The cross bar twice denied Hitchin in what would have been their first ever win over the Suffolk side in five meetings. Two draws is the meagre haul, including this one today in a game that lacked excitement but not effort. Complementing the cross bar, my man of the match, Marketmen goalkeeper Marcus Garnham made some notable saves, some one-handed, and his performance assured the unyielding visitors a point.
Needham Market were one place above Hitchin in the League table, and it seems a long time since our visit in August where a draw was also the outcome on a pitch far more conducive to good football than the one today – but the ground staff had ensured that was in the best condition possible for this stage of the season. As such, the two teams slogged it out manfully on a day where defences dominated and a combative midfield held sway.
There were expected changes to the Hitchin team that had defeated Leverstock Green in the Hertfordshire Senior Cup on a somewhat demoralising quagmire of a pitch on Tuesday evening. Jhai Dhillon returned after a bout of illness, Stephen Cawley was included and new signing Rio Da Silva was on the bench – making his debut as we approached the end of normal time. Brett Donnelly was also on the substitutes’ bench and he was cautioned later in the game although he was not called to the field of play – it was all due to some misdemeanour on the bench, apparently.
The Marketmen had left the influential Josh Marsden on the bench – but he was on as a substitute before we had played a quarter of an hour. Hitchin began eagerly enough with a cross from Bradley Bell that was defended and for the visitors Adam Mills had a chance – but this was defended. A home free-kick saw the first of Garnham’s punched clearances and he proved himself a busy and efficient keeper – even if he looked rather more portly than he did on our last meeting.
Alex Marsh provided the assistance for Max Ryan who blasted the ball over the cross bar. Interestingly, both goalkeeper’s provided a chance for the opposition with a poor clearance. A Hitchin free-kick wide on the right saw Garnham punch clear resolutely once more. A Needham Market free-kick brought a corner and this, from Callum Sturgess, landed harmlessly on the top of the net. A really super effort from Jack Green was well matched by a wonderful one-handed save from Garnham.
Gareth Heath made way for Josh Marsden, a Mills chance was cut out by Charlie Horlock, and then Sam Squire was cautioned for a foul off the ball on Lewis Rolfe, that incurred the wrath of visiting supporters who offered the referee some advice but he employed a kind of sagacious deafness. There was an effort on goal from Lewis Barker and for Needham Russell Short’s pass enabled Marsden a reasonable effort on goal, which Horlock put out for a corner.
I had found the half absorbing as each side was looking for chinks in the defensive armour, but this was punctuated by a hopeful long ball or two to circumvent the traffic in midfield. Even at this stage it flickered across my mind that this game might well be settled by a set piece. Those I spoke to felt it had been generally uneventful – but both goalkeepers had made notable saves and the few corners we saw needed careful defending. Yes, moves tended to break down with some imprecise passing, but conditions were far from ideal.
Early in the second period, Bell made a move on the right and his cross to Ryan produced a shot that once again saw Garnham save confidently. Marsden had a half chance for the visitors and Page did not exploit the time he had to shoot much better than he did. Dhillon was always a lurking presence and he sent in one cross before he won a corner which Bell sent towards the reliable Webb but the skipper could not get his header in.
When Hitchin won a free-kick, centrally just beyond the ‘D’, I thought this might well be the moment. Dhillon or Bell? It was Dhillon and his excellent shot struck the crossbar. Close, but no cigar. It might well have been the winner. Eadie came on for Bell and it was the former who may have won it with a one on one with Garnham but the keeper was blessed today and pulled off yet another fine save. Surely one of these would go in eventually… but no it seemed almost inevitable – and right at the end we thought this inevitability might be destroyed when Dhillon’s fine cross to Marsh gave the latter an inviting chance which he took in his stride and would you Adam and Eve it the effort struck the blessed cross bar. Hmm, someone had not eaten his crusts this morning.
At least the Marketmen did not nick it at the death as Kings Langley did, and a point coupled with a blank sheet is better than that any day. Overall the Canaries probably deserved all three points for the superior attempts on goal and suffered the bad luck of an ‘intervening’ cross bar – and it would have been rather nice to have beaten Needham market for the first time. Oh well. As a performance it was reasonably tight in defence and I liked the contribution form Josh Coldicott-Stevens who is fitting in well. Rio Da Silva did make his debut but so close to the end of normal time it is difficult to assess his impact. Lewis Rolfe was awarded the Sponsors’ Man of the Match Award – which I respect but my man of the match was Marcus Garnham whose antics definitely earned his team a point today.
On Monday night we again have visitors from Suffolk in the shape of Leiston whose first win of the season was against Hitchin and since then (and after a very poor turn of form) they have replaced the manager and drafted in new players. It will be another tough one. One last thing – when I returned home I had a phone call from my brother who asked how we had got on. I said ‘nil-nil’ and as always when I report this score he pipes up with ‘and what was the score at half-time?’ For that reason alone I hope we do not have another score-less draw.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Jhai Dhillon, Josh Coldicott-Stevens, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Rolfe, Sponsors’ Man of the Match, Lewis Barker, cautioned, Max Ryan, cautioned, (Rio Da Silva, 89), Stephen Cawley, Alex Marsh, Bradley Bell, (Layne Eadie, 77).
Substitutes not used – Dev Simms, Brett Donnelly, cautioned for an off-field incident, Marcus Crowther.
Marcus Garnham, this reporter’s man of the match, Jake Dye, Callum Sturgess, cautioned, Russell Short, Keiran Morphew, Daniel Morphew, Sam Squire, cautioned, Gareth heath, (Joe Marsden, 15), William Hunt, Callum Page, (Craig Parker), Adam Mills, (James Baker).
Substitutes not used – Luke Ingram and Owen Elsdon.
REFEREE: Mr A Hitchcox, who had a good game, working well with his assistants – Mr M Belik and Mr B O’Sullivan.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN