First of all we offer a huge thank you to our ground staff who were working on the pitch from 08:30am and it was their efforts that made this game possible and we appreciate their dedication, as persistent rain had cast some doubt on the game going ahead.
It did go ahead and full steam ahead as well in what was an historic first ever meeting between Hitchin Town and Herne Bay of the Isthmian League. It was a feisty affair, a red-blooded cup tie with the almost mandatory moment of controversy that might well have altered the final outcome.
Worn down by Royston Town in the last game, a decent result today at Top Field was something of a priority – and we were all aware that there was to be a Government announcement at four pm that may have an impact on the progress of this already tentative season.
The Bay, playing in their customary all blue had quietly disregarded the fact that their opponents played a division above them and in the manner that they started may have raised a few home eyebrows. An early probe involving the very impressive Tushaun – Tyrese Walters and Bradley Stevenson spelled danger, and was cleared a little awkwardly. At the other end a free-kick in a fair position saw The Bay wall do its job. Then there was a free kick for the visitors and Dan Johnson had a blocked cross but a following attack on the left saw a peach of a pass to Zak Ansah who indeed had an answer when his low shot found the net at the near post. It was a well-taken goal and had the travelling supporters in fine voice.
We had barely played ten minutes and Hitchin looked unsettled. Indeed there followed a rather poor clearance which led to a goal chance, beaten away for a corner and following this Stevenson headed over the cross bar. The away support were enjoying themselves, relaxing in good voice to singing rude remarks about rivals Whitstable Town and taunting their opponents with the refrain ‘ League above, you’re having a laugh’. This has some credence because up to this point The Bay were bossing the show.
Lawrie Marsh, in a good shooting position dragged his shot wide and an effort from the promising Dan Akubuine was put away for a corner. Charlie Horlock, who certainly earned his bread and butter in an amazing finish, almost let in Walters, and then had to save an on target effort from Stevenson. A corner from Layne Eadie saw Webb head too high but a wonderful shot from Lewis Barker saw an equally wonderful save from George Kamurasi.
Hitchin still had their hands full defensively when, against the general run of play they were able to equalise with an untidy goal that was indeed attributable to Bay skipper Laurence Harvey. There was a cross from the left from Alex Marsh – the ball seemed to bobble and a yellow shirted player seemed to finish off the move but it had come off Harvey – and a quotation from Milton might work here –
What boots it at one gate to make defence
And at another lets in the foe? (Samson Agonistes).
So Hitchin had scrambled parity, with ten minutes of the half remaining. It was a piece of good fortune but at least the Canaries were now able to get more possession and construct some sound moves. But with a set piece wasted, the hosts still needed to shake off their diffident manner as it was evident that The Bay would not relent. Indeed they played a cunning through ball that cut through the defence and a shot followed, deflected for a corner. Tom Carlton then had a deflected shot, followed by a similar effort from the indefatigable;e Callum Stead, but Kamurasi held it well.
There was no doubt that The Bay had been the more effective side in this first half – but there was a remarkable turn and turnabout on resumption. I spoke to manager Mark Burke after the game and he told me that he thought his team was ‘too complacent’ in the first forty-five and gave meaningful instructions in the welcome interval. The Hitchin players must have heard and heeded his advice because for a good period in the second half the hosts seemed to reassert themselves quite convincingly.
The hosts went for the jugular, with Stead, Cawley and Alex Marsh leading the charge. Within three minutes the lead was obtained in a notable manner. Cawley was in possession and he was able to pick out Alex Marsh who outwitted a defender, rounded the harrying keeper and ended up virtually walking the ball into the net. It was a cheeky, opportunistic goal and for a while it took the wind out of the opposition sails. But, to their credit, The Bay shrugged off their disappointment and once more committed themselves to attack. Yes, this did leave a gap and Stead had a half chance with a one on one, but Kamurasi held firm.
Stevenson had a shot deflected for a corner and from this Walters saw a half chasnce beaten away. Stead, in a counter move shot well only to find the side netting and Hitchin debut man, substitute Ciaren Jones first meaningful piece of action was a good defensive header that started a counter move. Bay substitute Dan Grant put in an inviting cross that was defended and Walters, recipient of a long pass advanced on goal but shot over the bar. Both Stevenson and Sterling had shots on target saved by Horlock who , as it turned out became the Hitchin hero with a series of magnificent and at times improbable saves.
It was a nervous lead – and then there occurred one of those incidents that has aggrieved supporters and players appealing for what they see as justice. Walters was apparently fouled in the penalty area, blue shirted arms were upraised in appeal and then anger as the referee dismissed the appeal. I was a long way from the incident but it did look like a definite penalty to me. A Bay supporter told me afterwards that ‘the whole ground thought it was a penalty’. But this, oddly is not so, as when I spoke to some Bay players after the game one told me that ‘a couple of the boys did not think it was a pen’. There you are – but had it been given I think there would have been little ground for complaint – and if it had happened to us some of the Canaries’ supporters would have been spitting feathers.
At 2-1 and a penalty to Bay – the game may well have had a different result. I will content myself to say that the referee was a lot closer to the incident than I was and his integrity would never be called into question. He had to make a decision and he made it – but I do feel for the away supporters as it was an entirely crucial moment.
The phrase ‘add insult to injury’ might have entered the minds of the Bay fans as almost straight away a hopeful forward ball was punted towards Callum Stead and it looked as if the keeper would beat him to it. Well, we expected it, but the persistent Stead won the ball and with the keeper committed and out of position Stead calmly fired the ball into the unguarded net. This seemed a killer blow with about ten minutes to go but the Bay then put the Hitchin goal under siege and I bet Charlie Horlock’s hands are still stinging from the force of the shots that he palmed away, pushed away for a corner or held with a sensde of temporary relief.
There were fine efforts from Ansah, Sterling and Stevenson – I could not keep up and it seemed inevitable that a consolatory goal would be the outcome. Carlton also had a good go but Horlock was unassailable if a trifle overworked. The Hitchin net did not bulge and the hosts held on in what seemed an endless five minutes and The Bay supporters ensured that their team were saluted for their magnificent effort.
As a cup tie it had all the ingredients we come to expect and to enjoy (and suffer), and as the teams left the pitch we heard news of the coming Lockdown owing to the calamitous spreading of the Coronavirus and we do not know yet what will be the full impact on staging and attending games of football.
Hitchin thus progress in this competition and some long standing supporters were relieved as the record against Isthmian League teams in this competition has not been too wonderful.
So there we are – a kind of finale at Top Field and with an exciting cup game to bring down the temporary curtain.
Charlie Horlock, Daniel Akubuine, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, cautioned, Dan Webb, captain, Samuel Okoye-Ahaneru, Alex Marsh, GOAL, 48 MINUTES, Lewis Barker, Steve Cawley, Callum Stead, GOAL, 84 MINUTES, SPONSORS’ MAN OF THE MATCH, Lawrie Marsh, cautioned. Substitutes used – Ciaren Jones for Okoye -Aheneku, 60, Marcus Gouldbourne for Ryan Smith, 69, Luke Brown for Steve Cawley, 77. Substitutes not used – Rio Dasilva and Josh Caldicott-Stevens.
George Kamurasi, Ryan Cooper, Mohamed Kamara, Laurence Harvey, captain, OWN GOAL, 35 MINUTES, Dan Johnson, Tushaun- Tyrese Walters, Tom Carlton, Zak Ansah,GOAL,10 MINUTES, Mobolaji Dawodu, Jordan hibbert, Bradley Stevenson. Substitutes used – Tyler Sterling for Ryan Cooper, 77, Dan Grant for Jordan Hibbert, 65. Unused substitutes – Dan Colmer, Daniel Lawrence, Daniel Carrington.
REFEREE: Mr D Simpson, assisted by Mr T Ratherham and Mr R Cole.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN