What better way for Hitchin to end a losing sequence of seven consecutive league defeats by beating the league leaders? They did this by coming from behind after ‘gifting’ their opponents a goal after just nine minutes. When I arrived at Top Field I had some brief words with manager Mark Burke in relation to today’s encounter and said ‘the bigger they come…’ and he completed the well-known saying. I think we were both sincere in our belief.
It is a curious fact that the stronger the opposition, the better the Canaries play and in the corresponding fixture they gave a good account of themselves until stoppage time and the conceding of two further goals.
There was an interesting piece of team news with the inclusion of Harry Draper, on loan from Stevenage. As it turned out he not only scored on his debut but he contributed to the equaliser, so we are more than grateful. On a bitterly cold day a below average attendance steeled themselves for the latest attempt to end that dolorous sequence of defeats.
Stourbridge had not tasted defeat since November and they will not be best pleased with this reverse today as throughout the game there was no discernible difference between the top team and one flirting reluctantly with possible relegation. We had an opening spell of routine stuff, but nine minutes into the game there was a goal from nowhere. Well, I say nowhere, it was a poor defensive header from Jack Green and this fell opportunely to the feet of Luke Benbow who converted, unchallenged with ease. This is the Hitchin Achilles’ heel. They start well and before they get into their stride an error makes their work all the harder. They fight valiantly but without reward and the points are gone. But today was happily different.
Hitchin rallied to some extent. They had forced two corners, one bringing a much too high header from Lewis Ferrell. Stourbridge, after their gift of a goal seemed curiously disinclined – seemingly content to thwart forward moves by the hosts and occasionally break on the counter. Alfie Cue’s insistence on long throws was justified as they asked questions. For the visitors Greg Mills, on the left flank, well supported by Jordaan Brown (another parent that cannot spell?). This combination was alive and well right into the second half and always had possibilities. Isaac Galliford had a decent run but Maher dived low to deny him with a brave piece of goalkeeping. That was the closest we had come thus far. But then Hitchin won a corner and that well-known lurker in scoring positions, skipper Dan Webb put in a header that would have brought an equaliser but for the goal-line clearance from Robbie Thompson-Brown.
Jack Green’s free- kick looked fine but everyone missed it and it was felt that these opportunities needed a bit more attention, especially as the away support were taunting with a chant of ‘One-nil and you’re going down’, which was somewhat premature for today and, it is hoped, for the remainder of the season. Some of these supporters enraged our security officer by urinating, surreptitiously, in a place not designated for such an activity. So there they were, originally taking the pee and now, were giving it in unsolicited but generous proportions.
The game continued to flow as well, with Hitchin moving towards their best spell. Before this Stourbridge had a corner and Pierpont was hanging around and got in a header that cleared the bar. Forde and Bickerstaff were working well, but a Green lob was far too enthusiastic. Cue persisted in the long throw and I liked that, as it brought dividends. From one of these there came a pleasing combination involving Draper and Galliford , with the latter grasping the equaliser in splendid style. The goal came within ten minutes of the interval and, from the pressure exerted, was well-deserved. Celebrations were a little timorous as if they would be short-lived, but, happily it was not the case today.
The style of the goal was pleasing. I recalled a line from Victor Hugo, author of ‘Les Miserables’ that great novel (never to be confused with the popular musical), that ‘style is the force of the ideal, rhythm is its movement’. That sums up the equaliser. After this there was an effort from Bickerstaff that was dragged just wide. Things were looking good.
But having said that, Stourbridge finished the half quite strongly with some persistent probing, but I was not alone in thinking they had underperformed so far. Indeed their manager, at the interval as he trudged off, was heard to remark that his team had played poorly. It is not known if he conceded that Hitchin had played well, especially as they had recovered from the howler that had given the visitors the lead.
To be level at half-time might have seemed a bonus, but there was a kind of lethargy about the visitors that belied their exalted position. They had held on to the lead fairly comfortably but once it was eradicated they were just a little bit nonplussed. They employed substitutes, eventually using the permitted maximum, with Hitchin just employing Scott Belgrove for the injured Alfie Cue, who was forced to leave the arena with a pulled hamstring.
It is as well to say here that Lewis Ferrell made a vital defensive intervention after two corners from Stourbridge with Johnson saving magnificently from a Benbow strike. Forde tried a shot and at the other end Brown had a decent pop that brought another save from Johnson. The new loaned signing Draper was making his presence felt in a most acceptable way. Cue persisted in the long throws, replicated by the opposition erelong – to similar effect.
Both teams went at it, but there was an extra something about Hitchin today. Draper was outstanding, and it had an effect on the more regular troops. There were indeed more shots on goal in this second period, and I mean from both teams. Jay Dowie was working extremely hard and unremittingly so, which was good to see. Aaron Forde of Stourbridge was finally cautioned as it seemed he had been asking for it with his dissenting remarks. It was a shame since he had been an influential player for his team.
There was mild amusement when Archie the announcer carefully enunciated the Stourbridge substitute as Tom Tonks. More than one person near me said ‘I bet he does’. But Stourbridge subs Bilal Yafai and Chekaine Steele made a decent contribution to make their coach journey worthwhile. At this point I was wondering if we would all accept a point as the culmination of a noble endeavour against a team that would claim an off day.
Greg Mills in the outside –left position (left flank for youngsters) was always suggestive as he was persistent. Then Hitchin struck to take the lead. Belgrove was involved but Draper finished giving Hitchin the lead and it is always good to score on your debut even if you are on loan. A Hitchin supporter suddenly embraced me and said ‘We are winning Mr Pipeman.’ I was aware of the fact, but such formality within informality did not hinder my delight, and he then proceeded to tell me how much better we play when it is along the floor. We had played seventy-one minutes and my innermost thought that the last twenty minutes was going to be very lively indeed. Time for the league’s leading team to showboat? They did press but not with any lasting conviction.
Chesmain was cautioned for what I think was dissent and Greg Mills received a similar reprimand. Belgrove, who had come on for Cue was doing his bit. Of course we kept glancing at our watches and there was to be an appreciable bit of time added on for stoppages. There was no real wasting of time as both teams contested it fairly until the whistle.
When it did come, I think there was little doubt that the victory had been deserved. The hosts had come from behind and Draper had exhibited that he had been a canny loan signing. But as a team performance this was a good deal more satisfactory – the early error notwithstanding. Late Stourbridge pressure was expected and yet dealt with, without launching the ball out of the stadium to waste what time they could. This game was contested fully and fairly and Hitchin deserved the victory.
It should be a boost, but, as I say, it is a work in progress and King’s Lynn are the visitors on Wednesday and they will represent a thorough challenge. As yet we cannot see the wood for the trees but the precious three points against the league’s top team sends us home a lot happier. There is much work to be done but we move in the right direction and the players rightfully responded to the support they had today and before today. Hitchin is not a bottom three team. Right, we might just achieve lower middle of the table respectability but that is the start. King’s Lynn are a stylish strong team and I hope that we will respond to that as we did today. The perplexing thing is to have played consistently well but without reward – until today.
Michael Johnson, sponsors’ man of the match, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, cautioned, Jay Dowie, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Josh Bickerstaff, Harry Draper, GOAL, 71 MINUTES, Ezra Forde, (Max Ryan, 90+1), Isaac Galliford, GOAL, 35 MINUTES, Alfie Cue, (Scott Belgrove, 65 minutes). Substitutes not used – Matt Nolan, Edwin Mensah and Craig Packham.
Niall Maher, Darryl Westlake, (Chekaine Steele, 85 minutes), Jordaan Brown, Paul McCone, captain, Stuart Pierpoint, Aaron Forde, cautioned, Kaiman Anderson, (Bila Yafai, 61 minutes), Leon Broadhurst, Luke Benbow, GOAL, 9 MINUTES, Robbie Thompson-Brown(Tom Tonks, 63 minutes), Greg Mills, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Peter Hawk and Brad Birch.
REFEREE: Mr S Rea, who had a reasonably good game, ably assisted by Mr A Kyriacou and Mr M Mackey.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN