The pre-season schedule is now complete and, remarkably, Hitchin won all eight games with a score aggregate of thirty-two goals for and three against. This final game against former rivals Barnet, was one that many of us conceded would be the toughest test and one that Barnet would probably win.
But the National League club were playing in what was their first pre-season game and they brought two teams to Top Field, who played one half each, and included some ten unnamed triallists in total. Having said that it must be mentioned that Hitchin’s squad totalled twenty-one players. Until recently Barnet were a Football League club and are obviously in the process of rebuilding and familiarising the players to one another.
Having said all that it must be said that the quality of Hitchin’s play today augurs well for the opening of the League season next week. Callum Stead’s name was writ large on this game, with an outstanding performance capped by a goal in each half, before he went off with five minutes to go, well satisfied with his contribution.
The Canaries began in confident attacking mode, with an early corner giving Ryan smith a half chance and a following cross brought optimistic shouts for a penalty, correctly waved away by the referee. A cross from Lawrie Marsh was deflected by a defensive clip over the bar.
Rio Dasilva showed his accustomed pace and tried a shot from range that was held by Scott Loach. Barnet seemed lethargic and indeed took some time to become more meaningfully involved.
The opening goal was with the run of play and owes much to Rio Dasilva’s tenacity on the ball and his peach of a forward ball to an eager Callum Stead who converted with an accurate low shot after twelve minutes. Once more that penetrating through ball to the runner has made a difference. It was expected that the Bees would react strongly but it was still some time before they began to impose themselves. Yes, they had some close passing moves and were starting to match Hitchin for possession, but the biggest threat to Horlock came from a high cross and another effort that landed on the roof of the net.
Dasilva and Luke Brown put in crosses and another cross from Eadie saw Stead shoot on target and Loach saved. A fine assistance from Jack Green saw Lewis Barker have a pop and the effort went just wide, as did Green’s next effort. This was good, confident stuff from Hitchin. Josh Walker of Barnet did put a promising run together with some pace but he was neatly dispossessed, and in their next foray a shot from the visitors was saved. The Bees were beginning to be busy in trying to get forward but Hitchin defending was steadfast. The few minutes of the first half remaining saw the Conference side have their best spell but they had produced very few goal attempts compared with an ebullient Hitchin who had been the more adventurous side – and a lot more co-ordinated, which, since this was Barnet’s first pre-season game was not altogether surprising.
During the interval I recalled that the last time I saw Barnet play was in an FA Cup match away to Enfield at the now defunct Southbury Road. Barnet’s star was rising as Enfield’s was in decline and a full house saw the Bees win 6-3. My only visit to Underhill, their former stadium, was to see them get a bit of a walloping in a pre-season against Arsenal.
It also occurred to me that if Hitchin did not make a number of substitutes the team would be playing against a fresh eleven – and no substitutes emerged for the resumption. Barnet’s changed team began with some style with good possession and some slick play but this was not converted to clear goal chances and Hitchin defended confidently. A cross from Luke Brown looked the business but the Bees defended this and cleared a half chance from the still hungry Stead.
A Barnet break on the left saw a fair shot from one of the triallists, and this was followed by a fierce shot from range that saw Brown’s effort go just wide, and then in another go he found his intended shot effectively blocked. Quite spectacular was a speculative lob from Stead that was a lot closer than goalkeeper Aymen Azaze anticipated. Stead was, however, not finished and yes, he was on the score sheet again after sixty-five minutes when yet another probing through ball enabled him to finish precisely to double the lead.
Jhai Dhillon made way for Marcus Goldbourne and then, eventually, Jack Green for Cade Abbey-Stevens. Dasilva made way for Alex Marsh, and then Max Ryan came on for Luke Brown. For the final five minutes Stead gave way to Nikolay Rusev. Josh Caldicott-Stevens also replaced Ryan Smith.
Stead may be considered unfortunate not to have bagged a hat-trick, when he shot firmly, on the turn, drawing a good save from Azaze. But a third goal looked certain in one blazing incident in the Barnet goal mouth when Alex Marsh hooked the ball in from about a yard off the goal line and somehow the ball was prevented from entering the net. A third goal from this bit of excitement would not have flattered the eager Canaries – but in the closing stages there was a bit of a rally from the Bees who may well have pulled one back but for a bit of heroics from Horlock. – defying a double effort from close range.
A Barnet header went wide following a good cross and Vasiliou may well have done better with his chance that cleared the cross bar. Ryan was still keen and in a routine run in challenge on the goalie who was about to send the ball up field almost came unstuck. It is always worth a go, it would seem.
Hitchin were good value for their win – play was confident and at times exhilarating. To win every pre-season game even though the only senior team played was Barnet is still very encouraging and there is a good squad from which to select the first starting eleven next week in the home league opener against Alvechurch.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, (Cade Abbey-Stevens), Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith , (Josh Caldicott-Stevens), Dan Webb, captain, Lawrie Marsh, Rio Dasilva, (Alex Marsh), Lewis Barker, Callum Stead, man of the match, TWO GOALS 12 AND 65 MINUTES, (Nikolai Rusev), Luke Brown, (Max Ryan), Jhai Dhillon, (Marcus Goldbourne).
Other substitutes – Luca Cardines, Marlow Gough, Ziddane Gourgel Sequeia, Dan Weaver, GK.
BARNET – FIRST HALF
Scott Loach, James Dunne, Triallist E, Alfie Pavey, Eliot Richards, Ben Nugent, Triallist D, Triallist C, Triallist B, Triallist A, Josh Walker.
BARNET – SECOND HALF
Aymen Azaze, Tyrone Duffus, Triallist J, Triallist F, Triallist G, Triallist I, Wes Fonguck, Triallist H, Jack Tompkins, Antonis Vasiliou, Loic Hernandez.
REFEREE: Mr J Gibson assisted by Mr M Conn and Mr N Neopytou.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN