What has happened to Hitchin? Their poor run continued with a third defeat, two of them at Top Field, and against teams where a win could reasonably be expected. But when teams are facing relegation they fight and this applies to both St Neots, who tidied up last week and to Lowestoft Town who eventually cruised to victory.
Team news was really about absentees. More than one person remarked that it was a trifle embarrassing to name just three substitutes for a home match, one of them being a not yet fully fit Matt Nolan. Results today removed the absolute necessity of a point to avoid relegation, but I am sure I speak for all in saying we would like the season to end with a bit of a flourish instead of meek submission.
Lowestoft are one team Hitchin should have beaten – and I mean in the early season game at Suffolk. Hitchin were 2-1 up only to conceded two goals to the Trawlerboys in stoppage time – and it was not the last time that late goals have denied points for the Canaries.
Jay Bird, who shot wide within two minutes gave some cause for optimism, as indeed did headers from Ferrell and Webb, but they caused no problem to Elvijs Putmins. Belgrove and Forde combined and the latter had a blocked shot, but Bammant for Lowestoft created a half- chance that suggested that the Trawlerboys had a trick or two to reveal. A corner from Smith was defended by Dowie, but there was a developing fluency in the visitors’ play that suggested they would be the likelier to score. Curry had penetrated with a long throw or two and the Suffolk team’s supporters were already chanting that ‘we’re gonna score in a minute.’ In this they were more or less correct as a fluent move emanating on the right, involving a slick exchange of passes was Dylan Williams open the scoring with a low shot after fourteen minutes. It was not unduly surprising as they had begun to play better than their hosts.
In another penetrative attack, Williams had a fine shot well saved by Johnson and play from the corner led to a fine header that appeared to bring a second goal for Lowestoft, but there was an infringement, for which Hitchin supporters were grateful. However, the visitors were looking dangerous on the ball and Hitchin stuttered, needlessly sacrificing possession and fading in the final third.
The second goal had clarity and simplicity and a helping head. Putnins pumped the ball up field and a simple defensive header was required to allow Johnson to gather. But this header was dreadfully short and fell into the path of Jake Reed who now had just Johnson to beat, which he did calmly and effectively and the visitors had trawled a second goal and it suggested that a heavy home defeat was a distinct possibility. We had only played twenty-three minutes as well.
Then Hitchin came to life and within three minutes they pulled a goal back – and with a smart, expressive move as well, involving Anderson and Bird, whose slick cross to Thake saw the last named volley into the net. That’s better was our collective thought. It could, perhaps should have been better. Shortly after, Thake was again on the spot with his decent shot being deflected for a corner, and from this a header was sent over the cross bar. This aggressive flurry was not yet concluded as Forde battled to control the ball, being in a good shooting position but he was adjudged to have infringed. There was still more when Bird cut in well, eluding challenges but in haste he shot wastefully wide. Belgrove had a go as well but his shot lacked velocity and it was an easy save for Putnins.
At the other end Ferrell was well –placed to defend close to the line, and a header from Bammant was not that wide of the target. Johnson gave us a little scare when he seemed to adopt the role of a full-back an, his challenge being unsuccessful he found himself way out of position and Reed crossed towards the empty goal but the ball had strayed out of play.
We were but five minutes from half-time but there was still some suggestive action to come. A Galliford free-kick was too close to the keeper. Jay Bird had a shot blocked and a further free kick from Ferrell was again too close to the keeper. An equaliser may well have been bagged right at the end of the half when from another free kick Belgrove blasted over the bar from close range.
What had been initially a little disheartening had culminated in real chances to get the game firmly back on track for Hitchin. The travelling supporters had made commendable noises in support of their team and this did not relent in the second half since a win today would make their survival virtually certain.
The Trawlerboys began the second period well enough with a shot from Williams who tested Johnson. The atmosphere was curiously somnolent for a while. Bird combined with Thake in one attack that was defended, and a cross from Jack Green to Forde was again too close to the keeper. Forde fed Bird whose low shot needed more pace and was thus easy for Putnins. Similarly there were a couple of headers from Webb that lacked the kind of pace needed.
Galliford, who had a better second half won a free-kick and from about twenty –five yards he sent the ball high over the cross bar. A further move with bird fizzled out to a corner that was cleanly defended. At the other end Zielonka won a free-kick which Smith put wide. Ferrell tried a long throw or two and these were quite good, one bringing a neat shot from Galliford that just might have brought the equaliser, unlike Webb’s following header. Even so, it was promising play for Hitchin.
This was soon put into perspective when, in the seventy-fourth minute, a fine counter move, inspired by Kyle Barker saw him slip the ball to Williams who picked out Reed who neatly scored his second goal and his team’s third, restoring the two goal lead that remained. Hitchin employed all their substitutes and I must say that Mensah showed decent touches as well as a couple of shots.
Lowestoft appeared to be cruising to maximum points when they found themselves under a good bit of pressure when Hitchin forced no fewer than four successive corners, albeit late in the game. One of these needed to be cleared off the line by Adam Tann, and the others were cleanly defended. At least they were pushing to the end- yet not enough to prevent the Suffolk side notching up a league double over the Canaries.
‘We’re staying up’ chanted the Suffolk club’s supporters, and Archie, our announcer, obviously in receipt of other results let slip almost apologetically that Hitchin were safe and in no way suggesting we paint the town red – or rather yellow and green. My work continued and unusually I had a lot of trouble getting my report to the Non –League Paper as my phone was reluctant to perform its duty.
I am grateful here for Safety Officer Len Leroux’s technical advice of ‘turn it off and then on again’. It worked and he brushed away my thanks with a remark about old people and phones. I apologised for being old and Len only said that he would get there one day.
Hitchin travel to their penultimate away match at Redditch on Saturday (20 April) and will contest matters on the artificial pitch. Lowestoft supporters were noisy and jubilant in the club house and good luck to them as their support was impressive. A third successive defeat is something to be concerned about and we can only hope that with three games left there is still time to finish the season with a bang rather than a whimper.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, (Sponsors’ man of the match), Alexander Anderson, (Edwin Mensah, 60 minutes), Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Scott Belgrove, (Nathan Mullings, 76 minutes), Charlie Thake, GOAL 26 MINUTES, Ezra Forde, (Matthew Nolan, 76 minutes), Isaac Galliford, Jay Bird. All substitutes used.
Elvjis Putnins, Joshua Curry, captain, Adam Smith, Kyle Barker, Adam Tann, Connor Deeks, Jacec Zielonka, (Henry Pollock, 76 minutes), Andrew Fisk, cautioned, Jake Reed, TWO GOALS, 23 AND 74 MINUTES, This reporter’s man of the match, (Fletcher Hodge, 90 minutes), Shaun Bammant, Dylan Williams, GOAL , 14 MINUTES, cautioned,(Armani Schaar, 88 minutes). Substitutes not used – Jack Wilkinson and Clon Wren.
REFEREE: Mr M Smith assisted by Mr A Hickman and Mr S Conway. All three had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN