The Hertfordshire Canaries took on the Leicestershire Canaries in what resulted in the former’s second League win of the season, with both victories coming at Top Field. It was a significant step in the right direction, even if the club still occupies the penultimate position in the League table, despite other ‘helpful’ results.
Team news was a little disconcerting with the reported departure of Charlie Smith and Treymayne Charles and the long term injury suffered by Macsen Fraser. Barwell came to Top Field with an even record of five wins, five draws and five losses and thus occupy a mid-table position.
What ensued was perhaps the most comfortable performance by the hosts who may well have won by a greater margin, but importantly, played more as a cohesive unit and thoroughly deserved maximum points – and kept a clean sheet.
The match began in tentative fashion. Barwell were playing in an all-red strip and they soon established a cautious style of defending. Hitchin won a free-kick after two minutes and this was taken by Noah Chesmain, who has been a pivotal player of late and in happy evidence today. A good forward ball from Hitchin was defended stoutly by Jean Ruben-Desrosiers. A short corner from Hitchin saw the ball go into the penalty area and I think today’s game saw the most promising and regular encroachments into that part of the pitch.
Chesmain was instrumental in one attack, slipping the ball to Lench, who used Dowie and Green- and the ball fell to Galliford who failed to take his chance effectively. But it was a promising move. The next move saw the visiting keeper intervene robustly and put the ball out of the ground for good measure. My notes read ’too many long balls for my liking’, but this improved erelong. The Leicestershire side had not really constructed an aggressive move so far and on eleven minutes they found themselves trailing to a cracking goal.
Isaac Galliford’s persistence was of supreme importance. The ball was sent out to the left and a forward ball looked as if it would drift out for a goal kick. He prevented this and then provided an inviting cross for Michael Cain whose left-footed shot thundered into the top left corner of the net. It acted like a tonic and after the re-start there was an exchange between Jack Green, today playing at right back, and Josh Bickerstaff, but the former’s cross was too heavy. Bickerstaff then provided an opportunity for Chesmain whose tight-angled shot was deflected for a corner. This was defended and then Barwell had a free-kick, centrally outside the area, with Johnson securing the save. Following this there was a header over the bar from ex-Kettering town stalwart Liam Canavan.
Brady Hickey, the Barwell captain had creative ideas, and his next contribution was a blocked shot. Jai Rowe was also proving a useful player along the right flank. Chesmain shaped for a shot, but left it too late, but Lench and Bickerstaff kept it going only for Chesmain to fire wide of the target. Hitchin persisted and their forward play continued to be enterprising.
Barwell had a free-kick just outside the penalty area and hickey fired this straight at Michael Johnson. Hitchin themselves won a free-kick in a similar position and Galliford’s effort was headed clear by Desrosiers, but quickly followed by another free-kick. Rowe received a long ball to the right and the cross was headed clear and Putman’s effort brought a corner for Barwell. Massiah McDonald ( I wonder if his nickname is the Holy Burger) provided Canavan with a chance and the effort cleared the cross bar. This came from a corner kick.
We were approaching the half hour mark and Hitchin looked good for their lead. Jahvan Davidson – Miller lost possession and Hitchin launched a quick counter-attack. Bickerstaff played a fine pass through to Lench that was well-defended; but the attack persisted thanks to a free-kick, taken by Chesmain. Cain’s deflected cross was defended by Canavan and then Lench sent in a cross from the right that went for a corner. This went for another corner that was taken by Galliford. This fell rather neatly for Bickerstaff who put the ball into the net at the far post from very close range and thus Hitchin had an unprecedented two goal cushion; something indeed to savour.
Barwell were awarded a free-kick, taken by Alex Tomkinson and it produced a header from Putman that Johnson held comfortably. Lench, on a forward run involved Forde, who was halted in his stride. Another Hitchin free-kick, inside the Barwell half, brought a header from Webb that went for a goal-kick. This was defended but a free-kick taken by Liam Castle, the Barwell keeper almost went wrong. It was neatly intercepted, with the keeper stranded outfield and he could well have fallen victim to a lob, but an off-side flag prevented such embarrassment.
Putman sent in a deflected cross with a fair chance on goal by Robert Morgan but it was a little anaemic in the execution. Tomkinson’s free kick for Barwell brought a blocked shot from Hickey and a follow-up by Morgan.
Barwell conceded so many free kicks at this stage and particularly in the second- half that led to a private suspicion that the referee may have had a maiden aunt in the vicinity who was wearing a home scarf instead of a womanly shawl. I say that flippantly but it did prove a weakness for Barwell who seemed wilfully to negate their own purposeful movements and they were looking definitely second best at this stage of the game. As the game progressed their three cautions did suggest a want of discipline and it showed a real frustration.
Lench and Chesmain were causing problems and drew upon Barwell defensive prowess. Galliford again kept the ball in play when the visiting defence assumed it was going for a goal-kick. They hustled this chance away but I felt they needed to shake off this complacency. We reached half-time and it was, overall, a satisfactory one for Hitchin, who had seemed to grow in confidence.
During the interval I was told by a Hitchin official that he had conversed with some away supporters who held the opinion that their team was unjustifiably behind and had been the better team. I admire their loyalty and optimism but disagreed, feeling there was a degree of delusion. It reminded me of a recent trip to Wales by bicycle where I had selected a pub for my lunch. After I had ordered my food I was amused at the antics of two ladies of somewhat over- generous proportions who proceeded with untrammelled confidence to order everything on the menu with a couple of extra eggs on top. As the startled waiter moved off to place the order, one of the ladies yelled out ‘and two DIET cokes’.
Hitchin had had a comfortable, purposeful half and had scored two good goals. Their play had been comprehensive and they had defended with precision. Barwell had not really threatened to score, but there was a seeming lack of belief in their approach play. Blocked shots and hopeful corners had been their best efforts, despite some genuinely good approach play. I must also mention a reference to the general diffidence around Top Field, where Archie the Announcer gave out the half-time score, adding a ‘believe it or not’ aside. It was not as surprising as the news of leaders Kettering trailing at home 0-3 to St Ives.
There were no substitutions as yet from either side, and we awaited the second period with a degree of anticipation, since the team performance hitherto had been one of real promise. The situation could well have been eased further just two minutes into this half when Lench was fouled and from the free-kick Ezra Forde’s shot hit the foot of the post. Ah a third goal would have been trebly welcome for the increase of comfort and an improvement on the goal difference deficit.
I had a brief conversation with our photographer where we both agreed we could pick out the vibrant pink hair of our rock and roller disc- jockey and match volunteer Kamikaze Kate ensconced in the terracing. Galliford’s short corner was enterprising but was anticipated by Castle. I kept referring to the antics of Barwell’s Jai Rowe and made a mental note that it sounded like Giro. This fellow sounded like an unemployment benefit. There is a chap in my neighbourhood who has an elderly car that has a sticker declaring that his car ‘Goes faster than a smack head’s Giro,’ and I had to appeal to my son for a detailed explanation. This is not a negative reference to the Barwell player who, in my view had a fine game.
Chesmain’s free- kick, saw a sweet flick from Cain which was also defended as sweetly, but I do like these poetical moments. Cain and Ferrell both had shots of good quality. Hitchin were still the dominant team in terms of goal opportunities. Green’s cross may have been easy for the keeper, but he continued to be the busier of the two custodians.
Barwell had a chance on the right and there was a good combination between Morgan and Morgan but the cross was cleanly defended. Putman’s cross was defended but hickey managed a shot that went wide. Putman put in a cross and a free-kick emanated form this. Hickey shaped up for this, but the evergreen Johnson was there to spoil the chance.
Lench had been quietly insistent; he picked up a stray ball that allowed a shot from Forde that was wayward but sincere. Hitchin were still comfortable but possibly vulnerable. There was a fair old delay after some treatment for Chesmain, which permitted a quick look at scores so far. Green’s forward ball was cleared by Putman, and Ferrell sent a pass to Lench who was bundled off the ball somewhat enthusiastically.
Green’s cross was just about dealt with by Castle, but it did seem that of there was another goal it would come from Hitchin and Barwell looked increasingly diffident. The three cautions of the game all went to the visitors whose frustration was evident in a couple of disputatious incidents which benefited them but little. They continued to defend well but their forward play was inconclusive. As well as this they had a tendency to concede a number of free-kicks in rapid succession that hardly helped their cause.
From one of these Ferrell headed over the bar. Substitutions followed, as expected. Morgan managed a shot following a promising move but it lacked velocity. Hitchin were still pleasingly creative and they really ought to have increased their lead in this second half. Jai Rowe gave way to the employment of Nigel Julien and eventually Cain gave way to Scott Belgrove and for the nostalgic, the itinerant Matt Nolan, with a shining bald head, more dramatic that mine, entered the fray. Archie the Announcer relayed that it was his first game for Hitchin for fifteen years. This might have been confusing to Barwell supporters or the neutrals, as it suggested that he had been kicking his heels and awaiting his chance, but of course, this player has had more clubs than a modest golf professional. I recall him scoring a goal in an FA Cup match for Dunstable Town against Crawley Green, and when asked about it he had strongly suggested that it had been merely routine. Had he retained his flowing locks of yesteryear his header late in the game may have brought a goal, but it skimmed off his shiny pate.
Mind you, Lewis Ferrell had a trio of chances with the same kind of action and he was tantalisingly close, suggesting strongly that Hitchin did deserve a third goal that would entirely have been with the flow of play. There was a bit of ‘handbags’ indicative of the away club’s frustration, but it did not help their cause. They were beaten fairly and really can have no serious complaint. They were not dramatically outplayed but they were not provocative enough in attack. Along with others I felt that Hitchin ought to have added to their two goals but we must accept things as they were.
Ferrell was particularly unfortunate with his three purposeful attempts following free kicks and Nolan may have made it a more memorable return to the colours. It is not enthralling to see that we still remain second from bottom but many may feel that a corner has been turned. This was a satisfying performance and a clean sheet is always welcome, but the three points, oh joy!
The next action at Top Field is the Hertfordshire Senior Cup game against Hemel Hempstead but the major focus must be on improving the League position. It has started today and I will conclude that, as I was leaving the club house a player, whose anonymity will be preserved echoed my thoughts by saying ‘Finally, a blooming win’ except that he did not say ‘blooming’ but another word that has multifarious meanings.
Soberly I must add that this is the first home win since 25 August when we were all still in shorts and the pitch was luscious. As well as the Hemel game we look forward to the away clash with Rushall Olympic, and hope to see the rejuvenation continue, and of course for Hitchin supporters it may mean more points brings more pints as we seek the road that takes us onwards and upwards.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Sponsors’ Man of the Match, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, GOAL, 11 MINUTES, (Scott Belgrove), Matt Lench, Ezra Forde, (Matt Nolan), Isaac Galliford, (Robbie Burns), Josh Bickerstaff, GOAL, 29 MINUTES, Substitutes not used – Kieron McCaffery.
Liam Castle, Jai Rowe, (Nigel Julien), Eliot Putman, Jean Ruben-Desrosiers, Brad-Lee Gascoigne, Liam Canavan, cautioned, Robert Morgan, Alex Tomlinson, cautioned, Massiah McDonald, Brad Hickey, captain, Jahvah Davidson-Mille. Substitutes not used – Elliott Taylor, Tom Bates, Caine Keeling-Treasure, Edward Nisevic.
REFEREE: Mr T Cooke, assisted by Mr S Sheehan-Galia and Mr C Leonte – all of whom had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN