Hitchin extended their unbeaten run to five League games with a convincing display against an initially out of sorts Barwell. Team news was mixed as goal keeper Josh Mollison has moved to Barton Rovers, and Lewis Rolfe was serving his one match suspension. Starting today for the Canaries was Jacob Hutchinson, on loan from Colchester United, and Max Ryan was in the starting eleven, with Bradley Bell dropping to the substitutes’ bench.
Barwell were sitting exactly mid-table, but last season they lost to Hitchin both home and away and that sequence continued today. In the very first minute, the hosts were awarded a free-kick in scoring territory, just outside the penalty area. Marsh was up for this but his shot hit the defensive wall and Lewis Barker followed up with a strike that was held by Max Bramley.
Even at this very early stage Barwell were obligingly sacrificing possession and Hitchin took full advantage of their timorous play. Omotlani Omotola and Tristan Dunkley had some suggestive moments, but Hitchin were soon on the counter attack and were looking good. Jhai Dhillon ran in possession along the left flank and went on to impose himself on the game, scoring two goals in the process.
Ryan exchanged passes with Marsh and they forced a corner, which although defended well, there was already a distinct vulnerability about the Leicestershire side’s defensive capabilities. In a rare attack we saw Brown-Hill cross to Williams but this came to nothing. Hitchin’s exuberant play was clearly indicative of a successful strike and this came after eighteen minutes. Jack Green’s cross to Dhillon saw the latter fire from close range, with the attempt rebounding off the cross bar but the second attempt found no obstacle and thus the Canaries were deservedly in front.
Soon after there was a shot from Ryan and a combination of Marsh and Barker that was untidily defended. Ryan and Dhillon were soon at it again, with Walster joining in to good effect and he sent in a telling pass across the face of goal needed a tap-in for the second but the ball eluded all. More corners came for Hitchin, bringing shots for both Marsh and Barker. Marsh tried one from range and it needed careful monitoring from Bramley. The second goal, however, did not come until the thirty-sixth minute and it came following another Hitchin corner. A bit of head tennis preceded this but the goal was scored from close range by skipper Dan Webb.
Barwell needed to act urgently and they did as the half moved closer to its conclusion. Their play became both more direct and even more intricate and in two attacks there was a possibility of them securing an important consolatory goal that they might have built on. The second effort was cleared out to the left and it was that man Dhillon who seized possession and he managed to get by the stretched Barwell defence to grab an opportunistic third for the Canaries. It al looked easy but this Barwell side did perform well in the second period and are indeed a better team than today’s score might suggest.
In the minutes that remained they were already looking a better side and this they continued after the break. In the Board Room at half-time, Barwell officials were bemoaning what they saw as very poor defending, one telling me that they concede a good few but also score plenty as well, but it was difficult to see them saving this game.
I must share an anecdote before proceeding – and it might amuse. In the Welwyn cup game on Monday, one of their officials was relating to me a game he played in ‘light years ago’, where the opponents were vociferous in claiming a penalty. They besieged the referee who had merely awarded a corner. Repeated claims for a penalty might suggest player power and it seemed that way when the referee said loudly. ‘Right, you can have your penalty, but it must be taken from the corner.’ He was a former player for Welwyn but today we had as guests a host of former Hitchin players from the ‘eighties who were all pleased at the reunion and posed for the obligatory photographs as the Class of 2019 emerged for the second half.
It might have been three-nil and ostensibly comfortable for the Hertfordshire Canaries but Barwell gave it a good go right from the whistle. Indeed they forced five successive corners and had as many free-kicks, but from all this they could not penetrate successfully.
Horlock was there to punch clear twice and Omotola’s chance produced only a weak shot on target. Hitchin had not eased off but were forced to play a bit deeper and the defence looked good for a clean sheet. After that spell of Barwell pressure subsided, Hitchin got into their stride once again, with Dhillon – unsurprisingly the man of the match, once again the provider. He cut in from the left and found space to provide a perfect pass to the unmarked Hutchinson who marked his Canary debut with a goal- and right on the hour mark.
Unsurprisingly Barwell employed all permitted substitutes and it did make a bit of a difference but not to the finishing. Indeed it was ironic that their one goal did not come from sweeping preparatory play but from a long range effort that was indeed the goal of the game. This came eleven minutes after Hutchinson’s debut strike and the ball fell to substitute Samuel Hollis who fired from range and found the top corner – a goal to savour whatever the result.
There was further good stuff from the hard working Marsh, Walster and, inevitably Dhillon. There were decent free-kicks, inviting corners but no further Hitchin goals. Webb headed one over from a corner and what was pleasing is that the comfortable score meant that we could see, at last, a debut as substitutes for Kai Phelan and Shaquille Ishmael. The latter was particularly impressive for his instinctive attacking play and good positioning. Phelan came on too late to invite any realistic judgement as yet. Ishmael’s first cross was good but cut out by Bramley.
Barwell’s free kicks lacked precision, but they were still trying and in a stylish manner at times – but they could not add any further consolation. There was an almost comical moment when Hitchin looked like adding a fifth but the ball appeared to stick in the mud with Marsh and Hutchinson waiting for the merest of chances to connect – but the ball was cleared. There were further chances for both teams and Barwell stuck to it – but there were no further goals.
It is worth mentioning that the referee did an excellent job today and was also notable for the fine communication he had with the players – and there was only one caution – being Whitmore for Barwell for a very rash challenge and that preceded Hitchin’s fourth goal.
There was no doubt that this was a fine win for Hitchin, and our secretary Roy Izzard, plainly enjoying meeting again with all the former players betrayed his admirable optimism by informing me that Hitchin were a mere eight points from the play-off positions. I was just going to write that we were now well clear of the relegation zone. But we must feel gratified by the current form, thirteen points from a possible fifteen in the last five matches – and scoring freely from open play.
As good as that is there is a stern challenge of two successive away games, at high-flying Hednesford Town and Stratford Town. It has been a fair week for Hitchin despite being held to a draw by Welwyn in the Hertfordshire Senior Cup and then cheering everybody up by not missing a penalty – and then the satisfying, unified performance today where we obtained three points and did our goal difference a bit of good as well – of and we scored four goals in a match for the first time this season. Let us hope that it will not be the last occasion.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Ben Walster, (Shaquille Ishmael, 71), Josh Bickerstaff, Daniel Webb, captain, GOAL -36 MINUTES, Joseph Gauge, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, man of the match – TWO GOALS – 18 AND 44 MINUTES, (Kai Phelan, 86), Jacob Hutchinson – GOAL, 60 MINUTES, Alex Marsh, Max Ryan. (Bradley Bell, 62).
Substitutes not used – Devonte Simms and Marcus Crowther.
Max Bramley, Jacob Whitmore, cautioned, (Jayden Cotterill), Eliot Putman, Jamie McAteer, Elliot Percival, Micah Edwards, Dominic Brown-Hill, (Joseph Evans), Tristan Dunkley, Omotalani Omotola, (Sam Hollis – GOAL, 71 MINUTES, Brady Hickey, Kai Williams.
Substitute not used – Zayn Hakeem.
REFEREE: Mr F Hallam, who had a good match and was ably assisted by Mr G Baker and Mr D Markwick.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN