This match was as tight as a drum, with Hitchin edging it with a delightfully confident performance, particularly in the second half, which brought the only goal of the game from Michael Cain – but the Canaries had an early redemption when the visitors failed to convert a penalty. As it turned out this was a gravely significant miss.
Michael Johnson and Lewis Ferrell made a return after their respective suspensions, and they along with their team mates were keen to atone for the 4-1 defeat against this somewhat stylish Leicestershire team in the corresponding fixture.
It was immediately apparent from the kick-off that the visitors were opposed to that atonement and launched a maiden attack, needing Ferrell to beat the attempt away. Playing in their Barcelona style away kit, Coalville were looking the business with some swift movements forward. A Galliford free-kick drifted into touch for a goal-kick. Coalville made a move along the left via McGlinchy, which was again beaten away, nut they continued apace.
After almost seven minutes Michael Johnson fouled Timothy Berridge inside the box and an undisputed penalty was awarded to Coalville – which was taken by Kairo Mitchell who sent the ball wide to a predictably ironic cheer from home supporters. It was a bit of a let off. Chesmain then had a free-kick that bounced off the defensive wall with Bickerstaff heading on and a corner was the result. This was defended for a throw-in, Chesmain and Cain combined and Galliford’s cross, aimed at Forde simply had too much pace for the striker to connect meaningfully.
Cain‘s pass to Forde was nicked away for a corner, Bickerstaff assisted Cain, whose shot went wide of the near post. It was becoming a fine, open game. Cain’s forward ball to Forde saw the later infringe, conceding a free-kick, which went for a Hitchin free-kick. Mathew Coton, clad in all orange in the Coalville goal, showed a degree of expertise with his kicks and was also quite vociferous with his advice to team mates. It did not, of course, match his manager’s loud exhortations. Galliford had a nice little backward flick close to goal that no-one could latch onto, but it was nice to see.
Berridge received a quickly taken free-kick that was intercepted and allowed Draper a shot that went, disappointingly over the bar by a good distance. Thomas and McManus were willing wing backs for the visitors and sustained this role throughout.
Coalville built on the left, but Ferrell headed away and Cain had a run, with Galliford crossing and Thomas cleared. Dowie’s cross was marginally too strong for connection, but Hitchin were in fine fettle. But so were Coalville. Who sent in a cross from the left with Berridge unable to control the headed effort to good effect.
Galliford skipped past a defender or two but was eventually intercepted and Berridge again could not direct the header with any accuracy. They came again from the left with a shot that Johnson went low to claim. A Hitchin free-kick, level with the penalty area saw McManus cautioned one of four for the visitors during the course of the game. This resulted in a goal kick.
It was all very even and not indicative of a goal fest, but it was a fine game. McManus managed a header, which saw him ruled off-side. Galliford took a free-kick wide on the left and Draper managed a header that he had no idea where it went, but it was not into the net, but Bickerstaff had a shot that cleared the bar.
A Coalville free-kick close to half-time was defended well, and we reached half-time, a little bit thankful that the penalty had been missed. The match observer told me during the interval of changes to the rules. Apparently if the ball strikes the referee to the advantage of the attacking side, he must halt the game and decree a bounce –up. I wondered if the ball struck the referee and went into the goal how that would be adjudged. I suppose we must wait and see.
It was, in any case a satisfactory half – but not so much for Coalville who must have regretted that penalty miss, which turned out to be more vital than it seemed at first. There had been much to admire from both teams in this hitherto even game, but the second half saw Hitchin establish a greater control over the game.
No substitutions were apparent and we expected an equally tight second period. Hitchin began aggressively and managed a couple of early attacks that had possibilities. For a start we saw Forde put one into the side netting. Hitchin began to dominate in attack but were met with precise defending. Crosses proved to be too heavy, but the hosts were definitely looking for a way through.
Coalville utilised McGlinchy on the left flank to good effect, aided by McManus. They had been quick to counter and managed some slick passing. No substitutions were made as yet but this did seem imminent. A Coalville free-kick was straight at Johnson, who soon had to face another but was equal to it.
At this stage I made a silent, inward prediction that the game might contain just the one goal that would prove decisive. So it proved to be. A good Coalville move resulted in an infringement, but they had signalled that they were dangerous on the break.
Draper turned nicely, was fouled and McGlinchy was added to the cautions. The free-kick from Galliford brought a really fine save from Coton. We had reached sixty-three minutes. The corner was a good one but Draper only managed an air shot. The Galliford was brought down by Towers, who was cautioned. Galliford’s free kick was headed away by Fenton, but Cain managed a cross that Galliford tried to volley but was neatly intercepted.
The solitary goal, which proved the winner, came now. Forde jiggled nicely in the penalty area and slipped the ball to Cain who converted neatly. Coalville substituted Dean for Shaw and soon Hitchin responded with Jay Bird coming on for Forde. Coalville were far from done and had an attacking spell that necessitated three successive saves from Johnson , followed by a confident snatch from a corner. An equaliser could not be ruled out owing to fine counter play from the visitors, but it must be added that Hitchin defending was notable tonight.
Draper had a blocked shot, with Chesmain’s cross easily defended, Ryan put it forward again but McManus cleared easily and he then went up field to send in a decent cross, again curt out by Johnson. Burgin received the fourth yellow w card for Coalville, which might be deemed excessive. Bird had come on for Forde, but he was not able to replicate his antics at King ’s Lynn where he was so close to notching a deserved equaliser in that exciting game.
Kairo Mitchell gave way to Tolani Omotolo, who certainly had his moments. Berridge drew a further save from Johnson, and it was clear that concentration was needed to ensure the points.
Ryan’s cross to Galliford brought a shot cleared by Burgin and Cain followed up with an effort that cleared the bar. A shot from McGlinchy was again held by Johnson, whose clean sheet was helped by that early penalty miss.
Hitchin prevailed to earn three welcome points and they are now well clear of the drop zone and heading towards mid-table. Coalville had played with proper intensity and again displayed what a good footballing side they are. They were not nearly as effective as they were in the corresponding fixture, but midweek games are never easy to predict, given travel and player availability. But Hitchin deserved their win through their sheer persistence. They had played well, especially in the second half. The goal was well worked and the points are most welcome.
The next visitors to Top Field are basement side Bedworth United, who face relegation, but – it will be remembered- they took a two goal lead at the Oval and the Canaries had to work hard to secure a 2-2 draw. But tonight we may be pleased with a thorough and earnest performance from Hitchin who kept a clean sheet, but I am not the only one who wondered how the game may have turned out had Mitchell converted that early penalty.
The three points make up for leaving The Walks at King’s Lynn empty handed after all that late pressure, but it is important that the team consolidate and make the most of remaining games this season.
Michael Johnson, Max Ryan, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Sponsors’ Man of the Match, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, GOAL, 67 MINUTES, Harry Draper, Ezra Forde, (Jay Bird, 76), Isaac Galliford, Josh Bickerstaff.
Substitutes not used – Alfie Cue, Scott Belgrove, Edwin Mensah and Alex Anderson.
Matthew Coton, Kalern Thomas, Scott McManus, cautioned, Steve Towers, captain, cautioned, Tom Burgin, cautioned, Kieran Fenton, Luke Shaw, (Alex Dean, 70), Andrew Wright, Kairo Mitchell, (Tolani Olomatola, 76), Timothy Berridge, Tom McGlinchy, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Dean Freeman and Oliver Luto.
REFEREE: Mr D Robinson, assisted by Mr S Arbery and Mr M Mitchell – all three had decent games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN