Bedworth United came to Top Field today hoping for a stay of execution, but their 4-1 defeat consigns them to relegation, but they deserve full credit for going down rather gallantly and playing a good deal better than the score line suggests. Hitchin were indeed a little cautious as this was wisely considered a game that could indeed be tricky. It will also be remembered that at The Oval in the corresponding fixture the Canaries had to fight from 0-2 down to scramble a 2-2 draw against the Greenbacks who at that time were yet to win a single league game.
Today the Greenbacks were in light blue and black and their kit caused an unusual amount of interest as the shirts were devoid of all sponsor advertising and did not even sport the club badge. This matter was cleared up by a visiting official who pointed out that they could not play in their green home kit and their second kit was yellow. The plain light blue kit to avoid the clash was thus a borrowed set from an unspecified source.
Team news included the departure of Noah Chesmain back to Colchester United, and there had been many messages of appreciation for his most valued services during his loan spell. This meant another start for Max Ryan, who went on to have a fine game.
Within a minute or two of the start, both teams had a crack on goal, with Checkaine Steele firing wide for the Midland club and Isaac Galliford’s super pass to Ezra Forde whose shot brought a fine save from Adam Harrison, clad in a dark blue kit with matching tights under his shorts to suggest he may feel the cold.
Bedworth skipper Luke Rowe had a free-kick from the left that needed precise defending, and then a save from Michael Johnson. At this stage, I thought Hitchin were mediocre and a little unsettled and perhaps vulnerable to exploitation from the seemingly doomed Greenbacks, who showed a good deal of spirit that was matched at times by some rather poor defending. Iyesden Christie, who looked of ungainly proportions, had a half chance and this striker succumbed to a groin injury erelong and was replaced by Will Harris, who made a notable contribution to the sporadic Bedworth pressure.
This visiting team was not playing like a basement side and was indeed asking questions. It did occur to me that if Hitchin went ahead they would settle comfortably and establish control of the game. Jay Bird was as lively as in previous games and he had a shot cut out by Harrison. Harris forced a second successive corner for the Greenbacks and these were adequately defended. Hitchin forward moves were still a little imprecise, but that promising period of pressure for the visitors suffered an abrupt setback when a crisp move from Hitchin secured the opening goal.
The enterprising Bird cut in from the right and his shot caused a bit of a flutter when it struck the cross bar and Harry Draper was there to convert the rebound – the goal timed at twenty-nine minutes. There was an immediate riposte from Bedworth when Steele was again just wide with a creditable effort.
A free-kick from Max Ryan needed to be fisted away for a corner by Harrison, and at the other end a decent shot from Alexander Troke was deflected for a corner. I had the nervous feeling that the plucky visitors had a goal within them. Quite simply, they had been playing a lot better than their dolorous position suggested. With relegation almost a mathematical certainty they still had their pride to play for and in my view they achieved this handsomely.
But they very nearly went behind with what might have been an own goal. This occurred shortly before half-time. Jay Dowie’s penetrative forward pass to Bird saw the latter send in a teasing cross that caused a good deal of confusion which culminated in a Bedworth defender unwittingly sending the ball against the far post and it was just scrambled away to relative safety.
It meant that Hitchin took the lead to the interval, achieved without setting the place alight with total football, but it was welcome, all the same. They would, of course – so we said, step it up in the second half. They did, but not without an early setback. I will come to that later as I wish to report my half-time semi-unrelated bit. Before the kick-off, Nick Sapowski handed me a painted pebble, almost the size of a medium egg. It was lovingly painted in green and yellow stripes, and bore the words, ‘Pipeman, Hitchin Town FC’, with a picture of a pipe like Magritte’s painting ‘Ceci c’est ne pas un pipe’. (Hope I got that right), Underneath there was a football. On the other side were two Facebook links that ask for a post of a picture. I do not have a Facebook account so I will ask my daughter or wife to put up the picture. I am quite touched by the gesture. The pebble was placed at the side of the pitch near to where I stand, but I did not find it, but I have it now, thanks to Nick, so thank you to whoever placed it there originally. The Facebook links are Hitchin Rocks and Love on the Rocks UK.
There was a lively start to the second half saw Bedworth equalise in the forty-ninth minute with Troke scoring well. I was not that surprised since the visitors had played earnestly and were, it seemed, determined not to take relegation without a decent fight. Hitchin needed to step up a gear and this they did but were aided by some defensive naivety that did not fully encapsulate the power of the penetrative through ball that split their defence asunder. It was their undoing, really, as much as their diminishing threats on goal, however stylish the preparatory play.
Within two minutes, Hitchin restored their lead in almost arrogant fashion. Galliford had fired one in that was partially beaten away but a fine chance fell to Ryan who had the luxury of being able to pick his spot, which he did rather smartly. Fifty-one minutes – but it was not entirely comfortable. There was always a hint of the conceding of a goal through away enterprise – but Hitchin were able to exploit the high line of defence and penetrate it effectively with astute forward balls that brought further goals to put the match result beyond doubt.
I say beyond doubt but the visitors did get the ball into the net a minute or so later but it was over-ruled for an undisputed infringement. They also caused a little bit of a scare with another effort that struck the side netting. Draper had a glorious chance to score a third for Hitchin but he fluffed his lines to general consternation. It would have been a nice cushion. This was to come, but there were those awkward minutes to consume.
Cain, Bickerstaff, Dowie and Webb were working hard – the second named at left back, showing he can play wherever he is put – even as a stand-in goalkeeper. Ricardo Dudley was booked for booting the ball away after the award of a free-kick to his opponents – his look of injured innocence was met with the stony ‘rules is rules, son’ from the referee.
Alex Anderson replaced Ezra Forde after the hour mark and it was good to see him make a return. Johnson made one or two routine saves but it did show that the visitors were going out with a bang rather than a whimper. Blackmore had an effort and won a corner, which he elected to take himself. This provided some rich amusement as the referee was more concerned with a couple of injured players and had stopped play.
Blackmore turned a blind eye, so to speak and took the corner which found its way, unhindered into the net. The Bedworth player raised his arm in a salute to his own skill, but it was largely ignored as the players were treated. I spoke to Blackmore afterwards and, tongue in cheek he said it was a fine goal. I told him that I bet he could not replicate such a cross. Easy peasy was his response.
The next legitimate goal came on seventy-two minutes and it fell to Hitchin and to the man of the match, Isaac Galliford. An earlier corner from Galliford had seen Webb head over the bar- but this goal was altogether more pleasing. Fine intercepting work from Draper sent the ball to Galliford who made it 3-1 on seventy-two minutes, with a calm, accurate finish, and now the end result was no longer in doubt.
Draper’s forward ball had caught the Bedworth defence napping and so it was with the final goal some ten minutes later. Before that, Webb gave a way a free kick (at the expense of a caution), but Johnson saved this effort from Troke. I had already remarked to someone next to me that this was defeat with honour for Bedworth – and there was still a goal to come from the hosts.
This came about ten minutes before the end of the match and Draper scored his second from a similar forward ball that stranded defenders. It was clinically taken and added icing to the cake – but spare a thought for Bedworth- this score did not really reflect the game and this is not just my opinion. Yes, Hitchin were worthy winners and of course I am glad of that, but I am never beyond praising the worthy efforts of opponents.
Late substitutions were made, more goal efforts were studiously produced but there was no more score and down went Bedworth and Hitchin enjoy the safety. There was one moment of note when there was a controlled back pass within the area but it failed to materialise into a goal for Hitchin, being well defended by Elliott Parrott.
In a seemingly rich vein of form now, Hitchin travel to Alvechurch next Saturday, it being one of three remaining away games – the others being at Redditch and Banbury. Summing up one could say that Bedworth were creative yet flawed in defence and a little lacking up front. Hitchin took their opportunities well and were a generally cohesive unit.
The Bedworth committee, always smart in their Lincoln green blazers and club ties were the model of sportsmanship and diplomacy and they accepted relegation in a philosophical manner. Hitchin, after a ponderous start took eventual control and wwre worth their four good goals.
Michael Johnson, Max Ryan, GOAL 51 MINUTES, Josh Bickerstaff, Jay Dowie, Daniel Webb, captain, cautioned, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, Harry Draper, TWO GOALS, 29 AND 81 MINUTES,(Scott Belgrove, 83 minutes) , Ezra Forde, (Alex Anderson, 61), Isaac Galliford, GOAL, 72 MINUTES – SPONSORS’ MAN OF THE MATCH, Cautioned, Jay Bird(Alfie Cue, 83) Substitutes not used – Edwin Mensah and Jack Green.
Adam Harrison, cautioned, Richard Platt, cautioned, Luke Rowe, captain, Elliott Parrott, Ricardo Dudley, cautioned, Thomas Sharpe, Chekaine Steele, Reece Blackmore( Lewis Noon), Iyesden Christie, (Will Harris 24), Alexander Troke, GOAL, 49 MINUTES, James Hancocks, cautioned, (Ryan Baldwin). Substitutes not used – James Fogg Barry Fitzharris and Ryan Baldwin.
REFEREE: Mr M Morrison, who had a good game and was well supported by Mr L Hantea and Mr S Gregory.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN