Three goals, three points and a second win over a team in the top five of the table –and a clean sheet as well. We have nothing to complain about but the cold – but this was a warming result tonight and does much to ease relegation worries.
There was a very interesting look about the team selection, with a surprise return of Matt Lench, with Max Ryan coming in at right back. Alfie Cue was on the bench, possibly still to recover fully from his injury on Saturday. If this is a Hitchin revival it does have a smack of authenticity about it as it has been plain that the Canaries always seem to raise their game against nominally superior opposition.
Recent snowfall and the attendant drop in temperature may have cast some doubt on the game, but the pitch, although hard and frost bound was playable, and looked quite nice with its silvery sheen and the rising moon made me want to wax lyrical – and indeed I can as this was a fine, disciplined and co-ordinated performance from Hitchin, and even more satisfying than the recent win over league leaders Stourbridge.
The Linnets looked smart in their away kit of white shirts and black shorts, set off nicely with their black and white hooped socks, and their early play had a stylish feel that suggested they had a goal within them, but they were matched demonstrably with individual players exhibiting a new strength and creativity.
The game began with an initial shot from Ryan Hawkins, which provided no severe test, since it cleared the bar. But they were well-drilled and organised, as expected. Lench was soon involved, with some thoughtful passes that gave scope to forward moves. Chesmain’s attempted cross was blocked and Lynn soon made a forward move of some flourish. But the next shot came from Hitchin from the impressive Harry Draper that took a deflection from Rory McCauley and went for a corner, taken by Isaac Galliford. This sailed in majestically, causing confusion to such an extent that saw Draper take advantage of the deception and he put the Canaries into a welcome lead with just six minutes played.
It was a fine bit of opportunistic poaching and served to boost the hosts. Lench combined with Forde and Dowie, which was defended, but Ryan took a long throw and Lench was able to have a pop which was a mite too high. Forde did not go much beyond this as he needed to be replaced by Scott Belgrove, who, in my estimation made an important contribution throughout. Lench had a cross that was defended by a header and Michael Gash took the ball up field for Lynn, whilst Alfie Cue’s Dad and I considered what nicknames Gash might be credited with by Lynn supporters.
Galliford, on the turn with a shot saw Alex Street gather comfortably. Dowie had a blocked shot with Bickerstaff following through but there was an off-side decision that put paid to that manoeuvre. It was a good bit of pressure though, with the ball bouncing awkwardly within the penalty area. This was promising, positive stuff from Hitchin. Henderson, with a nice sheen on his bald pate was active with positive passing.
Belgrove was well involved – he passed to Belgrove who caused some worries along with Galliford and Draper – and in this move Hitchin doubled their lead. It was another of those uncertain moments within the opposition penalty area, but with twenty minutes played Hitchin were two-nil to the good, with Belgrove scoring and all was well with the world.
I do not think that we all expected this, but it was with the flow of play and was good to see. Dowie persisted and had a blocked shot that saw Linnets skipper Clunan mop this up for a counter move. Draper had a shot on the turn, easy for the keeper, but worth a go.
Despite Lynn’s variety of play there was a resolute firmness about Hitchin. I might add with some degree of confidence that the defending against set pieces was much less alarming of late, but it does not excuse the giving away of free-kicks in dangerous positions. Belgrove had a determined touch tonight, as did Galliford – both had greater control on the ball and contributed fully to attacking moves. Corners were won, and they provided problems. Lewis Ferrell got in a header that was only just wide of the far post; this was good stuff with over half an hour played.
Lench had a good forward run with Chesmain trying to pick out Belgrove but there was an important intervention. Clunan’s free kick saw a little awkward defending, but it was enough. Hawkins did a job in defence on one sortie, but it was clear that Hitchin were still attacking with a purpose. Galliford had a shot that was put over the bar by Joe Robinson – and Hitchin had another corner. This was only partially cleared and Lynn were looking vulnerable in their own penalty area.
Hitchin took the two goal advantage and they looked good value for this. But Lynn still looked as if they had a goal in them and if they did score it would have given the game an entirely different aspect.
At the start of the second half, there was some earnest play from the visitors that suggested they might reduce the deficit. They won a free-kick, taken by Clunan which was a good shot, well held by Johnson, who had a fine game. Hawkins attempted a volley that was inconclusive. They won another and I did think of our perceived weakness in this aspect, but I proved to be worried unduly. This went wide from Clunan, in what was possibly their best spell of the game.
A third goal would have been welcome – or at least a definite prevention of conceding a goal – and this came to pass, more or less. Lynn made a substitution, bringing on William Mellows-Blair, a fine name suggesting that he might get a knighthood someday as it seems to fit. He proved quite useful for the remainder of the game. Chesmain skipped through, with Lench trying a delicate lob when a blast might have been the answer.
Draper had a shot that was not too far from the ultimate target; so still very positive from Hitchin who were defending well and developing forward play with confidence. Shipp put in a cross that landed harmlessly on the roof of the net. We had reached the hour mark, and then Draper and Galliford combined to win a corner, but only after Hitchin players surrounded the referee with a successful appeal.
Lynn had a shot just wide, reminding us that they were still in with a definite shout. Galliford had a lovely turn, sent in a ball to slip it to Lench whose shot hit the foot of the post. Better, or rather worse was to come, when Galliford, through on the keeper following a defensive error – he ought to have added a third but instead of ‘dummying’ the keeper he fired the ball straight at him and the save was easy.
Ryan Jarvis gave way to Craig Parker, but this did not increase the momentum for the visitors, who, according to their chairman, were missing three pivotal players tonight – but to his credit he did admit that his team did not deserve much from their performance tonight. A Lynn free-kick went into the penalty area, but it was over hit and went for a goal-kick.
Lynn had yet another free-kick in a dangerous area, and we were still debating how important Galliford’s miss might be. At this stage there was an incident involving an away spectator that caused some delay but as I did not see what went on at that far side , I cannot report it accurately. It just meant a delay and I wondered how much time would be added on – and curiously the referee did not seem to allow for this.
A Hitchin shot took a deflection for a corner – beaten away to allow, erelong a chance for Gash that he seemed to spurn. Chesmain took a free-kick, aimed at Webb who got in a header but it lacked force. A cross from Lench saw Galliford shot high and into the murky foliage behind the goal, where balls from previous games defy discovery.
Then there was the penalty, ten minutes from time conceded by Shipp who had performed blamelessly hitherto. Jay Dowie converted this in the eightieth minute and the points were secure. I suspect, that, like Stourbridge, the visitors were below par but as the phrase goes, you can only beat what is put in front of you and this Hitchin did in a convincing manner, with much to admire about each area of their play. The score-line did not flatter them and if Gallifords’s chance had gone in I would say the same.
There was tenacity about their play which underlines a view, much expressed by opposition teams that Hitchin are a lot better than their league position suggests. This victory augurs well for the forthcoming visit to Leiston on Saturday. Lynn had clearly disappointed their travelling support with a meek performance where the prospect of scoring a consolatory goal diminished as time went on. They are a good team, nevertheless and remember that we have yet to go to The Walks and be in no doubt, they will be seeking recompense.
But, on a cold, frosty night, there was a good deal to be thankful for in Hitchin’s approach. It was a convincing win, with good defensive qualities and a genuine hunger for possession and the instigation of positive forward play – and three goals, without reply as well. If the post had not got in the way and Galliford had ‘dummied’ it could have been five.
Michael Johnson, Max Ryan, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, cautioned, PENALTY GOAL, 80 MINUTES, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Josh Bickerstaff, Harry Draper, GOAL, 6 MINUTES, Sponsors’ man of the match, Ezra Forde, (Scott Belgrove, 12 minutes), Isaac Galliford, Matt Lench, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Alfie Cue, Matt Nolan, Edwin Mensah and Craig Packham.
KING’S LYNN TOWN
Alexander Street, Kieran Shipp, Jake Kerins, Ryan Jarvis, (Craig Parker, 68 minutes), Joe Robinson, Rory McCauley, Michael Clunan, captain, Christopher Henderson, (Jordan Richards, 83 minutes0, Michael Gash, cautioned, Adam Marriott, Ryan Hawkins, 9William Mellows-Blair, 53 minutes).
Substitutes not used – Paul Bastock GK, Owen Gilbert.
REFEREE: Mr A Humphries, assisted by Mr L Scott and Mr L Hantea.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN