Hitchin’s comfortable victory tonight sees them through to the final of the Hertfordshire Charity Cup, which is the only remaining chance of silverware this season, and although ’only’ a domestic competition it is still an honour to retain a trophy.
It was the fourth meeting with The Crows and the first legitimate victory – and I refer to the cancelled result of the first meeting owing to an administrative error which led to the unintentional fielding of an ineligible player. Many will recall the very last meeting that was an exciting game with Royston prevailing 4-3 right at the end of stoppage time at Garden Walk.
Team news was the return of Alfie Cue and Michael Cain, with Edwin Mensah appearing at right back. On a very cold night none of us relished the prospect of extra-time, and the hosts seemed to underline this by scoring in the very first minute. It was Alfie Cue’s overdue debut goal for the club and it was a peach of a header. Man of the Match Cue later added a second and came quite close to a hat-trick.
After the rather dull affair at Barwell on Saturday, this game was entertaining, exciting for the most part and the ball was played a lot more ‘along the floor’, which brought rich dividends. Royston are a fine side and, and were a little out of sorts tonight, and were most probably not at full strength – but not that far off. They have still to visit Top field for a league match and such a result as tonight’s would be doubly welcome.
Royston reacted well with a corner that produced a shot that went wide, and another effort, from close range saw a memorable save by Michael Johnson. In one forward move Harry Draper was crowded out by no fewer than three defenders. Cain’s fine forward ball to Alfie Cue resulted in a tremendous save from Harry Smart – which was the first of a number he made during the course of the game.
Rohdell Gordon was proving to be troublesome on the left but his accuracy, particularly in the second half fairly deserted him but he had one fine shot that Johnson gathered well. Josh Castiglione was another player who failed to realise his full potential, having a much better first half than the second. Castiglione’s free kick from the left was pumped in nicely but it was defended – but he had another go at keeping the move fluid, but to no avail.
Luke Knight’s effort was blocked, but Royston were still pushing well. Johnson cut out a low cross from Gordon. At the other end Cue had a venomous shot that saw Smart live up to his name with an excellent save. The ubiquitous Alfie was in the kind of form we always knew he would recapture, and he seemed to be enjoying himself a lot more than he did at Coalville recently.
Bickerstaff sneaked in with a creditable effort and his low shot was not that wide. Draper was thwarted by a smart bit of defensive play. A free-kick from Hitchin saw Galliford flick on but Oswick defended effectively, and then Royston won another corner. Johnson safely plucked this out of the air. Referee Mr Bates issued a reprimand to Castiglione for some robust language, and Chesmain’s shot took a deflection and was cleared. Cue’s long throw was headed on by Webb to Penfold who was ushered off the ball, but Cain went forward only to be fouled. The free-kick from Chesmain looked good but cue conceded a foul.
The normally nimble Vance bola was another Crow who seemed off his game tonight with only minimal effectiveness. Hitchin had a free-kick just outside the area after Galliford was impeded. Galliford’s effort took a deflection off the defensive wall and Bickerstaff slipped the ball to Penfold, but the move was anticipated. It was exciting, flowing football. There was a dismissed penalty claim for Hitchin after Draper was brought down – it looked a clear penalty but Mr Bates was unmoved.
The second goal came within three minutes of the interval. Murray, the Crows’ skipper was cautioned before this and he did sail a bit close to the wind with his robust play. Draper won a free-kick for Hitchin – about thirty yards from goal. Galliford sent it in and Smart intervened smartly. Galliford won another free-kick, resulting in a booking for Luke Knight. Johnson dealt with another Royston corner and Cain brought it forward and Alfie cue nipped it for an opportunistic second. Penfold was involved and his effort saw the keeper parry and Alfie score his second. Hitchin thus took the two goal advantage to the break.
At the start of the second half, two Royston subs arrived unannounced until Archie worked out who was where. Dan Green, brother of our Jack, gave way to Scott Thomas and Tom Newman was replaced by James Potton. But, as in the first half, Hitchin scored an early goal. It was another parry and follow-up. Draper shot, the goalie’s trailing leg sent it out to Penfold who converted easily – we had barely played a minute. But there were no further goals and sadly, there were one or two fractious moments following dangerous tackles. Royston struggled a little this half and it was a long while before they had a shot on target.
Castiglione’s shot was again held by Johnson who will be pleased at keeping a clean sheet tonight. Penfold’s cross to Draper saw the ball elude the latter – connection may well have brought another goal. Royston were still playing good stuff but seemed unusually shy in front of goal. Gordon’s goal attempt found only the side-netting. Max Ryan came on for Mensah and later Toby Byron replaced Draper and Lukas Didik replaced Galliford. Penfold’s effort was well defended by Murray for a corner before Mensah departed he almost capped hi night with a goal, his effort clipping the top of the cross bar.
Some good attacking stuff was seen from Hitchin, but again Murray was anticipatory. Gordon’s attempt on goal cleared the bar by a huge margin – something he replicated later. Hitchin attacks became more numerous than Fixtures’ secretary Chris Newbold’s updated fixture lists and it was good to see. Chesmain’s shot brought a fine save from smart and a corner was the consolation prize. A Webb effort went wide, but it looked possible that a fourth goal may yet be seen.
Solid play from Lewis Ferrell was again in evidence, but Royston still sought forward moves with some neat combinational play. Alfie Cue was exhorted by his Dad to ‘get that third one’, but it eluded him. If he did get a hat-trick, he would not get the match ball, given the cost of those items and the number that go missing in the foliage beyond.
A Royston free-kick went straight into the arms of Johnson, but at least it was on target, unlike other efforts. But they still showed willing, even though the game was well beyond them. Chesmain was justifiably booked for a vengeful challenge which saw Harold Joseph in retaliatory mode. This was not the last niggly moment and it was really, uncalled for.
So, no more goals, and I I have said, it was a comfortable victory for Hitchin, thoroughly enjoyed by the sparse attendance. The Canaries return to league action on Saturday against Stratford town who lost tonight. Every point gained is a step on the ladder to eventual safety but there was much to appreciate from Hitchin’s performance tonight. There was a pleasing persistence about them tonight and we look forward to seeing this reproduced on Saturday – and beyond.
Michael Johnson, Edwin Mensah, (Max Ryan, 69,), Noah Chesmain, cautioned, Josh Bickerstaff, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, Harry Draper, (Toby Byron, 75,), Morgan Penfold, GOAL, 46 MINUTES), Isaac Galliford, (Lucas Didik, 72), Alfie Cue, TWO GOALS, 1 and 42 minutes), This reporter’s man of the match, Substitutes not used – Jack green and Jay Dowie.
Harry Smart, Dan Green, (Scott Thomas), Luke Oswick, Harold Joseph, Adam Murray, captain, cautioned, Taylor Parr, Tom Newman, (James Potton), Luke Knight, cautioned, Vance Bola, Josh Castiglione, Rohdell Gordon, substitute not used – Gus Scott-Morriss.
REFEREE: Mr S Bates assisted by Mr A Steele and Mr M Norton.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN