For fully seventy-two minutes, Hitchin Town had matched their higher-leagued opponents, but the concession of a penalty and a fine strike some six minutes later brought the Canaries’ FA cup run to an end. The attendance of 3,148, was, I believe, the highest since the crowd of 4,827, for the 1976 FA Cup game against Swindon Town. This was also Hitchin’s biggest game for twenty-three years and mention must be made of ‘the backroom boys’ whose planning and organisation was simply superb.
Solihull Moors (a 2007 amalgamation of Solihull Borough and Moor Green) are now a fully professional club who play in the National conference, the unofficial ‘Division Five’. They afforded Hitchin a good deal of respect which was exemplified by their cautious and surefooted approach, in the same manner of AFC Wimbledon who secured a late and narrow victory against Haringey Borough on Friday evening.
A twelve-forty five pm kick-off, to accommodate the television cameras, covering about seven matches concurrently, saw Hitchin kicking towards the open terraced end. Solihill were in a changed strip of red and black stripes, with surnames attached (very posh) and the hosts were clad in a commemorative shirt destined for auction.
There was an immediate free kick for Hitchin following an off-side, this was rebuffed for a throw-in. Johnson sent a long ball up field for Jack green, who could not keep it in play. Solihull cleared their lines and got the ball forward to Adi Yussef who committed an infringement. Johnson enabled a half chance for Forde but was sufficiently monitored. After five minutes Hitchin had a free-kick wide on the right which saw Moors keeper Boot grab with his hands.
Defending from both teams was confident – and Osborne, on the edge of the area managed the first shot for Moors but this cleared the bar. Oddly, it was one of only a handful of chances in a patient first half that was bereft of the really dramatic action one associates with a cup-tie. Moors won a corner, taken short with Carter gaining possession but committing a foul that brought a short reprimand from the referee.
There was some good, earnest stuff from Ezra Forde and Isaac Galliford and some combative work from Josh Bickerstaff and Jack Green, who, after a knock, had to be supplied with a ‘blood shirt’ and a bandage around his head reminiscent of a TV native American that we used to call an Indian when the world was not so politically conscious. But each searching through ball was either too heavy or cannily intercepted. The Moors back four were tall and strong which compensated for their relative immobility.
Johnson claimed the ball from one or two Moors’ long throws. One of Chesmain’s throws saw a half chance for Bickerstaff who could not effectively get it on target But in a quarter of an hour’s play there was no discernible difference in class. Forward forays had been contained by both defences but we wondered when the first clear cut chance was coming from. The tantalising combination of Forde and Galliford was suggestive of a breakthrough .but nerves might have influenced the uninspired final pass
If I say play was on the dull side of exciting, I think you will know what I mean – since players were highly tuned to just how expensive an error could be. Moors counter play demonstrated that they are not averse to the long ball in the dizzy heights of the Conference National. Galliford attempted a run in possession more than once and I wondered if he thought that the law of averages might mean he would finally bamboozle his marker, but this was not the case. A through ball for Forde was just too heavy, but Galliford managed the first aggressive on target shot that did not cause Boot any real problem.
There was a shot from Kwame Thomas on thirty-nine minutes, Hitchin had a couple of corners, Green was booked for a late challenge. Free-kicks for either side were neglibible in application and outcome, and as we reached the interval, I wondered just how muvh a replay would add to the fixture congestion. It was not an electric half, yet it was notable for Hitchin’s application to duty and a refusal to admit a lack of parity.
I had arrived at the ground early as I thought any later would mean parking near Stevenage. Mobile lavatories were being trundled in and were well patronised. There were additional refreshment booths or rather tents and Len Theroux, the club’s safety officer was almost busting out of a top that declared him to be supervisor of everything. I marvelled at the ground being at near capacity, and it was a much larger crowd than both teams are accustomed to playing in front of – yet what we needed was some swashbuckling play on the pitch, which might have extended the television coverage, which, if you blinked you may have missed which was a shame for the very nice young lady sent along by the BBC, complete with clipboard and an oozing enthusiasm. She was severely edited in the coverage, which, understandably concentrated on the high scoring games elsewhere.
My notes alluded to the quietly menacing presence of Danny Wright, who looked as if he had a goal in him and this indeed proved to be the case later in the second half. Wright had quietly harried Johnson in his routine clearances, which was not a bad idea if you wish to unsettle someone. I also entertained the private thought that with all the lantern-jawed defending, it might have allowed for a bit of brilliance from Galliford or Forde or a canny set piece to snatch morale- boosting lead that the home side could well have held. It may well have livened proceedings to fever-pitch as well.
As I left the board room, I noticed a few dissenters having a quiet fag by the exit in defiance of the FA rules against smoking – and it reminded me of those rogues at various schools ( and I cite staff as well as pupils), who used to snatch a puff or two behind the cycle sheds. One or two opined that their civil liberties had been impinged. I sat in the press area and I noticed that those commentating were injecting a good deal of excitement into their commentary that was not really in evidence on the field. The game had become like a complex middle-game in a game of chess where much thought had to be exhibited to gain the smallest of advantages.
Yet a smart kick from a set –piece could have unsettled matters and thus that may have freed the game. Maybe the introduction of fresh legs in the form of substitutes would do the trick. Both clubs employed the maximum but I did hear with some frequency later that Hitchin needed to employ theirs some time before they did – and it is easy to comment with hindsight. Each player in the Hitchin team had played well and with commitment. Galliford and Forde had evinced a degree of flair with runs in possession – maybe the wizardry of substitute Trey Charles might have done the trick – or a free-kick from Charlie Smith or Danny Talbot might have penetrated – who knows?
Hitchin were now kicking towards the covered end where the supporters were ebullient and determined to be the fabled twelfth man. In the penalty area there was a scare when Johnson appeared to lose possession but was relieved to hear the whistle for an infringement. Galliford and Forde, with the assistance of Green began a move that in the end was easy for boot to tidy up. Carter was booked for moors and I do not know why even when I earwigged those others doing a running commentary. Forde galloped away by fouled Grudger en route – and I must say that the officials missed nothing today. Spring was much at home in these circumstances and must have relished the occasion in nostalgic terms, having played at this level and way above in his long career.
Anderson defended stoutly at the expense of a corner, and I noticed that Tyrone Williams was seeing a lot more of the ball in a creative sense, with Thomas and Wright posing a few problems. Galliford had another run, accompanied by Green, Bickerstaff and Forde, but a goal-kick was the result. Both teams managed to get the ball into the opposing penalty area which raised the temperature a little but we still lacked the clinical shot on goal.
Galliford managed a shot on the turn on the hour but it went wide. Johnson robbed Wright of an opportunity and Cain’s pass to Forde was too heavy. Galliford had a chance of a run from the halfway line – but he slipped the ball to Spring and there was a neat back heel that was all art and no matter. Galliford passed to Forde, drawing the keeper of his line but confusion reigned and the chance passed.
A long throw from Moors was held by Johnson and led to a hopeful ball forward that Boot collected. Reckford cut in nicely but his cross was defended and in the course oif this half they did manage a couple of shots that quietly masqueraded as a shot, but Johnson was alert to all possibilities. There was a scare when Yussef produced a snap shot that went wide, and then they sent on Carline for Thomas, who had been very lively. Williams had a run along the right but was pushed back with Ferrell tidying up but then, after a move along the right, Chesmain was correctly adjudged to have fouled Osborne in the penalty area and never more was Johnson called upon to be the hero.
Yussef converted the penalty smartly and seventy-two minutes had gone. Celebrations were muted as if the visitors were more relieved than jubilant and it crossed my mind that this was a sad way to exit this wonderful competition. The teams had been evenly matched hitherto. Six minutes later a further blow was inflicted but I must say it was a well-taken goal from the persistent presence of Danny Wright who shot expertly on the turn and we sensed that all was up for Hitchin. The did their utmost of course, but the visitors were able to contain efforts that ranged from thoughtful to frantic.
Substitutions came for Hitchin – possibly later than desired or needed. Forde, Cain and Spring gave way to Talbot, Treymayne and Smith and they did what they could with the time they had and it was rapidly finishing to the inevitable.
A one goal deficit may well have seen a late snatched equaliser and the prospect of a replay and of course we would all have taken that despite the odds swinging further in favour of the visitors who would be on their own turf and fully expected to take the tie.
They did not need it of course and after the whistle they acknowledged their travelling support, and the Hitchin players paid homage to the really impressive support that had gathered at Top Field hoping for an upset. Had there been such you can be sure that the BBC would have aired more than the minute they did. I was gratified that to a man, the Solihull officials praised the club and the organisation of today and readily admitted that it had not been an easy task.
Needless to say we are all, to a man, woman, child and Elvis the dog mascot, very proud of our players and their performances in this and the other games in the FA Cup. We have also enjoyed the attention of the media, hosted an FA cup draw and gone out nobly, playing well and fair. Solihull take credit for their workmanlike win, with the secret being that they did not underestimate their opponents. Their professionalism was pleasingly in evidence. Forgive my heresy when I say that in a way I am pleased that the match was put beyond doubt by Wright’s fine strike, as going out to a penalty would somehow have been a bit unsettling.
And was it not wonderful to see Top Field full to the brim, and again I must pay tribute to the staff for their unceasing work to make this day a success in ‘logistical’ terms. We wish our opponents every success in the next round but we may be excused for thinking of what might have been rather than what eventually was. But, the result notwithstanding this was a memorable day for Hitchin Town football club.
Michael Johnson, Alex Anderson, Noah Chesmain, Matt Spring, (Danny Talbot), Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Jack Green, cautioned, Michael Cain, (Charlie Smith), Ezra Forde, (Treymayne Charles), Isaac Galliford, Sponsors’ Man Of The Match, Josh Bickerstaff, cautioned. Substitutes not used – Josh Mollison, GK, Scott Belgrove, Robbie burns and Kieron McCaffery.
Ryan Boot, Tyrone Williams, Jamie Reckford, Kyle Storer, captain, Liam Daly, Alex Grudger, Jamey Osborne,(Jordan Murphy), Darren Carter, cautioned, (Luke Maxwell), Adi Yussef, PENALTY GOAL, 72 MINUTES, Kwame Thomas, (George Carline), Danny Wright, GOAL, 78 MINUTES, – substitutes not used – Harry Flowers, Corey O’Keefe.
REFEREE: Mr A Miller, assisted by Mr M Holmes and Mr K Sear, fourth official – Mr P Evans.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN