The poor sequence of results continued with a fifth successive defeat and another game where a bit of accuracy might well have rewarded the hosts with maximum points, as the first half produced two golden opportunities for what should have been certain goals.
The two teams have met regularly this season in league and cup games, and with the perceived notion of what is approximately a ‘local’ derby, it might have been expected to see a bit of fire in the belly. But this was a game where for a good while the refreshment breaks were marginally more exciting than the play hitherto.
End of the season games can be torrid affairs and a shirt-sleeved crowd basked in the sunshine was disinclined for a good while to raise a cheer for anything. From the whistle there was some promising play, a decent run in possession from Bird, a reasonable header at goal from Webb. Belgrove showed good persistence when Hitchin forced two successive corners and a combination of Galliford, Thake and bird saw the last named unaccountably shoot wildly over the bar when accuracy seemed the easier option. It was a serious miss as an early goal might have inspired the team to their best performance for some time.
Castiglione replicated such inaccuracies when he sent one generously over the bar – and by his standards he had a poor game until he made amends with the opening strike in the second half. Ryan had a reasonable shot on the turn that did not trouble the relaxed Welch in goal and he watched, as we did when Kazeem fired one wide of the target. A free-kick for the hosts, centrally outside the area saw Galliford send the ball high into the trees behind the covered end.
The Crows were, for their part, needing to recover from a poor sequence of three losses, did not inject any real urgency into their play. They went through the usual motions, spreading play well at times with good touches from Neal, Bola and Castiglione, with the last named providing a weak shot after a suggestive run in possession. Martin in defence was imperious, but then he looks about seven feet tall. Bola had seen his early shot blocked, but at this stage the more positive play had been from Hitchin who ruined it with very poor finishing. A goal would have been such a tonic.
Having said that, I am now obliged to describe an unforgivable miss. We were ten minutes from half-time and Belgrove got ahead of a defender, eluding the off-side and was in the optimum position to score. He sent it wide and many expletives followed this erroneous effort. Ferrell did the same, more or less and his shot that ought to have nestled inside the goal trickled wide, with Welch getting an important touch as a corner was given. Ferrell, like Belgrove, ought to have scored. What a difference that might have made.
A couple of late free kicks from Galliford might have raised the temperature a bit but they were errant and forgettable. We went to the interval with no goals and more than one commentator from both camps were asking rhetorically if there was a danger of a real gutsy game breaking out.
Many may know that I came to Hitchin from a club constantly in fear of relegation and extinction. But what happened on the field was a manifestation of esprit de corps. Their manager, a former Hitchin player, used to wind up his players in a huddle and seemed to deride them. ‘They think we are rubbish, they laugh at our poor attendances, they write us off as no-hopers. We are going to show them.’ They often did – not always of course, but what was apparent to me, the driver of that awful team minibus, was a sense of emotional solidarity, a feeling of genuine desire – poured into them as we arrived at the ground. They wanted to rip into the opposition, with desire often outweighing personal skills. As Hitchin take the field and each player inclines to his own particular angle as they do their thing with those little markers – I feel that as they break away there is a sense of separateness, not a feeling that engenders unity of purpose. It seems to me that there is a bit of complacency where there should be raw hunger.
Before anyone reminds me, I know that the team I allude to are now bottom of their division and need a good deal of luck to escape a second successive relegation – but I refer to an earlier time and the importance of a real motivation. I think back to the cup replay against Leatherhead, the pride and the passion can be there but it should be extended to following games.
Maybe it is difficult to inculcate such a feeling at an end of the season ‘meaningless’ game, but with 436 punters there does seem a sense of responsibility to provide a bit of a show. Well, we did get a bit of a show in the second half but it was not to Hitchin’s benefit. Within a few minutes of the resumption, Jay Dowie, who is blessed with the appearance of being a real professional, employed his skills in another branch of the arts, and with a cunning piece of simulation in the opponents’ penalty area, he did not fool the referee and received a second yellow card, despite nine point nine for artistic interpretation. The referee did not need the exhortation of opposition players to ‘get him off the blooming pitch. ’ (I substitute ‘blooming’ for a more industrial adjective’). The card was brandished and Dowie trooped off for an early shower. His expression was one that suggested he might as well throw in his lot with the acrobats at the circus encamped outside the ground. No-one appealed from home players and Dowie was aware that his best ‘who me ref?’ expression would cut no ice with the punctilious referee. So, now down to ten men and we wondered how long it would be before our Hertfordshire neighbours would put into effect their numerical supremacy.
I did hear one partisan fan say it was fricking ridugelous or something like that, but it did take the visitors about seventy minutes to make this advantage tell, and with a goal of some note as well. Royston had possession wide on the left and they advanced along the flank. A cross ought to have been prevented; it was not and when it came in it was partially beaten away but to the feet of Castiglione who finished with a flourish and it was one- nil to the Crows.
But the Crows had not been overly impressive and they had to withstand a spirited fight back from the hosts who forced three successive corners, with a Ryan shot coming close and substitute Forde hitting his effort against the keeper. Mind you, another substitute, Corcoran had a real beauty of a shot that drew an equally impressive save from Johnson.
Bird had a shot that went wide just after we had an announcement that the sponsors had announced the whole Hitchin team as men of the match, which was diplomatic if a little unrealistic, bless ‘em. Crikey, that is a lot of bottles of plonk. We were drifting fitfully towards the end of the game and in stoppage time Bola, held up the ball well from a forward pass, and he discarded his isolation, exploited diffident defending to put his shot past Johnson to double the away lead. It was by any standards a notable goal.
So that was it, another defeat and at Top Field, where the pitch looked so good after a full campaign I think the ground staff deserve a bottle of plonk each, at least. They like me and many others will be rather disappointed that we failed to achieve a result and not even score as well. Well, we go off to Banbury for the final league game with a wish and a prayer and the season will end with the cup match against Hemel Hempstead Town.
We could end yet with a smile that accompanies victory.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Al-Amin Kazeem, Jay Dowie, dismissed after two cautions, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Max Ryan, cautioned, Scott Belgrove, cautioned, (Ezra Forde, 73 minutes), Charlie Thake, (Matt Nolan, 71 minutes), Isaac Galliford, Jay Bird.
Substitutes not used – Edwin Mensah, Alex Anderson and Marcus Crowther.
Joe Welch, Harold Joseph, (Dan Green, 80 minutes), Joseph Newton, Scott Thomas, captain, Ben Martin, Adam Crowther, cautioned, Josh Castiglione, GOAL, 70 MINUTES, Luke Knight, Vance Bola, GOAL, 90+3 , Joseph Neal, (Sam Corcoran, 52), Luke Oswick, (Thomas Newman, 52).
Substitutes not used – Dan Brathwaite and Harry Smart.
REFEREE: Mr A Lisi, assisted by Mr T Beeton and Mr R Allison, who all had sound games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN