Hitchin Town progressed to the second round of the Hertfordshire Senior Cup, after coming from behind against a very spirited Tring athletic, who play in the premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League where they are doing very well. This game was originally postponed because of the Leatherhead FA Cup game, and, since it was being staged days before Hitchin’s most important game for many a year, there was an understandable change of personnel. The Big Game against Solihull Moors has been a sell-out and has attracted television coverage, but the bread and butter comes before the caviar.
There were starts for Josh Mollison, Michael King, Danny Talbot, Aaron Gooch, Kieron McCaffery, Michael Cain and Patrick Tshikala. From the kick-off there was a fair move from Tring involving Kyle Johnson who looked initially quite sharp, but as the half progressed, the visitors utilised the left flank to some advantage, with some notable play from Elliot Goward. But some minutes before this player was to attract attention, Hitchin ought to have taken the lead when Trey Charles had the goal at his mercy from about five yards and he somehow conspired to balloon his shot way over the bar. Belgrove had procured the initial chance but Charles’ miss was almost inexplicable.
At the other end there was a speculative lob in the ‘worth a try’ category from Goward and he too cleared the bar but not by such an embarrassing margin. The game then settled into a mediocrity with the spectators treated to a firework display near the stadium. It was quite dramatic and led me to wonder if they were too late for this year or too early for 2019. I was informed that it was a celebration of the Hindu Festival of Diwali, where the fireworks symbolise the spiritual victory of light over darkness. We could have done with some metaphorical fireworks on the pitch, where the Canaries were adequately contained by Athletic who were no slouches in the counter attack.
Trey Charles was approaching his predatory best at times and he saw a lot of the ball and, vitally scored an imperious equaliser in the second half. But before Hitchin were able to take control of this game, they were subject to a determined effort from the visitors, who took the lead six minutes before half-time. Charles had a fine on- target shot that just cleared the bar. There was good defending from Tring’s Dave O’Connor and Chris Crook and some neat creative play from their skipper Mark Riddick.
Scott belgove worked hard tonight, holding the ball up well and he ceaselessly contested for possession. Alex Campana’s neat corner came out to Goward and the effort ended up being headed over the bar. As I watched and made my notes, almost next to me Matt spring was interviewed by the BBC reporter/cameraman in relation to the FA Cup clash.
Both teams seemed to gain and lose possession in an almost casual manner, and as yet no fierce shot had tested either keeper. Talbot produced a few intelligent forward balls but so far all had been anticipated by the Tring defence. After twenty minutes we had seen just token efforts on goal and it was indeed dour stuff, possibly emphasised by the burgeoning firework display.
A good ball to the left saw Charles nip in to provide Michael Cain with a chance that was defended and play was held up for an injury to a player of either side. Trey Charles attacked from the right wing and won a corner. Talbot sent this in and it was well defended initially but a cross from Hitchin saw the keeper, Patrick Sinfield gather with ease. It was hardly riveting stuff thus far and it may be argued that when the visitors took the lead, slightly against the overall flow of play we were presented with an opportunity of a more urgent second-half.
Quite simply, Tring made the most of their major opportunity and Hitchin did not. The goal came in the thirty-ninth minute and was scored emphatically by Jack Read. Hitchin beat the off-side on a couple of occasions but it came to nothing. There was a blocked shot from Riddick and a free-kick shortly before the interval from Talbot was defended well. Tommy Twelves (nice name) put in a timely challenge on Belgrove but the visitors held their lead to the interval. By then the Diwali fireworks had ceased and the question was whether Hitchin would improve on the last moments where Tring had cleared a yard or two from the goal line. There as also a fine shot from Talbot that drew a good save.
It is odd, but these fireworks reminded me of a former match involving Tring, at their home stadium at Cow Lane. Whilst the normal action progressed on the pitch, there was a glorious orchestral sound from a marquee outside the ground. There was a rehearsal of a full orchestra and although they were unseen, we all heard their sterling efforts and it was amusing to see both teams attacking with an often appropriately dramatic soundtrack, so to speak. There was a musical event later that day and so a rehearsal was desirable. I felt it added to the match and could not believe the complaints of some spectators that the symphonic extracts were off-putting for the players.
As it happened, Hitchin were very much a transformed side in a much better and more entertaining second-half. The two goals we saw were indeed top notch, but the splendid efforts from Tring to at least send the game to penalties must not be discounted. After they went behind they did not crease in their efforts to get back on terms, notwithstanding the few close shaves they encountered beforehand.
If I tell you that the match officials received a rousing cheer at the start of the second half, I suspect you may feel that it was ironic in its delivery and you would be correct. Both teams had emerged to the arena, keen to get on with it all, but the officials were somewhat tardy, hence the cheer when they did make their appearance. Once underway we saw a more positive attacking approach from the hosts and we were treated to two goals of sheer quality, followed by some nervous moments of away pressure.
A significant aspect was the substitution of Jack Green for the curiously underperforming Tshikala, who had seemed so promising at the commencement of the season. He set up a header for Michael Cain that was not that wide. Goward received a forward ball that was intercepted by Chesmain. There was an inviting free-kick for Hitchin just beyond the ‘D’. Chesmain put it wildly over the cross bar. Goward tried a shot from range that was held by Mollison.
After fifty-six minutes, I was looking forward to some real penetration from the home side. Belgrove was brought down, but the free-kick was negligible. Talbot took a free-kick that begged a header from King but it went wide. Chesmain produced a fine overlap but the cross was rebuffed. Hitchin’s improved play was noticeable but it needed a finish, a spark or a magic moment and this was thankfully provided on sixty-three minutes.
Talbot combined with Belgrove and Green and the cross from the last named from the right saw Trey Charles secure the equaliser on the volley. It was a sumptuous piece of football to grace the game. It did signify, to a certain extent, Hitchin grasping control, but such control was challenged. I noticed I had made the observation. ‘Can Hitchin get the winner to add to the fixture congestion?’ I was nearly answered in the negative when Kyle Johnson, latching on to a telling diagonal through ball very nearly put his team ahead.
Then Hitchin took the lead via Scott Belgrove, with the ball not properly cleared from defence saw what the announcer correctly said was a ‘cracker’, when Belgrove leapt upon the chance and scored a beauty, timed at sixty-seven minutes. How we would like a clinical finish like that in a League game. It rankled with me a bit that the BBC man was doing his recording bit and mentioning with unwanted gusto that Hitchin were ‘still second from bottom’.
So, Hitchin had come from behind and there was still the little matter of hanging on to this lead or, even better, adding to it. There was no doubt now that Hitchin’s superiority was beginning to tell, but not absolutely, since the visitors made a real game of it and did not forsake the chances to secure and equaliser.
But Hitchin evaded the off-side on three occasions and Chesmain shaved the bar with a real humdinger of a shot. Charles on a run looked the business but the defender put him off just enough to send the shot astray. Robbie Burns came on for Michael Cain and before long Tring employed their maximum substitutes.
Having fallen behind they did not relent in their efforts to snaffle an equaliser and the pressure they exerted needed careful monitoring. Ideally, a third goal from Hitchin might have saved the strenuous moments, and they did come fairly close, particularly with Chesmain’s powerful shot. Tring’s substitutes did well, particularly Scott Henderson who was blessed with persistence, whereas Ashton Campbell did not show that kind of enterprise I recalled from him as a member of Dunstable Town’s successful youth team of yesteryear. Campana and Read did combine but the final effort was wanting.
So, Hitchin saw the game out in relative comfort, and thus progressed in this competition, and so another fixture is added to the growing list. Importantly it was completed and so the club can concentrate on the forthcoming FA Cup tie. Tring put in a decent performance but fell victim to two moments of sheer class, but they had made their higher placed hosts work for the victory even though the side contained new prospects and fringe players.
I am glad that it did not go to penalties, since I prefer a ‘clean’ victory and now we can all look forward to Hitchin’s attempt to create a bit more history to add to previous triumphs. As well as that , we will enjoy the prospect of a capacity crowd at Top Field.
Josh Mollison, Michael King, Noah Chesmain, Danny Talbot, Aaron Gooch, Jay dowie, captain, Trey Charles, GOAL, 63 MINUTES, Kieron McCaffery, Scott Belgrove, GOAL, 67 MINUTES, Michael Cain, (Robbie Burns), Patrick Tshikala, (Jack Green)
Substitutes not used – Charlie Smith, Kyle Davison-Gordon and Ezra Forde.
Patrick Sinfield, Tommy Twelves, Chris Mason, Roy Byron, Dave O’Connor, Chris Crook, cautioned, Alex Campana, Mark Riddick, captain, (Scott Henderson), Jack Read, GOAL, 39 MINUTES, Kyle Johnson, (Teddy Paul), Elliot Goward, this reporter’s man of the match, (Ashton Campbell),
REFEREE: Mr J Mannix. Assisted by Mr D Lawson and Mr R Wharton. All three had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN