Try as we might, we just cannot seem to beat Lowestoft and the Suffolk side fully deserved their third successive win over the Canaries who paled in contrast to their much praised performance against Barwell on Saturday. It brought the end to the run of games without defeat and once again the unenviable Hitchin tradition of failing to score a penalty caused a good few mutterings from those assembled on the chilly terraces.
There can be few complaints about this defeat – Hitchin were beaten by the better team on the night, but if that early penalty had been converted it may well have had a major impact on the final result. It was what may be called a feisty game with a total of eight yellow cards – including one dismissal for two cautions.
Lowestoft, a couple of places below Hitchin, began positively. As did Hitchin and the opening exchanges were even. There was an oddity when a long Lowestoft throw brought an unusual ‘back punch’ from Horlock, who gave away an unnecessary corner – since if the ball had entered the net a goal kick would have been given in any case.
Anyway, there followed a header from Wilkinson that cleared the bar and a mazy run from Fisk whose athleticism was more impressive than his finish on this occasion. He should have scored. There was a belter of a free-kick from Walster that was definitely goal bound and it needed a fine one-handed save from Tibbles to concede the corner. Barker headed wide from this. McIntosh had a decent shot, held by Horlock, and the impressive Reed forced a Lowestoft corner from his effort.
Dhillon was doing his level best to replicate his form against Barwell, and it was after he received a crisp pass from Marsh (who had been a lingering presence hitherto), that he was fouled and Hitchin were awarded a penalty, which the home faithful greeted as a kind of punishment. Marsh strode confidently towards the spot and we wondered. Oh Lordy, Marsh sent it right into the middle and Tibbles made the save and the deja vu came to mock.
It turned out to be an expensive miss and a spoiler alert here is that the Suffolk side had a penalty themselves at the start of the second half and they showed just how it should be done. Bickerstaff, a defensive pillar in this game, sent in a cross that brought a corner, which in turn brought another, but the Lowestoft defence stood tall. Fisk and Wilkinson had separate goes on goal and a pass from Hutchinson saw Ryan fire in a weak shot for Hitchin.
Six minutes before half-time, Reed opened the scoring after picking up a loose ball after an inconclusive clearance and he converted smartly. If nothing else, it put that penalty miss on the half hour mark in painful perspective. Hitchin were not playing particularly badly but nowhere near as impressively as the game before and the Lowestoft defence seemed determined to be thorough misers.
But this defence was proved to be vulnerable shortly before the interval, when, following a Walster free-kick, Hutchinson’s looping header saw the loan player from Colchester United score his second goal in as many games. This goal seemed to have the psychological effect of inducing a charitable forgiveness for the penalty miss as the hosts had seemed to sort themselves out and could go from there to try for maximum points.
At the interval, visiting Lowestoft officials were keeping their own counsel and were quietly amused at our bemoaning the Hitchin tradition of missed penalties. It was indeed ironic then that just three minutes into the second period, Hitchin conceded a penalty and Linton converted with an air of Mr Punch saying ‘that’s the way to do it’, and thus the Suffolk side once again were in the lead.
Hitchin had a pressing need to show an urgent response and Ryan’s excellent shot needed a fine save from Tibbles. Marsh and Hutchinson combined in another attack and Barker headed over the bar. Then, after Reed had cut in, there was a beauty of a strike from McIntosh that drew an equally fine one-handed save from Horlock.
Lowestoft were comfortable on the ball and looked the likelier to add to the score and this they did after sixty-five minutes, when Wilkinson scored after a very effective piece of forward play. Realistically, we could not see Hitchin coming back from this – despite several efforts. A good chance for Hutchinson only brought a corner, but the referee had been busy – indeed he issued some eight yellows – with one being a double – for Lowestoft’s Cole, who trudged off with perhaps the feeling that his team would not miss him that much. Indeed it was hard to realise that the visitors were a man down at all – which is often the case. Bell, who had come on as a substitute was frequently in food positions wide but did not always get the pass he screamed for, and when he did he was unable to profit from it.
Hitchin huffed and puffed but could not blow down the Lowestoft defence. Ryan did get the ball in the net but it was adjudged off-side. There was a moment when was committed off his line and it needed Green to clear close to the line. A fourth goal like that would have been rather embarrassing. As it is, we must accept that this was not a good performance – particularly in the second half, but credit must go to Lowestoft. They did it simply and they did it well.
It was not the result Hitchin wanted at all since their next two games are tough away tasks at Hednesford and Stratford on successive Saturdays. The penalty misses have been a bit of a haunting this season – particularly the one at Maidstone that would probably have forced a replay and brought more than just monetary reward. Perhaps we can console ourselves that the team tends to raise its game against stronger teams and that will be adequately put to the test at Hednesford. We shall see.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, cautioned, Ben Walster, Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, (Bradley Bell, 70), Daniel Webb, captain, (Joseph Gauge, 52, cautioned), Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, (Shaquille Ishmael, 78), Jacob Hutchinson, GOAL, 44 minutes, Alex Marsh, Max Ryan.
Substitutes not used – Kai Phelan and Brett Donnelly.
Luis Tibbles, Josh Curry, Dylan Ruffles, cautioned, Connor Deeks, Travis Cole, dismissed after receiving two cautions, Adam Tann, Louis McIntosh, (Kyle Richardson, 79), Andrew Fisk, cautioned, (Miguel Lopez, 70), Jake Reed, GOAL, 39 MINUTES, Malachi Linton, cautioned, PENALTY GOAL, 48 MINUTES, Marcus Wilkinson, GOAL, 65 MINUTES, (Fletcher Hedge, 87).
Substitutes not used – Andrew Reynolds and Joshua Wells.
REFEREE: Mr A List, assisted by Mr T Beeton and Mr P McVey.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN