In the penultimate pre-season friendly a very experimental Hitchin team overwhelmed county neighbours Harpenden Town who play in the Spartan League Premier division.
It was indeed welcome to see the first football at Top Field since March and gratifying to see the many improvements made by the ground staff and volunteers – the pitch, needless to say is in optimum condition.
This turned out to be a bit of a romp for Hitchin after the stern test at St Neots last Saturday, even though many regulars were rested. Steve Cawley was back from injury and played in the first half, celebrating his return to fitness with a goal.
Harpenden elected for an interesting kit of blue and black stripes but I would have appreciated white numbers rather than black – from a reporting point of view that is. Almost as important as the game was the new system to meet the advisory regulations for the current Covid crisis. The attendance was limited to 300 but in the event just 200 turned up.
Hitchin began in fine attacking mode and were indeed a goal to the good after just three minutes, when a sumptuous cross from the left gave Callum Stead a free header which he converted smartly. This and later moves exposed a rather leaky Harps defence. The visitors were not allowed to settle and were having difficulty dealing with the many crosses into the penalty box as well as having to cope with the dominant possession of the hosts.
They did manage one break from defence when the bulky centre forward Lanre Balogun afforded a chance to team mate Sam ruff whose weak shot was easily gathered by Charlie Horlock who was noisily ‘coaching’ his comrades. Before long, Max Ryan was displaying just why he was elected man of the match – he was ubiquitous, visionary and tenacious – causing all manner of problems.
Ryan had a couple of efforts effectively saved before Kade Abbey -Stevens had a go – but the second goal came from a fine low shot after twenty minutes from Josh Caldicott-Stevens. He had latched on to a good forward pass from Marlow Gough. Hitchin passing was particularly good tonight – but they were rarely harried on the ball.
In one rare forward move from the hosts there was a shot from Owen Tizard, and this was followed by a shot from Cawley, which was wide. But the recuperating striker did get his goal after thirty-nine minutes when a cross from Dhillon saw him convert accurately. This came following a corner.
Ironically, one of the best moments of the game belonged to Harpenden when Balogun, who had been effectively contained hitherto, unleashed a brilliant shot from range that would have been a spectacular goal but for an equally spectacular save from Horlock, at the expense of a corner. Balogun tried again but was denied in the box following a super defensive tackle from Abbey-Stephens. Ryan continued to torment and finished runs with shots on goal – but his distribution was also notable.
The interval came soon after and a three nil lead for the hosts was an adequate reflection of their overall superiority, but I doubt if any team in the Southern Premier would have allowed such freedom on the ball. Too many attempts at forward moves by the Harps were all too easily intercepted and the pressure on their defence was immense. I was a little surprised since Stotfold and Ampthill, Spartan League teams a division lower than Harpenden, had provided a sterner test – against a nominally stronger Hitchin line-up.
Nevertheless it was gratifying to see the silky skills of Ziddane Gourgel Sequeia and also from substitutes Nikolai Rusev and Marcus Goldbourne. Cawley and Dhillon had played their part. Dan Weaver, our new young goal keeper replaced the vociferous Horlock during the second half, but he had little opportunity to exhibit his prowess as Harpenden struggled to construct forward moves where they eluded having their pockets picked.
Gourgel Sequeia and Goldbourne were simply exciting in possession and rivalled Ryan for boldness in forward moves. The latter provided Ryan with a chance that was smartly saved. The fourth goal was almost explained to the spectators. Hitchin had won a corner and an unmarked Goldbourne was heard to ask for the ball. No defender reacted and Goldbourne netted in a ruthless manner. We had played fifty-four minutes.
Harpenden battled gamely and did achieve a better proportion of possession but their forward moves lacked clarity and vision. Gourgel Sequeia might well have scored from his shot but the goal keeper, Taylor did well to stop it, and Lewis Barker had his effort saved, following a Goldbourne assistance.
A Hitchin free-kick saw Ryan’s effort strike the defensive wall and the follow up shot was saved by Taylor. Rusev really ought to have scored with his chance but Taylor just managed to prevent the goal with his fortunately placed trailing foot. This came from yet another of those fine penetrating through balls through the middle. A fine move from Goldbourne and Rusev was only just thwarted and Ryan, through on goal, conspired to trip himself up – undone by his own mastery. Goldbourne’s next shot brought a fine save from Taylor who had a busy game – and a good performance overall despite the goals he conceded.
The exotically named Ziddane Gourgel Sequeia finally achieved his reward in the eighty-seventh minute when he scored the final goal of the game., which in truth was too one-sided to be enjoyable but I expect both managers obtained something of value from the encounter.
The final friendly is against the only side senior to Hitchin in the pre-season programme, – that is the former Football League club, Barnet, who will probably form the biggest test to Hitchin, who have won all their pre-season games, with the exception of St Neots, by impressive margins.
Charlie Horlock, (Dan Weaver), Kade Abbey – Stephens, Jhai Dhillon, (Luca Cardines), Josh Coldicott-Stevens, GOAL, 20 MINUTES, Harvey Sule, Marlow Gough, Max Ryan, Man of The Match, Lewis Barker, Steve Cawley, GOAL, 39 MINUTES, (Marcus Goldbourne, GOAL, 54 MINUTES), Callum Stead, GOAL 3 MINUTES, (Nikolai Rusev), Ziddane Gourgel Sequeia, GOAL, 87 MINUTES.
Mackenzie Taylor, George Naismith, Dan Westmore, Connor Perlmutter, Miles Habashi, Sion Hardy, Steve Wade, Sam James, Lanre Balogun, Sam Ruff, Owen Tizard. Substitutes- all used – Curtis Dibley, Jack McConnell, Matthew Crook, Ollie Seeby, Lilian Puscasu and Dan Martin.
REFEREE: Mr T Danaher, assisted by Mr J Scott and Mr T Frost.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN