This second League win is all the more remarkable for what was generally unexpected. Hitchin followed the dismal capitulation against the bottom side Leiston on Saturday with an albeit narrow win again the League leaders Coalville Town in front of the lowest home attendance so far this season. It was no fluke and the players answered the critics in the best possible way and for that they must receive wholehearted praise.
Conversations on the homeward coach on Saturday evinced ironic comments that it would be very Hitchin to lose badly against the basement side and then turn it on against stronger opposition – and this is what they did – playing in a vastly improved manner from the outset, and scoring in the first few minutes as well. They began aggressively enough, going forward immediately, and a lob from Alex Marsh saw James Barker go down to a correctly dismissed penalty appeal, but three successive corners saw a chance for Stephen Cawley, but on the third we took delight in seeing skipper Dan Webb fire home emphatically from close range. We had played for four minutes and I did hear one cynical comment that we now had merely to hang on for another eighty-six minutes, which betrays a pessimism left over from Leiston, perhaps.
And we were delighted to have our midfield back… cue the song… ‘the midfield’s got its boots on and they are coming out to play (hip hip hip hooray)’. They were not just back, they were influential and positively combative. For these frantic opening minutes it was all Hitchin. Another corner saw Lewis Rolfe have a shot that was beaten away for a fair counter move by Coalville that brought a corner that was suggestive enough to demonstrate that they were now settling and getting into their stride. A Hitchin free-kick saw Marsh have a chance but Saul Deeney gathered well enough.
Coalville looked their best at this stage along the left flank and a move from Towers and Storey ended in an offside decision. Ben Walster managed a low, bobbling shot and a cross saw Cawley’s narrow miss at the far post. There was a distinct from the exuberant forward play from Coalville’s Thomas McGlinchy who, perhaps feeling he was not getting the service he required, went actively looking for the ball and his shot across the face of goal was close enough in itself but begged for connection from a colleague. It was a fair warning.
What a delight it was to see some close-passing, confident moves from the Hitchin midfield. Jhai Dhillon had a blocked shot and from this another Raven danger man, Luke Shaw looked like he would be a handful in this vibrant, open match. Stuart Pierpoint did not hang about and he showed good awareness of space and his distribution was accurate. Then there was a run and a cross from Marsh saw Dhillon just fail to connect. McGinley forced a corner, taken short but proved ineffective against a steady Hitchin defence. Marsh ran ahead of the defence and looked likely to score but he fired wide and we wondered if that miss might prove expensive. Berridge had a shot deflected by Jack Green for a corner, and that was headed wide – but the Ravens were seemingly coming closer. Shaw combined with McGlinchy and the former sent his shot over the cross bar. The lead was a nervous one but Hitchin’s play was generally cohesive.
On reaching the interval, Hitchin supporters near me were pleased at the improvement in all areas but there was an awareness that the visitors had come close. Right at the end of the half there were one or two dramatic moments that may well have brought an equaliser – and one effort seemed to trickle past the post when it might have nestled in the net. There was much work to do. One visiting club official opined that his side were playing poorly – but that did not take the wind out of my sails – yet I did expect the Ravens to alter their game plan accordingly. Well there was not a discernible difference and they still looked good going forward.
McGlinchy and Shaw were potentially the scourge of the Hitchin defence – but the former faded as the latter looked likely to influence the result. The second period began with a good move involving Webb, Dhillon, Walster and Marsh. At the other end Shaw had a low save held by the reliable Horlock and then he had another go but this was thwarted. Bell , who had a fair game and his effort was blocked and a corner for Hitchin saw Webb try to reach in vain for one of his powerful headers.
Max Ryan came on for Walster, and this was, in hindsight, a good move, since he was involved in both attack and defence. Webb deflected one attempted cross for a corner and the shot cleared the bar. Barker was booked for a flagrant foul, and the next Hitchin attack saw the effort cleared close to the line. Rolfe was also cautioned for a bad foul on Doyle-Charles and these two cautions were low points in Hitchin’s play.
A possible high point was when the hosts appeared to double their lead when Webb, that man again, headed in but it was ruled offside with barker the player in the offending position. At the other end Ryan’s vital block after a defensive error was key. Ravens’ substitute Kairo Mitchell had a decent shot saved by Horlock and then Cawley managed a scuffed shot. Marsh did well to fire in an effort from a difficult angle and it went some way to deceive Deeney.
The open nature of the game continued notwithstanding the legitimate complaints about rash tackles and frayed tempers. The win was always in doubt, right up to the last kick – and when the whistle went there was a degree of relief mixed with the jubilation of defeating the club at the top of the division.
I spoke to some Coalville officials after the game and they were gracious in their remarks and felt that Hitchin deserved maximum points, for their battling performance that did much to file away the bad memory of the Leiston loss.
This long awaited win does move the Canaries up to fourth from bottom but we are aware that Lowestoft and Redditch have games in hand. Nevertheless this was a good night’s work from Hitchin who now face Bedfont Sports in the FA Trophy on Saturday. They will face them with improved confidence as tonight’s win was a cohesive effort throughout and keeping a clean sheet will not do any harm either. Jack Green took the accolade as man of the match, but he will be the first to praise the collective effort of the team whose recovery from Leiston augurs well for future games.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, man of the match, Ben Walster, (Max Ryan, 51), Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, Daniel Webb, captain, GOAL, 4 MINUTES, Joseph Gauge, Lewis Barker, cautioned, Jhai Dhillon, Stephen Cawley, Alex Marsh, Bradley Bell.
Substitutes not used – James Verney, Josh Mollison, GK, Leon Okuboyejo and Alex Anderson.
Saul Deeney, Stuart Pierpoint, Scott McManus, Stephen Towers, (Adam McGurk, 62), Ellis Storey, Joe Doyle-Charles, Alex Dean, (Kalern Thomas, 70), Luke Shaw, Kian Taylor, Tim Berridge, (Kairo Mitchell, 45), Thomas McGlinchy.
Substitutes not used – Leandro Browne and Charlie Jemson.
REFEREE: Mr M Chard, assisted by Mr M Norton and Mr A Tregoning – all of whom had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN