We have a lot to praise about the performance of the Canaries against their senior county neighbours, who neither outfought nor outplayed the hosts in a somewhat gruelling ninety minutes. The game was like the curate’s egg, being good in parts and was, in vital moments, decided by the goalkeeping prowess of both Michael Johnson and Laurie Walker. The result was decided on penalties where Hitchin did not excel and I take the subjective view that at least the fixture congestion has been reduced. The winners will play Boreham Wood away, and we wish them well in this.
This was the Second Round of the Hertfordshire Senior Cup, and an involvement is mandatory, as it is in all counties, but a glance at the team sheet showed that manager Mark Burke fielded his best team, indicating a serious desire to win. There is no getting away from the general apathy from supporters where the meagre attendance was not disposed to offer serious vocal encouragement. As such the atmosphere was as dull as the weather, and the heavy rain had necessitated a pitch inspection, which was favourable.
Once underway, we saw some nice, controlled football, but very little exciting goalmouth action, and indeed in the whole of the first half we saw just one shot on target, with both teams sending a possibly successful strike clear the bar by a far too generous number of yards, or metres if you prefer.
The Tudors played a high line and were adept at containing forward movement from the home side, forcing, at times an inordinate number of back passes to Michael Johnson, who had a busy time enough without having to perform heroics. Micael Cain had the first go and , as I say it cleared the bar with unwarranted enthusiasm. Some attention was focused on Matt Lench, whose sparkling talent enables home to be a playmaker, but he was forced from the field of play after thirty-five minutes, which I will deal with in detail later.
Jack Snelus gave Tudors’ supporters some hope but his shot, like Cain’s was only of aerial prowess. I was impressed with the defensive qualities of both teams, even when errors imposed themselves to create greater possibilities. Cain’s cross deflected off Yakubu that on a more fortuitous day, (for us), might have deceived his own keeper. Tudors were adept at counter- play that had a good deal of pace but had an indifferent finish. Both teams improved in finishing as the game went on, and given the chances created, there ought to have been at least a goal apiece – maybe more.
On a positive note there was no discernible difference between the teams, and the gulf between status is often exaggerated – as we have indeed found out in our various cup encounters. Needless to say that had this been an FA trophy or FA Cup game there would have been an entirely different atmosphere, with a lot more than seventy-nine hardy souls braving this dull weather at the fag-end of the year.
What I would like to highlight is the notable contribution at this stage of Galliford and Chesmain, and I am not forgetting the delightful attention to duty of Lewis Ferrell, Jay Dowie and Jack Green. After twenty minutes there was the somewhat underwhelming statistic of no serious threat on either goal, and the game seemed one of containment.
We had hoped for more of the fluidity that characterised the game against a rather timid Barwell. Lench was again notable for his skill and enterprise. Chesmain had a decent crack that cannoned off the Hemel goalie’s knee, and thus we had our first shot on target. It was not repeated for the remainder of the half.
Michael Cain put in a really gritty performance, entirely suggestible that he may yet dictate the course of a future game. Caution was noticeable from both sides. A Hitchin attack, once broken down resulted invariably in solid counter play that faded before the ball was threaded through for a cunning chance. It was a very even game, with good football being played by both teams.
Vital passes from both sides seemed to be cursed with an unintentional heaviness, and a district caution was redolent. Ten minutes before the interval, Lench was replaced, and, we knew this could only be as a result of an injury – or at least a twinge that suggested erring on the side of caution. He was replaced by the solid and purposeful figure of Scott Belgrove who entered the fray with commitment and unceasing endeavour, even if he did seem to fall over himself at important moments.
Lench happened to pass by me as he was trundling off and explained a that he had a twinge in both hip and thigh and thought it circumspect not to tempt fate. He did say that he should be recovered in time for the trip to Rushall Olympic on Saturday.
After the interval Hemel replaced Sinclair with Osborn, but Hitchin stayed as they were with Danny Talbot coming late into the night to replace Ezra Forde, who had sought opportunities without telling success.
The second half was much better than the inconclusive first period since there was more direction, more excitement and some moments when a goal looked inevitable. Tom Knowles revealed himself as an exciting and adventurous player whose antics could well have brought success to the Tudors without the need of what was a rather subdued penalty ‘shoot-out’. Galliford sent one effort into the gloom of the trees, and I agreed with the supporter near me who suggested that I could not notch that up as a shot on target.
Knowles had the best chance of the match. He had one where he shot wide, but with this one he found himself onside and was clear on goal. He fired in well but Johnson made a memorable save. Galliford’s shot brought a follow-up from Cain who fired amply but found he had just rippled the side-netting. Steve Cawley had a bit of a beauty that was tipped over for a corner. Play was still enterprising enough for us to believe there would be a goal, but both defences were still adamant that nothing would be conceded on their watch. Galliford was just wide and Belgrove’s follow up was just thwarted.
The game was still open; both teams playing through the middle and if that was too congested they switched play to the flanks to good effect. Knowles had another pop and Johnson held it well, but a glance at the watch revealed just twenty minutes left and the spectre of penalties was becoming a little insistent. The next Hemel substitute, Karl Olyde was a veritable box of tricks, and combined well with Osborn on a few occasions. I was pleased that my daughter, who had come to the game on sufferance was now holding forth with a couple of ‘come on Hitchin’ shouts which sounded a bit too falsetto to add gusto to the encouragement, bless her.
With a quarter of an hour to go, it was difficult to predict, but that crucial goal was not looking likely. There were no set pieces in ‘dangerous’ areas. Galliford on a run was neatly tackled and I noted that Jack Snelus was alerting all to the possibilities.
Forde was battling but fell over himself, not once, but twice, in case we might have missed it. Johnson saved from Knowles at the expense of a corner that saw Johnson command possession. Forde went off and the old war horse Danny Talbot came on for a what could not be strictly called a cameo appearance.
We then heard the final whistle and prepared for the high drama of the ‘shoot-out’, but it seemed to lack the arm round the shoulder solidarity. So, here are the penalty details.
Cotter – goal. Bickerstaff – miss.
Snelus – goal, Talbot, miss.
Knowles, goal, Dowie, goal.
Osborn , goal and thus the visitors went through 4-1 on penalties.
Fair dos, the tie was lost but the Hitchin performance was generally disciplined and continually creative. The game on Saturday is away to Rushall Olympic and it goes without saying that a first away win of the season may boost morale to an impressive level.
Tonight’s performance was solid and maybe without that bit of flair that can turn the course of a game. Even so there were good things to see and it falls charitably on the side of entertainment.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, Matt Lench, (Scott Belgrove), Ezra Forde, (Danny Talbot), Isaac Galliford, Josh Bickerstaff. Substitutes not used – Edwin Mensah, Dessie Da Silva, Craig Packham.
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD TOWN
Laurie Walker, Jaques Kpohomouli, Kyle Connolly, Scott Shulton, Ishmail Yakubu, Oliver Swain, Tom Knowles, this reporter’s man of the match, Kavan Cotter, Steve Cawley, (Karl Oliyde), Rob Sinclair, (Alex Osborn), Jack Snelus.
Substitutes not used – Darren Ward, Magloire Muyembe, and George Waters.
REFEREE: Mr D Rock, good game, took no nonsense and keot his cards in his pocket, ably assisted by Mr G ~Swanton and Mr G Connell.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN