A tight encounter was envisaged against the Marketmen tonight, and so it proved to be, with the opening goal coming from a set piece. But there was a lack of Suffolk punch in the second half and ultimately this was a comfortable win which means the victorious hosts can add the Prize Money to the impressive amount already raised by the Crowdfunding appeal. This was the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, with no extra-time and a straight to penalties if all level at full-time.
Unsurprisingly the team selection was the same following the debut League win over Alvechurch, and once again Callum Stead was selected as Man of the Match as he brought his tally to four goals in two games.
After a couple of Canary forays along the left flank, there was a short period of real determination shown by the visitors, with Adam Mills looking both eager and dangerous. He became a bit grumpy and frustrated as distribution to him was often wayward, but he essayed a fair shot that went wide. Another effort following a corner suffered the same fate – but at this stage I was wondering if Needham were going to impose themselves with increasing authority.
Ryan Smith’s through ball looked all right but Marcus Garnham, whose agility belies his portly appearance, was able to read this move well. Garnham went on to produce some first class saves in some rather exciting moments, and it was his astuteness between the sticks that kept the score to just 1-0 at the interval.
A promising run in possession from Luke Ingram was cancelled out with no nonsense robustness from skipper Ben Walster. Callum Stead and Luke Brown were eager up front and one shot from the former saw Garnham gather confidently.
We had played a tight quarter of an hour, more or less, when Hitchin were awarded a free-kick wide on the right and Rio Dasilva’s kick provided Lawrie Marsh with a perfect free-header and he met the ball with typical thoroughness and the Canaries were one ahead. A set piece for the goal but it is creditable to make it count so well. ‘ There goes a tenner’ said Irvine, a steward standing next to me. ‘Each time a defender scores I pay a tenner to the fund’. He may well be parting with a few more ‘Ayrton Sennas’ erelong. As well as praising Lawrie Marsh’s goal we must not neglect to praise his stout central defending.
It proved to be an important breakthrough, but it was, in some ways, a nervous lead as the visitors looked slick enough to poach a goal or two. It was about this time that I noticed that Charlie Horlock eased up on his ‘coaching’. He is a proactive goalkeeper and I admire his involvement, his haranguing of colleagues and his general tone of advice and encouragement.
He kept silent when a good move from Ingram saw a deft flick and the sparsely haired Mills try one on goal, with Horlock gathering confidently. This might have been routine and what followed was one of those exciting moments when a goalkeeper defies the odds and performs successive saves and it all seems like a speeded up film. A frantic Hitchin attack saw two close range shots, one from Brown, one from Stead, and Garnham beat them away magnificently. I bet he had his Weetabix this morning.
He then saved another effort from the prowling Jhai Dhillon, then Walster’s astute pass saw a Luke Brown shot parried and then Stead’s effort struck the post. It was exciting but it would have been more comforting if the Canaries had added to their slender lead. Eadie fancied one from range and shrugged his shoulders at it being off target, in, perhaps the belief that if he took a penalty he would send Garnham right through the net.
A bit of a warning came when the tenacious Mills saw his next effort hit the bar, and some heroics from Horlock saw out the ball for a corner. This was lofted unceremoniously over the bar and no doubt that football will lodge in the distant foliage defying discovery. We had reached the interval, with perhaps the feeling that the one goal advantage was a little tenuous.
There was no doubt that Hitchin deserved their lead. They had contained and responder positively. They had played, can I say harmoniously? The Marketmen had showed some internal dispute concerning distribution and there was some palpable lack of iron discipline. They were just one goal behind, but, in the second half their challenge dissipated. I spoke to the visiting chairman, always a cheerful, gentlemanly soul and I mentioned that we were to meet in a League match soon, but this may be in doubt, he told me, as the Marketmen are due to meet their arch rivals Lowestoft Town in the belated Suffolk County Cup Final, which takes precedence. That will be a bit of a ding-dong.
We did not know it yet, but Needham had played their best stuff and in the second half they were largely chasing shadows. The disgruntled Mills had a shot saved and more than once he complained about the precision of the distribution and was later cautioned then replaced ; but he had been the player most likely to score for the opposition.
Alex Marsh came on for Dasilva and he soon tested Garnham following a cross from Stead. Fowkes had a shot for Needham and Ingram’s speculative lob ended up lurking in the trees behind the covered end. We were nearing seventy minutes and a second goal would indeed steady the ship. After all, in these Covid days, the FA Cup has no replays, no extra time and we go straight to penalties.
Then there was a second goal. It was another header as well, intricately worked from a Dhillon cross and it was golden boy Stead who bagged the vital second strike. It was a dinked header that deceived the aggrieved Garnham and there was a bit of breathing space for Hitchin.
Mills was then wide with a shot on the turn and a run in possession from Noah Collard was nipped in the bud. Collard was anxious and hos next shot went wide. There was a blocked shot from Alex Marsh following good work from Dhillon – but the third goal, when it came had us wondering privately if Stead was off-side. He was definitely in an off-side position when he received the ball and he put away the chance with ease. The flag stayed down and I am of the opinion that there must have been a touch from a defender. In any case it was now 3-0 and an unassailable lead.
That was the final score and in no way did it flatter this new and exciting Hitchin side who look as if they are really enjoying themselves and they certainly have a rapport with the supporters. Yes there were conversations about whether a new lockdown might render the night’s proceedings as academic, but in such a situation we must all carry on. That shadow lurks but for me it is always a pleasure to see our team playing in the oldest and most prestigious of all competitions. This was not as gut-wrenching as the replay at Leatherhead last season, but it ran it close.
With that one in the bag we may now concentrate on what will be a real stern test – the first League away game at Stourbridge on Saturday. We can keep a weather eye on the draw for then next round of the FA Cup. Each game may be looked forward to as so many of us have the belief that we have a strong squad who play well together and are working towards sending a message that the Canaries may well be a force to be reckoned with. This was a deserved win tonight in a clean and competitive game.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, Lawrie Marsh, GOAL, 14 MINUTES, Ben Walster, captain, Rio Dasilva, (Alex Marsh, 60 mins), Jhai Dhillon, CALLUM STEAD, MAN OF THE MATCH, TWO GOALS, 69, 79 MINUTES, (Marcus Gouldbourne, 80 mins, CAUTIONED, ), Luke Brown, Josh Caldicott-Stevens.
Unused substitutes: Kye Tearle, Steve Cawley, Nikolay Rusev, Max Ryan and Patrick Zidanne Gourgel- Sequira.
Marcus Garnham, star man for Market, Joe Marsden, Callum Sturgess, Byron Lawrence, (Billy Hunt, 73), Joshua Pollard, Dan Morphew, Luke Ingram, (Jose Santa, 82), Gareth Heath, captain, Ben Fowkes, Noah Collard, Adam Mills, CAUTIONED, (Callum Page).
Unused substitutes: Jake Dye, Tom Fitzgerald, Nathan Munson and Kieran Morphew.
OFFICIALS: Joe Woolmer, Assisted by Douglas Lawson and Tom Cartwright
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