There can be no complaints – the Canaries were brought to earth by some effective marauding by the Crows in what was a fine match at Top Field. Mind you, I lay the blame on Sky Sports, whose camera crew had interviewed Hitchin chairman Terry Barratt before the game – in a feature about how Non-League clubs are coping (especially financially) with the current Covid crisis. During the interview it was mentioned by the Sky reporter that a victory for Hitchin would put them into the top three. ‘Do not tempt fate’, pleaded Terry, in a superstitious mode that it might put the mockers on it all. It did – but Royston deserved their workmanlike win – not needing any astrological aid.
It must be remembered that before last season was curtailed, our Hertfordshire neighbours were in a very strong position and may well have gone on to win the League. It was of interest to home supporters that the Royston team contained one Isaac Galliford, who left us for Hemel Hempstead Town but this season he chose the Crows and has fitted in well at Garden Walk.
A sell-out crowd of the full permitted 600 contained, as you would expect, a fair sprinkling of Royston supporters who no doubt enjoyed the application of their team, playing in their away strip off all aqua. Hitchin, after two successive and impressive away wins failed to match the performance in those games, suffering a diminution, not of effort but effectiveness, especial in the second half when their defence was finally outdone.
The game began with the quickest free kick awarded to Hitchin – after just a few seconds and Marcus Gouldbourne saw his shot saved by Joe Welch. This was followed by a headed effort from Crows’ skipper Adam Murray, and then a attack on the left from Hitchin principally involving Callum Stead and Marcus Gouldbourne, which was neatly intercepted and a shot from Brandom Adams, lacking pace was gathered by Charles Horlock.
The bustling first half saw both teams give good defensive displays and there really was little to choose between them at this stage. Luke Brown’s attempted shot was expertly charged down and a flowing move involving Lewis Barker and Callum Stead was defended for a corner. In this game I lost count of the number of well judged defensive headers – and one attacking one from the Crows came following a well flighted free kick from goalie Welch. Route one might have seemed a good option as time and time again both defences picked the pocket of would-be attackers. Barker had another go from range that needed Welch to tip over the bar, and once again the corner was cleared.
A fine chance presented itself from a route one move and Barker found himself through on goal but Welch saved well, conceding the corner kick. James Brighton hove in sight for a shot that went wide and Jonathan Edwards had an effort blocked. Right at the end of the half, the unusually quiet Galliford had an effort well defended and we ended the fist period after Brighton’s shot went clear of the target. It had been taut and fiercely contested – with some hard tackling but both defences had ruled – and I do not think I was alone in thinking that the game might be settled by just the one goal – and that probably from a set piece. No goals so far, but it had been absorbing and tactically very interesting, with Hitchin denied any freedom on the ball and prevented from penetrating the way that they did at Bromsgrove and Stratford.
Moreover they were keenly matched by the Crows who gave nothing away and were largely free of errors. The visitors went on to be the more impressive and organised side in the second half, quietly taking the initiative and keeping control of the game. Horlock needed to make an early save from a creditable effort from Isa Rotimi – then Luke Brown worked his way through on goal only to be thwarted by a skilful challenge from Adam Murray.
Gus Scott-Morris who had ben having an eventful time sent in a fine cross but no-one in aqua was there to meet it. Gouldbourne was booked for a tackle on Scott-Morris and a minute or so after the restart Edwards was also cautioned. The referee had stern words with some players to keep the game from being marred by tackles borne of frustration.
After sixty-five minutes the visitors finally cracked the Canaries’ defence and it was Brandon Adams who opened the scoring with a neat, flicked finish. That strike seemed to take the heart out of Hitchin’s play and they were chasing the game thereafter. Josh Castiglione replaced Dan Green for Royston and Steve Cawley replaced Luke Brown for the Canaries. Eadie was booked for a challenge and from this free-kick came the second Royston goal. The free-kick, wide on the right and it was converted by Rotimi after seventy-five minutes.
Whilst it has been known for many a team to storm back from a two goal deficit with only a quarter of an hour to go, it never looked like that from Hitchin as Royston skilfully refused to relinquish the control they had imposed. If anything it looked like the visitors might even add to this lead as they snapped upon poor clearances or passes to launch further attacks.
There was a good run in possession by Gouldbourne and he set up Stead whose shot was way over the bar. Galliford did likewise at the other end and an effort from Dan Newton went wide. Barker had a shot blocked – but that was as good or as bad as it got. Royston played out the five additional minutes with ease, never needing to resort to ball hugging by the corner flag. They knew they had this game won and they did it in a praiseworthy manner. Nevertheless it was good to see the Marsh twins battling to the final whistle and there was also another fine performance from Okoye-Aheneku. Dan Webb made an appearance as substitute which suggests he is now injury-free.
This was not the best preparation for the forthcoming FA Trophy match against Herne Bay on Saturday – and, incidentally, our opponents tonight have also been drawn against a team from Kent – Hythe in their case, and we wish them well in this. But for tonight – Hitchin had been effectively ‘deconstructed’ in a second half after battling well in the first but lacking any real punch in front of goal.
Charles Horlock, Daniel Akubuine, Layne Eadie, captain, cautioned, Ryan Smith, Samuel Okoye-Aheneku, Sponsors’ Man Of The Match, Lawrie Marsh, Alexander Marsh, Lewis Barker, cautioned, Callum Stead, Luke Brown, Marcus Gouldbourne, cautioned.
Substitutes used: Daniel Webb for Smith, 77, and Stephen Cawley Brown,70.
Unused substitutes: Rio Dasilva, Josh Caldicott-Stevens, Kye Tearle.
Joe Welch, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Daniel Newton, cautioned, Isa Rotimi, GOAL, 75 MINUTES, Gus Scott-Morriss, James Brighton, Daniel Green, Adam Murray, captain, Jonathan Edwards, cautioned, Isaac Galliford, Brandon Adams, GOAL, 65 MINUTES.
Substitutes used: Josh Castiglione for Green, Tom Newman for Murray and Joshua Williams for Edwards.
REFEREE: Mr J Crofts, who had a good game, ably assisted by Mr S Beekman and Mr J Lee.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN