This was not a Happy New Year’s Day for Hitchin Town who suffered a fourth successive League defeat, and this latest setback was a particularly hard one to take. The Canaries had battled gamely after being reduced to ten men, following Ben Walster’s dismissal for a second caution, and they were a minute or so away from a hard earned point that would have been deserved. But Kings crowned the game with a late goal after sustained pressure in the closing minutes.
The most recent performance, away at Biggleswade had not left the hosts drenched in bliss but the disputatious mood of that game seemed to roll over into this one, and it is quite puzzling since it could never be classified as a ‘dirty’ game. But the game still contained eight cautions and I feel I must make a point about the continuing poor disciplinary record that has dogged Hitchin. No-one was ‘taking one for the team’ and the constant appeals en masse to the referee, as at Biggleswade, did not make the official in any way sympathetic.
One hates to remember a game in this way as, for the most part this was an absorbing game – or rather it could have been but for the petulance of players who are experienced enough and sensible enough to know better. There is no point in blaming the referee, who was kept busy enforcing the law and this he did, at times vociferously and with punctilious fervour.
With it being New Year’s Day, there was the psychological feeling of a new beginning, which in Hitchin’s case was to stop the rot and put an end to that statistic of successive losses and the opening spell suggested that this might be the case.
Good Lord, Stephen Cawley, despite loading a Christmas pound or two looked decidedly energetic and hungry to score. He combined with the focused Jhai Dhillon in an immediate opening attack, which although foiled it augured well. It was a lively opening that was sustained, but alas, not just for Hitchin as the visitors, those pesky villagers who had soundly beaten the Canaries at their place earlier in the season, constructed some sound and flowing moves of their own that suggested they had a goal or two in them this afternoon.
Indeed the more clean cut moves were attributable to the visitors who sprayed the ball about with confidence on the heavy pitch, but this was a game dominated by defensive competence that created a ‘deadlock’ that was only penetrated right at the end. Early on there was a chance or two for Saul Williams, who had combined with Stephen Ward and Mitchell Weiss and put in a shot that ought to have given Charlie Horlock more of a test. He had another shot following a free-kick but unaccountably drifted out of the half. There was good play from Jordan Parkes and Weiss, but it was not penetrative enough, but a more worrying fact was Ben Walster receiving a reprimand after an industrial challenge and he was to receive the first of his two cautions. I do not know if you have noticed but almost every offending player assumes a look of startled innocence, which once the card is brandished, they then walk away with a recriminatory scowl.
On a positive note, I will report that after Marsh had won a free-kick for Hitchin he then pushed Roderick Collins out of the way and the Kings player reacted in an exemplary manner, refusing to be intimidated over such an obvious trifle, showing that restraint is the better part of valour – or common sense. Marsh and Dhillon produced a half chance that was robustly defended, as were other forays, but at least Hitchin were playing better than they did in the corresponding fixture. Max Ryan had a shot blocked , and he then completely wasted a free kick. From a home corner Josh Bickerstaff was on target but his shot was too soft to worry Melvin Minter. Ryan had a positive shot that flashed just wide but the half finished without a goal and had evidently not inspired.
I say this because those who spoke to me at the interval were of the opinion that this was not, shall we say, a classic? The teams seemed evenly matched with the visitors being a tad more stylish – but they were not electric on front of goal after their opening scares. But for the home contingent the worry was Hitchin’s bluntness in front of goal, the general absence of shots on target and the self-consciousness of the lack of form.
We must have seemed a glum lot on the terraces after the festive period, since many of us were thinking that it looked like a draw and a point would be helpful. But we felt that at Biggleswade and then those rotters from Bedfordshire had the temerity to score two goals in a game that did not deserve any.
There were no substitutes as yet from either side – and both sides eventually brought on two each. A Hitchin free-kick was so strong that it actually ricocheted off Josh Bickerstaff for a corner. This, like others was defended, the goal keeper often preferring the resolute punch to the catch. Weiss had a shot on target that was saved, but in general we did not really expect to see a goal, since the two defences were doing an efficient job.
On the hour mark things turned a little sour when Ben Walster received his second caution and was dispatched on the walk of shame, leaving his team mates to battle for the next half hour plus injury time and again giving evidence of that odd fact that ten men often play better than eleven. But it would be better if such cautions could be avoided altogether.
Before this phenomenon, there was a good chance for Kings when Weiss, Williams and Parkes combined and the last named put in a fair shot that was saved. I expect at about this time our sponsors had selected Horlock as the man of the match. This was before his magnificent save right at the end of the match that would have been worth the point.
We were a little excited at a short-lived spell of pressure from Hitchin that saw two shots on target, the second from Cawley that he might well have scored from. Then there was a corner that brought another defiant punch clear from Minter. Jellis, eager but unfulfilled , wasted an attacking move and in the next foray the cross landed on top of Minter’s net – and one could sense he was waiting to punch the ball’s lights out.
There were more petty disputes and one was of interest since it was a caution for simulation – given to Parkes whose simulation of disbelief equalled that of the original offence. Hitchin were doing well, given the circumstances and I was confident that a draw would be the outcome. Bradley Bell had come on and had lurked with intent, often unmarked but when he advanced towards goal he found his presence was anticipated fully. Max Ryan received a needless booking for grabbing a ball and a player after a free-kick award – but the most significant part of the game came in the last few minutes and indeed in the full five minutes or so added on for stoppages. This game did not end until five pm , which will give you an idea of the lengthy stoppages and we do not even do VAR.
Parkes free-kick, centrally from about twenty-five yards saw Horlock save well, as he did with that late chance from the same player.
Lewis Barker blocked a shot from what seemed some discomfort to him, and Kings were mounting pressure almost as if they expected and indeed deserved to win. It was a little alarming as we were not sure Hitchin could survive the bombardment. There were a couple of untidy clearances but still those in red came forward. A late shot from Parkes almost won it but the move that actually did garner the points came from a cross from the left that saw right back Lloyd Doyley as the unlikely scorer and he was then buried under a pyramid of his colleagues who felt they had earned their reward against the gallant resistance of the ten men. The winning goal came in the ninety-fourth minute.
That sort of thing is rather nice when it is your own team snatching victory from the jaws of a draw but when you are on the receiving end it grates somewhat and Kings Langley thus achieved a league double over a team they had not beaten until that evening match earlier in the season that they won 3-1, and entirely convincingly as well.
Credit is due to the visitors who maintained that vital pressure in the last few minutes – probing to crack the resistance of the hosts and we can only say that Hitchin still have some soul searching to do in terms of self-discipline and a fuller expression of their potential.
The next game is away at Stourbridge – where we caved in during stoppage time, after some notable resistance. It is hoped we may improve on that as we are still a little too close to the bottom places for assured comfort. We can hope to prove Churchill’s view (attributed to) that there are two kinds of statistics – statistics themselves and damn lies. That losing sequence is there to be broken.
Charlie Horlock, sponsors’ man of the match, Max Ryan, cautioned, Ben Walster, dismissed after two cautions, Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, Joseph Gauge, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, Jamie Jellis, (Bradley Bell, 76), Stephen Cawley, (Jacob Hutchinson, 79), Alex Marsh, Jhai Dhillon, cautioned. Substitutes not used – Diogo Freitas Gouveia, Kai Phelan and Dev Simms.
Melvin Minter, Lloyd Doyley, 94, GOAL, 90+4, Kyle Connolly, Dean Hitchcock, cautioned, Callum Adeblyl, cautioned, Jorrell Johnson, Stephen ward, (Casey Linsell, 70,), Roderick Collins, Mitchell Weiss, Saul Williams, (Evan Lamboh, 87), Jordan Parkes, cautioned. Substitutes not used – Liam Studley, Alex Anderson and Louis Collier.
REFEREE: Mr D Todd, assisted by Mr C Howes and Mr N Fuller.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN