Despite a prodigious effort, the Canaries were on the wrong end of a 2-1 score-line, which came about with two pieces of virtuoso play from the Olympic substitute Chekaine Steele who engineered the equaliser for Levi Rowley and then the winning goal, minutes later for Jonathan Letford, effectively eliminating Harry Draper’s uncontested penalty that gave the home side a deserved lead.
The visitors, who now become League leaders, recently dispatched Leiston with six goals without reply, faced a somewhat rejuvenated Hitchin who were anxious to atone for conceding five without reply in their last game at Alvechurch. In fairness, Hitchin started in a vibrant, attacking manner, even if their efforts saw members of the Pics defence head clear with thorough intent.
Harry Draper may be a bustling, old style centre-forward and he was the sponsors’ man of the match – but he does need to get a grip on his mercurial temperament and the wearing of a kamikaze shirt that plainly seems to beg a caution – and usually for dissent. It is a shame that these remarks preface what was a good turn-out for him and his reaction when he scored the penalty showed that playing for Hitchin does mean a good deal to him. He had a number of attempts on goal and one was but a whisker away from conversion.
Both teams forced early corners, which favoured the defences, and both put in crosses which tended to be dealt with by the goalkeepers. The Pics had given their keeper , Jonathan Flatt, his debut today and he went on to distinguish himself with three top-notch saves, and was my choice for man of the match. his save from the best effort of the half was simply outstanding. Draper’s hooked shot looked bound for the top corner but Flatt defended dexterously.
Levi Rowley had a blocked shot for the Pics following a corner, and Reece mitchell had two bites at the cherry, the first blocked and the second going wide. Jordan Norville-Williams, who attracts praise form home supporters annd visitors, was again displaying his skills – and not just on the ball. his long throws were apt to cause concern to the Rushall defence as well.
Maximillian Ryan, who tends to pop up all over the field tried the first of his shots for the afternoon and it was successfully blocked. Draper was wide with a further effort – but, significantly Hitchin were playing with a good deal more assurance than they did at Lye Meadow – they were confidently holding their own against a strong, organised team.
A free-kick from the reinstated Lewis Ferrell was aimed towards Webb who had to be content with the winning of a corner kick. Leo Donnellan took this but the referee blew for a Hitchin infringement. James Verney’s effort was comfortably saved and there was a good move from Rushall involving Rowley and Letford but it resulted in a free-kick for Hitchin.
The exotically named Shaquille Leachman -Williams had a realistic chance to put his side ahead but he wasted this – probably to his intense embarrassment. It had been a good first half – very competitive and played at a fine pace and no-one objected to the discreet breaks for water as this day was very hot – causing a few to show a modicum of sympathy for both sets of club officials in their formal collars and club ties. Some find this attire to be an anachronism, but there are clubs who still insist on formal wear for board-room entry and that is their prerogative.
Hitchin had not conceded a soft goal and there were no discernible holes in their defence. There was enough in their play to suggest that they could, with a little bit of good fortune, seize and retain the initiative for the all-important first win of the new season. In that respect it was especially pleasing that they began the second half with the right kind of aggression and, but for the alertness of the Pics’ goalkeeper, they would have taken the lead. This was from a wonderfully cunning shot from Max Ryan that Flatt just managed to tip over the bar for a corner. That goalie was having an impressive debut indeed – and had he conceded that or Draper’s earlier effort, his team may well have been chasing the game.
Draper was still persisting in his characteristic manner and appealing for fouls almost for the sake of it, but the Canaries’ skipper came close to scoring on two occasions – Dan Webb’s header from a Norville-Williams cross was on target and painfully inches wide. His second attempt was similarly placed. At the other end Letford fired one in that was held by Josh Mollison.
A later hitchin cross was causing havoc and brought a strong and optimistic appeal for apenalty that was dismissed, but only seconds later this wish was almost magically granted and Hitchin were awarded an undisputed spot-kick. This was taken by Draper who converted well and he ran towards the Hitchin supporters behind the goal. I supsect the celebrations were tinged with relief. It had been Draper who had given Hitchin the lead against Needham Market and, as in that match it was a lead that could not be held.
This was after sixty-two minutes and I will say that this lead was deserved. however, fortune is fickle and that hard-won lead lasted but four minutes – blown away by some truly notable play by the Rushall substitute Chekaine Steele. It was another quick break from those in the aquamarine shirts and Steele combined artfully with Letford and the pass to Rowley enabled a fine equaliser. When a goal is scored by such opportunism and atristry, one cannot help but applaud mentally whilst feeling anguish for one’s team.
There was a reprisal of this fine piece of individualism a few minutes later, with Steele again the provider and Letford scored what turned out to be the winning goal. The Pics had seized control with two moments of inspiration and it was clear from their play that they did not want to relinquish this match-winning advantage. Hitchin made their own substitutions and must be commended for trying until the last to obtain an equaliser that many feel they deserved today.
There was a creditable effort from Webb again, good work from Norville-Williams and some searching stuff from Ryan, Bickerstaff and Ferrell. The golden chance of the half fell to substitute Devonte Simms who found himself in a scoring position and in possession; it needed a precise shot but what he did was balloon it over the bar and various execrations followed. Had he scored it would probably have garnered a hard won point but instead Hitchin fell to a successive home defeat and in four games they are yet to win.
By way of contrast the Pics are unbeaten with three wins from four and they now top the division. Needless to say it was a disappontment to all of a Hitchin persuasion since the performance was so much better than at Alvechurch.
The game at Kings Langley on Monday has been postponed owing to a ‘player safety’ issue but it is something to do with Watford FC’s financing a replacement pitch that is not properly ready for combat – or something like that. it is all very curious as I feel it is vital to get as many fixtures under the belt before the severe weather sets in and fixtures become a litle bunched owing to postponements and replays.
So, Htchin have a shot at victory in the next firxture which is against Tamworth on the last day of the month.
Joshua Mollison, Alexander Anderson, Jordan Norville-Williams, cautioned, Lewis Ferrell, Daniel Webb, captain, Joseph Gauge, Max Ryan, Harry Draper -GOAL, 62 MINUTES – PENALTY, cautioned, James Verney, Leo Donnellan, cautioned, Joshua Bickerstaff, cautioned.
Substitutions – Leon Okuboyejo for Verney, 73, Devonte simms for Donnellan, 77, and Lewis Barker for Ryan, 83. Not used – Charlie Hayford and Mohammed Ahmed.
Jonathan Flatt, this reporter’s man of the match, cautioned, Daniel O’Callaghan, cautioned, Reece Mitchell, Lee Smith, Sam Whitall, captain, Mitchell Clarke, Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham, Alex Moore, Levi Rowley, GOAL, 66 MINUTES, cautioned, Jonathan Letford, GOAL, 68 MINUTES, Benjamin Lund.
Substitutions- Chekaine Steele for Lund, 62, Asa Charlton for Moore, 64 and Jakob Burroughs for Rowley, 87. Not used – Joseph Fryatt.
REFEREE: Mr A List assisted by Mr M Belik and Mr B O’Sullivan.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN