Hitchin Town 2 Harrow Boro’ 2 (4-2 Pens)

Wednesday 5th September 2018 | 7:45 pm
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This was a belter of a cup tie, which ultimately went to penalties – and there were also penalties in normal time; and with a sight sigh of relief I can report that the holders, Hitchin Town went into the hat for the next round.

Both clubs understandably made adjustments in their team selection, being mindful of the greater prize, in financial terms, of the forthcoming FA Cup games where Hitchin face Godmanchester Rovers and Harrow Borough take on AFC Hornchurch.

The official team sheet did have Robbie Burns at number ten but on the Match Secretary’s sheet it was Scott Belgrove, and the latter was given the accolade of Hitchin man of the match. In other news we learned that Lucas Kirkpatrick has left and will now ply his trade at Biggleswade Town and I join those who wish him well and indeed wish he had stayed.

Hitchin began their defence of the Trophy in slightly uncertain style with the visitors from Middlesex making an immediate foray on goal. This gave Josh Mollinson a first touch in what proved to be an eventful game for him. Charlie Thake chased a long, penetrating through ball but Harrow ‘keeper Keval Patel got to it first and at the other end, the sprightly running Anthony O’Connor had a shot that was saved by Mollinson. The visitors were already lively on the left flank and proved to be a decent attacking side, with players confidently running in possession.

A Borough corner was deflected for another and the somewhat impressive George Moore tested Mollinson with a header. The games only bleak moment came early on when Scott Belgrove was illegitimately brought down mid-flight and the solitary caution went to George Fenton. Danny Talbot, making a welcome re-appearance, sent in a free-kick that was defended, but I still had the feeling that Hitchin hade made an inauspicious start. I made that note and then in went the first goal from a defensive blunder that is relieved by the fact that it was not the only one of the match. The goal was presented to Isaac Galliford who will probably look back on it as the easiest one he may score this season.

There was a catastrophic mix-up between a Borough defender and his ‘keeper where a botched attempt to clear the lines saw the ball fall opportunely for Galliford who kept his cool and maximised his chance. Thirteen minutes and it was one-nil to the holders, a little against the flow of play. No matter, as Banbury did the same on Saturday. But the more Borough played their exuberant attacking game the more I thought they had a goal in them. It was a poor goal for them to concede and they set about redressing the balance. George Moore is a player I think I may fairly describe as a wing back and he had a run in possession and then a shot which was deflected for a corner. Michael Bryan joined in an attack but a foul from Borough on the hoof ruled out the attack.

From the Hitchin free kick there was some good stuff played by Thake, Galliford and Chesmain, and then a foul on Moore ended that enterprise. Moore was combining well with Bryan and two successive corners were gained, culminating in a header from Shaun Preddie that went wide. The next meaningful bit of play from Hitchin was undeniably exciting and it could have brought the second goal. A cross from Thake was well met by Treymayne Chalres who struck firmly but was denied by the post, and then another forward lob found Galliford who could not effectively elude his marker.

Bryan had a good run and crossed the ball searchingly but Mollinson was there to secure the ball. The same player again combined with Moore whose shot was blocked and then Fenton set up Bryan in a good move and the busy Mollinson made the save. Thake had a header but straight at Patel then Frank Keita had a tremendous shot where Mollinson made an equally tremendous save. The home goalie made yet another good save following a corner.

Hitchin almost poached a goal from an indelicate piece of defending (almost the visitors’ Achilles’ heel), with Shaun Preddie the man confused – and the ball cannoned off him for a corner but it was almost a reconstruction of the first error. Talbot’s corner was headed wide by Thake. Both sides did not fight shy of the long ball – and I know that that teams who employ this are unfairly described as ‘hoof merchants’ but I have the old school view that the long ball is part of the game and can be very effective. Both team utilised space in this manner and why not?

Talbot had a free-kick which Dan Webb flicked over the cross bar and then a cross from Moore after a Borough counter was ably defended. Moore seemed to be everywhere and his cross to Mark McLeod saw a fair effort and another confident gathering of the ball by Mollinson. I found it enthralling stuff and perhaps was not unduly surprised when an insufficient attempt at a clearance from Hitchin rebounded fortuitously for O’Connor to snaffle the equaliser after forty minutes. What fragility the visitors had shown in defence was compensated by the voracious attacking instincts and I felt they deserved parity.

We were far from done with drama, which of course is befitting a cup-tie. A long ball forward stretched the visitors defence and Trey Charles was on it instinctively and he was fouled. The penalty was only mildly disputed and the experienced Danny Talbot put the hosts ahead on the forty –fourth minute. A good time to score, no doubt – but would you Adam and eve it – within thirty seconds Borough were awarded a penalty with Mollinson adjudged to have fouled within his area. Keita put Borough on level terms and that was more or less it for the half but Moore had a good shot in the last seconds, with Mollinson saving well.

A nearby spectator asked me if Borough had scored, as he had gone for what has become known as a ‘comfort break’. I answered in the affirmative. Every time, I do that, he groaned, I miss a goal. I cast my mind back to various meetings I have attended and mischievously, every time we were told that we were stopping for a comfort break, I asked would it be all right if I went for a pee. Reactions were invariably comical.

Four goals in the half and well, four defensive errors. I had thoroughly enjoyed the half, much more I suspect then the two managers who tightened things up so much that the second period saw no further strikes but plenty of open and exciting play. During the interval I had a brief chat with a Borough official who opined that the Mollinson incident was never a penalty. Then one of our own officials told me it was ‘stonewall.’ Two different views and yet they were both sportsmanlike ones. It is the first time I have seen a penalty awarded within a minute of another.

Harrow Borough play in the ‘other ‘Premier division of The Southern League so there was parity in status, and if I may say so, I thought they were excellent representatives of our brother division. I had enjoyed the half very much and recalled the Final of this competition when Hitchin overcame a determined Didcot town who contributed to what was an equally enjoyable game. A glance at my team sheet revealed some wonderful names among the visitors’ substitutes – Hafed Aldroubi Eric and Excellence Muhemba being the moist exotic. There was another Eric in Eric Sowanola. Checking later in the programme I see that the errors were on the team sheet and the names should be Hafed Al-Duobi and the Eric was a typo on the sheet. Oh well.

What is in a name? This is my half-time unrelated bit. I once took my daughter to the Isle of Sheppey where I showed her the site of an old holiday camp where I was taken as a child, and it filled me with wonder then – (which amused the daughter). We went to a café where there was an extended family enjoying fish and chips. They were all tattoos and cropped hair (and that was just the women). There was a benign grandmother doting on her grandchildren and she did not object when her daughter said she was ‘Just popping out for a fag, mum.’ The grandmother, smiling proudly, caught my eye and said ‘Do you know what my daughter called these two angels?’ No, I said, and waited. ‘Demi and Sky – the poor dears.’ Then the café door opened and the fierce daughter said loudly ‘That’s ‘cos you bleeding well called me Doreen.’

I hoped the second half would be as good as the first in terms of exciting football – well it was even if there were no more goals. Keita, for it is he, set up O’Connor for a fine shot which went for a corner, and this was defended well. At the other end Treymayne Charles had a blocked effort and a cunning pass form Talbot did not deceive an alert borough defender. One robust clearance nestled in the trees behind the stand and I was able to do my Little Good Deed of The Day by ferreting out the ball. I became its custodian for a couple of minutes as a replacement was deployed. I thought I might hang on to it for a while and tell anyone I could that I had scored a hat-trick earlier on the Hackney Marshes, despite approaching the autumn of my years, and thus the ball was my reward. Then I knew that that was mere folly and one of the bench staff came to retrieve it.

Meanwhile the real game was still going at a heck of a pace – with Moore having a fine run a good shot and Mollinson saved again. A Talbot free-kick saw a Charles’ shot deflected for a corner and it was skipper Dan Webb. I think, with a downward bouncing header that resulted in another corner. This was defended and at the other end Ryan Haugh shot wide for the visitors. O’Connor had another good go and Moore had another tantalising run in possession. Soon substitutes were employed and both teams pushed forward when they could, shrugging off moments of defensive imprecision. Both also saw final passes either intercepted or struck inaccurately. O’Connor was again on target but Mollinson was alert. Charles had time for accuracy but he blasted the ball over the bar.

Talbot’s free kick was firm enough but it was straight at Patel. A cross aimed at Thake was also plucked by the Borough ‘keeper and substitute Craig Packham netted and showed the usual disbelief at being ruled off-side. Then the Borough got forward swiftly and hit the post and as time ticked the prospect of a penalty ‘shoot-out’ loomed a little uncomfortably. Webb was denied a chance following a corner and right at the end Thake’s effort was just over the bar – and that would have been a dramatic winner in stoppage time. Both teams had made commendable efforts to win it outright, but the whistle blew and thus the drama of penalties was upon us. Had it been a league game I feel both sets of supporters would have seen a poinrt apiece as a fair result to a fine game.

Here are the penalty details:

Chesmain 1-0. Bryan 1-1, Talbot, 2-1, Olanrewaju 2-2, Charles, 3-2. Haugh hit the bar and missed – advantage Hitchin. Thake made it 4-2 and with O’Connor’s miss the tie went to Hitchin. I was enchanted by the game and was perplexed that one or two spectators were not that impressed. Then again, I am quite naïve and for a long time thought that Les Dennis was French for ‘fire engines.’

So the holders are through to the next round, but before that there is the small matter of a tricky FA Cup game against Godmanchester Rovers. We wish our opponents tonight all the best in their game against AFC Hornchurch and thank them for their contribution to a fine game tonight.

Josh Mollinson, Alex Anderson, Noah Chesmain, Danny Talbot, PENALTY GOAL, 44, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Treymayne Charles, Michael King, (Jay Dowie, 71), Charlie Thake, Scott Belgrove, Hitchin man of the match, Isaac Galliford, GOAL, 13, (Craig Packham, 67), other substitutes – Michael Johnson GK, Kyle Davison-Gordon and Toby Syme.

Keval Patel, George Moore, this reporter’s man of the match, Ryan Haugh, Shaun Preddie, Adam Richards, ( Samuel Olanrewaju, 72), Harry Rush, (Eric Sowanola, 72), Frank Keita, PENALTY GOAL, 45, (Excellence Muhemba, 67), Mark McLeod, captain, Anthony O’Connor, GOAL,40, Michael Bryan, George Fenton, cautioned. Other substitutes – Lewis Cole and Hafed Al- Duobi.

Mr J Burridge assisted by Mr L Hartley and Mr L Smith, all of whom had very good games.