First of all this was a huge improvement on the game last Saturday that was lacking in entertainment and overburdened with eight cautions and one dismissal. Well, we had a further dismissal tonight when, with minutes to go, Michael Johnson ‘took one for the team’ when his challenge outside the area denied Tamworth’s Revanelle James a goal scoring opportunity as he handled outside the area and brought the winger down. This gave those last few minutes a frantic edge, with Josh Bickerstaff donning the gloves to see his team through to full time, albeit a little nervously.
Hitchin had led through Alfie Cue’s fifty-second minute goal, but they really ought to have been two up in the first half, of which more erelong. The Staffordshire side had defeated the Canaries 2-0 in November, and are comfortably placed mid-table. Hitchin knew that an improvement on the disappointing performance against a feisty Rushall Olympic was deemed necessary and in this they did not disappoint. Indeed, Dan Webb really ought to have opened the scoring in the opening minute.
Noah Chesmain took a free-kick, which reached the Hitchin skipper, Dan Webb, wwho was not off-side, but his effort went over the bar. A further free-kick on the right from Isaac Galliford brought a deflected shot from Lewis Ferrell, who begins his three match suspension following tonight’s game. As a parting gesture, Ferell was the sponsors’ man of the match and he also received a late caution in tandem with Chesmain for a spoiling tactic.
Tamworth looked smart in their sky blue kit and they settled well to play some decent football. They were well supported in the below average attendance, with some vociferous supporters gathered beneath their flags of allegiance. It was a drizzly, uninviting night, but I am happy to say that the standard of football was much better than Saturday. The hosts kept the ball on the floor a lot more but still essayed the route one in modes of forgetfulness, which despite the critics is not a crime but a legitimate tactic that does bring goals, even if they are not as pretty – they all count.
Alfie Cue was back in the side, having recovered from his injury at Letchworth, but the Canaries were missing Harry Draper. Cue was soon happily involved. The early stages saw the ball mostly in the Tamworth half and this augured well for the hosts. Jack Green’s free-kick along the floor to Galliford saw a move cut out by Claudio Dias, a player I seem to remember briefly at Dunstable Town. He played a decent part in the game until his eventual substitution. Green put in a cross defended by the very able Tamworth defender and skipper Joel Kettle. Hitchin won a corner which provided a free header for Belgrove who ought to have scored but sent it wide. Two golden chances then – and two misses. It could have been expensive.
Another free-kick for the hosts saw a half chance, ably defended by the visitors. Tamworth began to counter, smartly playing out of defence, but they tended to lose possession. Kettle received a caution with the usual wounded dignity, and Galliford took a free-kick that was easily cleared by Clement. Tamworth’s James won a corner that was defended well. A long throw was defended by Ferrell, and another free-kick followed. This was headed away by Kettle and by now Tyrell Waite was proving a threat along with James and Concannon.
Jas Singh in the Tamworth goal was not backward in coming forward with his instructions and advice to his team mates, which went heeded for the most part. Tamworth had a free-kick, entirely wasted, as a player drifted off-side. Hitchin had the edge, but no goals to show for it thus far. Alfie Cue was becoming more insistent, so much so that his father, with whom I tend to stand with, was predicting that his son and heir would be on the score sheet tonight.
Tamworth won a corner, then another, but these were beaten away. Clement managed a shot that went wide, and then Hitchin countered well. Rasheen Francis put in a cross that was cleared. Forde nicked the ball in the penalty area that saw Michael Cain pump one in but it cleared the cross bar. Hitchin may have been quietly dominant but they had yet to make this count.
Belgrove was brought down for a Hitchin free-kick, close to end of the half but this was defended stoutly. So the half ended without a goal, and the fresh memory was of the two definite chances somehow spurned. Close to the whistle there was a chance for the visitors sent over the bar by Ryan Beswick.
During the interval I reflected on Tamworth, the town, that was once home to the manufacture of the Reliant three wheeler motor cars, immortalised by ‘Only Fools And Horses’. These fibre glass oddities were once very popular as they could be driven by a holder of a motor cycle licence. They ceased production many years ago and are now a rarity and are still, perhaps unfairly, derided by the motoring press. I think Mr Bean capsized one in an episode of his misfortunes. For many they were a step up from the now vanished motorcycle and sidecar and the charming eccentricity of the bubble car.
At the start of the second half, Alfie Cue’s dad rolled a cigarette and announced that his boy would score within five minutes of the restart. In this he was incorrect as it took Alfie six minutes and twenty seconds to add his name, albeit emphatically, to the score sheet, with what proved to be the only goal of the game.
Hitchin began well with an immediate attack, which was rebuffed, and Tamworth began to make subtle inroads, but without serious threat. Belgrove and Cain, with the latter having a blocked shot. Our chairman was gracing the presence of the stand offering the remainder of Kamikaze Kate’s Amazing Kakes, and happily retuned empty handed.
Tamworth won a corner, urged on by their vociferous supporters, this was insistent and then cleared. Good work form Galliford saw a cross to Cue whose shot saw the keeper parry the ball but into his own net. Alfie had struck and his dad assumed the stance of the prophet. On the balance of play this goal was no more than what was deserved but it would always be a slender lead and with the late drama to come it was a testing time.
The goal was timed at fifty-two minutes and there was a long time to go to ensure maximum points. Cue manged a weak header that Singh gathered and sent up field with some deliberation. Galliford produced a decent chance that was again intercepted and soon there were substitutions. I noticed that Tamworth used the old system, eschewing the use of the now ubiquitous electronic gadget.
Tamworth had a decent chance from a free-kick, but Clément’s effort favoured the home keeper. Cue was brought down for a free-kick. This was sent over the bar by Cain. Jay bird came on to good effect and Max Ryan was also in the mix and had a shot that was not that wide. The prophet announced that his son would score another but this was not to be, since the lad was substituted.
Revarnelle James was still being insistent on the right, fed ably by his colleagues, but his efforts were well contained by the Hitchin defence. Cain provided Cue with another chance but this one cleared the cross bar. At this stage I overheard a conversation about Berwick Rangers and mused on the great variety of subjects broached during the course of the game. Hitchin won a corner. ‘Alfie will score’ said the prophet and the referee was unhappy about that jostling we have become used to. Ironically the corner went straight onto touch. Not this time, Alfie.
Bird’s pass to Cain saw the latter fire in a shot that went wide, but at least Hitchin were still being aggressive in looking for a second goal. James and Francis combined in a move that broke down, but the visitors were still able to get the ball forward with counter play. A second Hitchin goal may well have settled matters, and no-one could foresee the late drama that was to occur. A Tamworth free-kick with twelve minutes to go looked a bit dodgy but it was fired straight at Johnson who saved low, snatching the ball away from an opponent’s searching boot.
Bird had a run and was pushed to ground for a free-kick. Chesmain sent this in, the goalie spilled it and Ryan came close. Cain had another blocked shot, and then Tamworth countered only to see the move halted by the award of a free-kick. Beswick sent this into touch. Ferrell and Chesmain received cautions for what I described earlier as a spoiling tactic – and with just minutes to go there was a hint of anguish in the Canary defence.
Then came the dramatic moment when James was clearly through with a real chance only to be brought down by Johnson who received a straight red card, with Josh Bickerstaff donning the oven gloves for the last few minutes. Tamworth threw it all at Hitchin, who, in those last few minutes held out to gain maximum points. There will be a bit of a problem with the goalkeeper slot as I did hear that Josh Mollison has a broken finger.
So, Hitchin move up a bit in the table and we can all breathe a little easier. The team travels to Halesowen on Saturday, a team they defeated heavily in the corresponding fixture, but I do believe there has been a managerial change and probably a change of playing personnel as well and this will put a different slant on matters. Even so, on the back of this improved performance we travel with some degree of confidence.
Michael Johnson, dismissed, straight red card, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, cautioned, Josh Bickerstaff, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, cautioned, Sponsors’ Man Of The Match, Michael Cain, Scott Belgrove, (Jay Bird, 65), Ezra Forde, Isaac Galliford, Alfie Cue, GOAL, 52 MINUTES, (Max Ryan, 79), Substitutes not used – Jay Dowie, Edwin Mensah and Lukas Didik.
Jas Singh, Rashaan Francis, (Anthony Dwyyer, 83, cautioned), Kyron Stabana, Ryan Beswick, Joel Kettle, captain, cautioned, Joe Magunda, Jack Concannon, (Jaanai Gordon,61), Jordan Clement, Tyrell Waite, Claudio Dias, (Fortune Maphosa, 69), Revarnelle James. Substitutes not used – Charlie Shaw, Charlie Jemson.
REFEREE: Mr J Crofts, who had a sound game, ably assisted by Mr P McVey and Mr T Beeton.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN