A magnificent hat-trick from Luke Brown steered the Canaries into a memorable win over Mickleover, an in form team who ply their trade in the Northern Premier League. The Derbyshire outfit have good cause to rue their recent visits to Hertfordshire, having lost on penalties to St Albans city on penalties in the FA Cup, and tonight they can have little complaint at their defeat at Hitchin.
This was the first ever meeting between the clubs and many from Hitchin felt that, as underdogs, this would be the toughest test of this interrupted season. Oddly, Hitchin’s last competitive match was also in the FA Trophy, when they defeated Herne Bay 3-1 on the last day of October.
Tonight’s victory was richly deserved, but for the first five minutes it looked as if the visitors would impose themselves, such was their promising start to this match. The icy rain was yet to fall on what was a well below average attendance, but rules dictated that the visiting team was not permitted any supporters.
Mickleover attacked immediately, with Jake Bennett assisted by Andrew Wright, with Ben Walster defending at the expense of a corner. The clearance was robust and it created a breakaway involving Luke Brown and Callum Stead, who had strayed off-side. The experienced Stuart Beavan created an opportunity on the right for Sports, with Kemi Augustien aiding the cause – but then, out of nothing there was a fine pass from Alex Brown to Luke Brown, who could not maximise the chance.
There was a shot from range, over the bar from Augustien. Luke Brown ran in possession, this found Marsh and Phil Watt conceded the corner. Walster had a crack from range – it was wide but worth a go. A cross for Callum Stead was cleared, but Hitchin still kept possession, without meaningful progress.
A cross from Aman Verma for Mickleover won a corner for his team which was headed away, but they secured another corner, which was beaten away but led to a shot from Beavan which Horlock got a hand to, conceding another corner. This was adequately defended, but Jake Bennett kept it alive to keep the attack going, but without result.
Then Hitchin constructed a promising attack when Luke Brown played the ball to Layne Eadie, who slipped the ball to Ben Walster – this culminated by a shot from Brown blocked, crucially by Phil Watt. A Walster free-kick was floated across and Brown rose to head Hitchin into the lead after twenty-four minutes.
We celebrated fulsomely despite my catching the remark that it was against the run of play. I am not so sure of that, but my thought may be clouded by elation.
Marsh came close with a shot, assisted by Dan Akuibine. And hitchin looked secure in their play. Eadie was fouled by Bennett, close to the corner flag. Alex Marsh obliged and Dan Webb rose to the occasion but a corner was the result.
We were approaching the half hour mark in this fast paced game. Hitchin conceded a corner, but the header was wide. Could this lead be sustained, I wondered, given the good level of attacking skill shown by Mickleover. Another corner was conceded by Hitchin, which was defended. Eadie had a blocked shot, and Hitchin were beginning to look good value for their one goal lead.
Wright’s shot was blocked for Sports, Stead had one touch too many, but won a corner. There was some frenetic activity in the Mickleover penalty area but the ball was scrambled away. Alex Marsh had a shot that brought a corner. Watt headed away a Lawrie Marsh cross, and the interval was but a few minutes away. Stead’s shot was saved by Callum Hawkins, and Milner’s attempt to cut in was cut out by Walster. Beaven’s cross was intercepted by Lewis Barker.
Then there was a peach of a shot from the bulky Augustien that drew a confident save from Horlock. Cue Callum Stead, who won possession and he drove forward, ironically after Augustien had lost possession, Hawkins saved the shot. At the other end Verma tried to capitalise without result. Stead, again in possession. His persistence paid off and the pass to Luke Brown saw the second goal – beautifully finished – right at the end of the half. It was a remarkable goal at a crucial time.
Beavan’s shot won a corner for Sports, but this drew a blank and Hitchin went to the interval two goals to the good. From the uncertain start the Canaries had grown into the game and were indeed good value for their lead.
During the interval I recalled my rare visits to Derbyshire for football matches. One I remember well was the semi-final of the old FA Amateur Cup ( before that expressive word was devalued and given a different meaning). This was at Derby County’s Baseball Ground and it was a gruelling match between Skelmersdale and the once mighty Enfield, who won 1-0, by the skin of their teeth. They went on to win the Cup at Wembley in front of a 30,000 attendance, defeating Dagenham 5-1. I was there and the ticket cost me all of £1.50. Thirty bob to those of a similar age to myself. What was noteworthy was that a certain Steve Heighway was playing his last game for Skem before he turned professional with Liverpool. I did see a league match at The Baseball Ground and the only other Derbyshire visit was to Matlock Town. Other than that my visits to the county were gruelling cycle tours in the Peak District.
So, as the icy rain began to fall, we wondered if Hitchin could sustain their achievement. They did, but I must confess that the second half was undeniably scrappy by comparison and – from a neutral point of view, Mickleover simply did not perform, being unable to sustain any kind of rhythm.
It was a if the rain had dampened the adventurous spirit of the teams. There was a lack of what I will call a sustained flow of play. An injury to Lewis Barker caused a long delay and he was substituted by Josh Caldicott-Stevens. An element of gamesmanship crept in obtrusively and it did seem that the heart had gone from Mickleover’s play.
The consensus had been that Hitchin had scored two good goal, but the Derbyshire outfit looked as if they had a goal or two within them. Horlock needed to be out astutely to tidy matters up. A fair move by Sports went for a goal kick, but caution was necessary. Horlock, in making a one-handed save was inadvertently flattened and needed treatment. I was eventually surprised that the referee only added four minutes of stoppage time when injuries to Barker, Horlock and Beavan exceeded this time allowance. Beavan was moaning that he had been stamped on by Alex Marsh but it was a bit of an over reaction as the former Football league player seemed to shrug off his pain without undue ceremony.
Indeed Beavan was cautioned for not limping off the field quick enough which seemed a trifle harsh. Agustien’s free kick was well saved by Horlock. Delays to play were irritating, but it seemed to suit Hitchin more as their opponents seemed curiously diffident. Brown, on a hat-trick had one effort that was just wide. Some amusement was derived at goalie Hawkins slicing the ball out of play instead of setting up his outfield players for a meaningful incursion on the Hitchin goal.
Mickleover won another corner, with a header bringing another, concluding with a foul on Brown. I yearned for the flow of the first half, but this was not to be realised. Stead received a cheap caution for kicking the ball away, this was one of four cautions in the match, two for each side. One definable highlight from this half was Brown’s fine shot that very nearly brought his hat-trick.
Hitchin were comfortable, but a strike against them might have disturbed that comfort, but, increasingly it seemed all the more unlikely. After more stop-start play Hitchin more or less sealed the victory with a third goal, and yes, Luke Brown completed his hat-trick in the seventy-fourth minute.
Again Stead was heavily involved, turning on a run, with Marsh to his right and a slick pass to Brown saw the net bulged, and it was now a certainty that our man Brown would get the bottle of bubbly for Man of the Match. There were moments for Mickleover but never maximised. Away substitutions caused only a ripple of a threat and Hitchin cruised towards the completion of their deserved win.
And it was a win against a good side, who may well have been affected by the hiatus in their games and the long journey to Top Field. They had been an early threat but this had dissipated as the game progressed and there is no doubt that Hitchin proved to be the better side on the night.
The next round of this Competition is to be played in a week’s time, and is very welcome as it keeps up the short sequence of competitive games. Preparation for tonight had been as good as it could be and it is clear that Hitchin have a decent squad whose players will be earnestly competing for selection.
It could be argued that the visitors did deserve at least one goal from their efforts, but this is a compliment to the stout defending of the home players. Whoever they get in the draw, home or away, I am sure they will compete with the same enthusiasm.
It was a welcome win, and it did manifest a solid performance from the Canaries who will be delighted at defeating a higher placed team who have been going great guns in their own League.
Charlie Horlock, Daniel Akubuine, Ben Walster, Lawrie Marsh, Dan Webb, captain, Sam Okoye-Ahaneku, cautioned, Alex Marsh, Lewis Barker, (Josh Caldicott-Stevens, 50,), Callum Stead, cautioned, Luke Brown, A HAT-TRICK, 24, 45 AND 74 MINUTES, MAN OF THE MATCH, Layne Eadie. Unused substitutes – Marcus Gouldbourne, Rio Dasilva, Kye Tearle and Steve Cawley.
Callum Hawkins, Jake Bennett, Alex Morris, Kemi Agustien, (Ben Gowing 76), James Butler, Phil Watt, George Milner, cautioned, (Pablo Mills, 79), Andrew Wright, Aman Verma, Stuart Beavan, cautioned, Mason Warren, (Bobby Battison, 90). Unused substitutes – Joe Slinn, Josh Satchwell.
REFEREE: Mr G Swanton assisted by Mr T Cartwright and Mr S Bates.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN