s underwhelming performance on Tuesday in the Hertfordshire Charity Cup against a rampant Berkhamsted was a sour note that really needed to be sweetened today – but this was only partially achieved. Understandably there were team changes, with the return of skipper Dan Webb and a debut for new loan signing Ryan Smith who was an impressive addition.
The game was preceded with a minute’s applause for Hitchin’s much loved and respected volunteer and devotee John TG, whose photograph took pride of place on the programme cover. A nice touch was the black arm bands worn by the home side and it was a mark of respect for a true gentleman, who in my Dunstable days was always a welcome guest in the Board Room. Many of his family were there today to see the tribute.
John TG might well have been as anxious as we were at the strong start made by the Puritans who looked threatening in front of goal and we owe much to the reflex actions of man of the match Charlie Horlock. In a purple patch our purple clad goalkeeper denied no fewer than four gilt-edged chances for pace man Craig Fasanmade.
Sprightly running, the Puritans looked as if an early lead for them would be claimed as a right. A fine early free-kick from Lewis Wilson saw Fasanmade unleash a shot that Horlock blocked, which he did again seemingly moments later. Hitchin were not allowed to gain a foothold for several minutes – and even when they got the ball into the opponents’ half, intervention and counter attack were both swift and suggestive. Fasanmade was there again but so was Horlock, who came quickly off his line again.
A cross from Marsh was cut out and then a speculative shot from Walster saw Jack Harding hold the ball but almost spill it. A cross from Hutchinson won a corner, but the best Hitchin effort came from a sold shot from debut boy Ryan Smith, held securely by Harding. Fasanmade was soon at it again, with exuberant overtones, but this time he was caught off-side. He tried one more time but only won a corner, punched away by the busy Horlock.
In a seemingly rare move forward for Hitchin there was a shot from Lewis Barker, again held by Harding and a run from Hutchinson saw his shot clear the cross bar. Marsh found himself in front of goal and a neat lob might have done the trick but Harding prevented this – and his clearance brought an immediate counter attack. This was adequately defended but the impetus was still with the visitors whose pace relented as Hitchin began to get the measure of their opponents. But as we progressed towards the interval it seemed to me that it would be the hosts who would welcome the whistle more as the better chances had definitely fallen to the Puritans – foiled as they were by stout defending and, as it later turned out by their own wastefulness in front of goal.
The game had resembled the earlier fixture in the uncompromising and eagerly contested moves. Banbury had been sharp but thwarted and it was hoped that Hitchin would show a bit more aggression in front of goal in the second half.
This did not manifest itself immediately and the Puritans recommenced in the same manner they left off, with Fasanmade making yet another chance for himself and there was some measure of relief felt when he was eventually substituted – but his replacement Ravin Shamsi was just as intent in nudging the visitors ahead. There was a looping free-kick from Giorgio Rasulo that needed Horlock’s alertness. Hitchin responded with a cross from Green towards Marsh and a good move involving Cawley, Hutchinson and Marsh looked good until Harding intervened.
Ricky Johnson’s attempt was another to clear the cross bar and Claudio Dias’ shot was too weak to deceive Horlock. Gouveia replaced Marsh and he was allowed some freedom on the ball – well initially. But the best chance for Hitchin came when the hard working Cawley set up Hutchinson but Harding prevailed again. Shamsi’s pass to Jake Walker gave an opportunity for a free shot that he sent wastefully wide and a cross form Hawtin saw Rasulo waste the opportunity again. Green scampered forward with the aid of Gouveia, which brought a corner, deflected by Harding for another – but this was defended well.
If the game did not have nil-nil etched on it, it did leave the uncomfortable feeling that either side might pop up late in the game to nick what would surely be the only goal of the game – we have all seen that happen. If Hitchin had managed this we would all have cheered but would have thought inwardly that it was not entirely deserved. Banbury might well see their own prodigality in front of goal as something to regret.
There was a spell where Hitchin managed to press their opponents back and won successive corners. Hutchinson had a shot charged down efficiently, and Cawley had another go with Harding blocking it well. In a sense it was a game that showed how an alert goal- keeper is of vital importance – but he is only part of the defence, of course.
Needless to say, either side could have won it in the very late stages and in a very vibrant spell of added time. It would have been unfair to either side to have conceded after they had worked so hard – but I feel Banbury, with their overall flair might feel the more disappointed – and will reflect on the lack of the killer touch.
Hutchinson and Eadie were cautioned for spoiling challenges as was Johnson for the Puritans but overall this was a game free of any niggle and, as I say a point apiece will ultimately be welcomed. Hitchin have some very tough games to come where points will be hard to find – including Royston Town and Bromsgrove Sporting. Well done to Jack Green today for making his one hundredth appearance for the Canaries.
On Tuesday Hitchin travel to Vauxhall Road to take on Hemel Hempstead Town in the Hertfordshire Senior Cup in what might be the last match in domestic competitions this season.
So to sum up for today – quite an entertaining match overall and a notable performance by the defence – and we have no real complaints about the result – and as I said at the beginning – a point is a point, and once again I am pleased that John TG was suitably honoured, and Roy Izzard’s article on him in the programme was a fine tribute.
Charlie Horlock, Sponsors’ (and this reporter’s) Man of The Match, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, Alex Marsh (Diogo Freitas Gouveia, 68), Stephen Cawley, Jacob Hutchinson, cautioned, Layne Eadie, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Brett Donnelly, Bradley Bell, Kye Tearle, Jay Dowie.
Jack Harding, Jake Walker, Lewis Wilson (Gregory Kaziboni, Connor Roberts, Charles Hawtin, Giorgio Rasulo, Ricky Jonson, captain, cautioned, Claudio Dias, (Jack Westbrook), Lee Henderson, Craig Fasanmade, Puritan star man, (Ravi Shamsi), Amer Awadh.
Substitutes not used – Eddie Odhiambo and Roger Ngaah Bosio.
REFEREE: Mr L Scott, assited by Mr M Paul and Mr A Kadir, who all had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN