The Bedfont saga continues – and it will conclude at their Middlesex stadium on Tuesday after this draw that seemed as dull and uninviting as the weather at a chilly, rainy Top Field this afternoon.
Our visitors had been ordered to replay their last round game against Grays Athletic, their 3-0 away win being over-ruled owing to the fielding of an ineligible player. There were mitigating circumstances and with the tie being ordered to be replayed, the Middlesex side notched up a narrow 1-0 win. It was described as a ‘smash and grab ‘ raid – and that itself seemed to be repeated today until an overdue Hitchin goal forced this tie into a replay.
This mostly dull match was interspersed with welcome moments of excitements that replaced the rather haughty gloominess of it all. Rain fell throughout and drear November was a backdrop to the floodlit pitch, showing its mud and wear. The ground staff will be relieved that there would be no scheduled match on Monday whether it was Paulton Rovers or Welwyn Garden City.
In many ways it was the result that no-one wanted as it meant an addition to a fixture backlog. We preceded the kick-off with an officer of The Blues And Royals marching onto the mud and placing a wreath for Armistice Day and a minute’s silence was impeccably observed by the below average attendance.
Hitchin’s meagre substitute line-up reflected the departure of Lewis Ferrell and Alex Anderson to Biggleswade Town and Kings Langley, respectively, which suggests an economising of the wage bill, but ti was still a strong looking team seeking to consolidate the fine form of the away win at St Ives last week.
The Canaries began well enough, and James Verney, in the first attack fired in a decent shot that was saved well by the eventual man of the match, goalkeeper Dimitrios Kyriatzis. From a corner, Webb essayed a headert, which was also saved and Jhai Dhillon manfully tried to persuade the referee to award a penalty, which was waved away. Then Bradley Bell set up Dhillon who shot wide. At the other end there was a weak shot from Darryl Sanders that was easily gathered by Horlock.
They followed this with a shot way over the bar by Maxwell Oldham. These were rare forays as Hitchin began to control possession but failed to do anything with it to notch an important first goal. Ben Walster shot wide and a run from Verney culminated in a poor final pass. Rolfe, Dhillon and Barker combined and this permitted Verney to have another go but the effort went wide.
Bedfont defended patiently and effectively but they seemed to lack ambition up front and relied on the counter move. In truth it became rather dull and heavy going. It seemed extraordinary that Hitchin with the lion’s share of play could not penetrate – but Bedfont were made of sterner stuff and they thwarted each effort. Cawley won a corner which was cleared; then Hitchin won a free-kick wide on the left – Dhillon managed a cross and the keeper gathered and released the ball for a meaningful counter along their left which resulted in a low cross that Sanders was able to slip beyond Horlock, prompting the view that it was against the run of play but the visitors cared not a jot – they had their goal and they seemed determined to defend this lead.
The goal came with about three minutes of the half remaining. Bedfont skipper, Jackson, who had a fine game, conceded a late corner and this sailed across the goal looking in vain for a connection that might have brought the equaliser.
This latest ‘smash and grab’ caused concern to the home supporters, perhaps sensing that the team would be frustrated in its attempts to get back on level terms or even go on to win. In the event, the mid half equaliser was welcome since the team looked likely to draw a blank against such an orderly defence.
We cannot denigrate the effort – it was there, with Green, Walster, Rolfe and Bell giving it their all – and the eventual goalscorer, Dhillon was eager to be involved at every turn.
The second half saw no change to the overall pattern – Hitchin pushed hard and tried different things. A speculative lob from Dhillon needed a careful save from Kyriatzis. A Canary corner was cleared close to the line by Mekhail McLaughlin. A further two corners saw the Bedfont keeper punch clear with emphasis – then there was a real blaster of a shot from Rolfe that needed and indeed granted a magnificent save by the goal keeper. Perhaps a set piece would have done it, but the manager’s notes in the bulletin suggested that of we got a penalty we would ask for a corner instead to hide our shameful inaccuracies in this department.
Bell had another go, on the run and this too was stopped. Bickerstaff, who came on as a substitute, signalling his recovery from injury, sent a good through ball but this only brought a corner and a decent header, from skipper Webb. It seemed to me that if a goal did come it would come from a corner. Well, it did, in a way as from one of these the ball seemed to ping about in or about the penalty area and finally, there was a low shot from Dhillon that secured the much needed goal.
We had played seventy-two minutes and there was stil time to win it and avoid a tricky journey on the M25 in rush hour. Walster’s long range strike could have sealed it but that man Kyriatzis was not to be denied. He then saved a free-kick from the edge of the area and another at really close range. Bell sent one in that the keeper just tipped over the bar and thus, despite commendable Hitchin efforts a draw was the outcome and a replay, leaving Paulton rovers probably grateful that they would not have to travel to either ground on a Monday or Tuesday night. The Hitchin goal was more than welcome as it did seem that they would not score – and I confidently expect Bedfont to show more willingness to get into their opponents’ half in this conclusive match.
I then speculated on a penalty shoot out in that replay. Look at my eye twitchin’. Growl we may but go we must and this match is an intriguing prospect and it remains to be seen if Hitchin can maintain that dominance in possession and the more imaginative chances. Right towards the end of the match, Hitchin substitute Brett Donnelly, who was yet to touch the ball , received a straight red card for an excessively aggressive attitude towards Kyriatis, which was as unnecessary as it was regrettable.
This report is dedicated to Karl O’Gorman, a true and an ideal Non-league supporter, and a fine friend, who tragically became a cancer victim in his mid-thirties, and died earlier in the week.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Lewis Rolfe, Dan Webb, captain, sponsors’ Hitchin man of the match, Joe Gauge, (Josh Bickerstaff, 58), Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, GOAL, 72, James Verney, (Brett Donnelly, dismissed, straight red card.), Steve Cawley, Bradley Bell. Substitutes not used – Josh Mollison, GK, Max Ryan, Marcus Crowther.
Dimitrios Kyriatzis, this reporter’s man of the match, Veron Kovurinkov, Mekhail McLaughlin, Michael Kinsella, Joseph Jackson, captain, Jayden Clarke, cautioned, Ezekiel Bademusi, Cosmin Adrian Tache, Andy ali, Darryl Sanders, GOAL, 43 MINUTES, John Roberts, 65), Maxwell Oldham. Substitutes not used – Ashley Hitchinson, Keanu Williams, Jack Torbett, Nathan Wood and Brandon Kalu.
REFEREE: Mr C Pullen, assisted by Mr D Knox and Mr C Howes.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN