Prior to tonight’s game I emailed a friend who lives in Tiptree and informed her that we were playing her local side. She sent the response, ‘Come on you Maldtree’, which is a neat amalgam of both places. What she did not tell me is that the Essex side now play at Maldon. They still bear the nickname of the Jammers, alluding to the product that makes Tiptree nationally famous – and it is perhaps a better moniker than The Bargees – and Maldon of course is known for the frequent presence of spritsail barges, that traded from the Thames to the East Coast and beyond commercially until 1971.
I was also informed that some or many of the visiting team had connections with Colchester United’s under- 23 team. ‘Maldtree’ or The Jammers play in the Bostik League and they certainly gave the Canaries a thorough test tonight in what was a very entertaining game, even though the hosts did not score.
Playing in an all-orange strip, the visitors began in earnest with an immediate attack. In fact they looked positively dangerous in the opening spell. This, I reflected was quite normal for these pre-season games against teams playing a level below. The opposition give it a good go then find themselves defending in depth. So, no worries then? I should cocoa. The visitors looked both sharp and strong, even if their early efforts were a little wayward. Hitchin did come to terms with this a bit later, but young Josh Mollinson in goal was in for a busy time. His ill-judged clearance, for example gave The Jammers’ Glen Southam an unexpected opportunity, which was, fortuitously blasted wide. This really was a declaration of intent and it was unsurprising when the visitors took the lead after a quarter of an hour with a measured low shot from Shane Cojocarel.
That was a goal, with the run of play and now we waited for a suitable reaction from Hitchin. It was there but they did not get the fabled rub of the green. Crosses were intercepted, and even when pace man Trey Charles attempted to weave his magic, he found himself hustled off the ball by two defenders. To nullify a player of pace is always a good idea – but this was not sustained, particularly in the second half. At this stage, Hitchin were only threatening seriously from set-pieces and from one free-kick Daniel Webb managed a decent header gathered nonchalantly by Ben McNamara. This goalie then fouled Isaac Galliford for a free-kick just outside the area. This did not fulfil expectations and at the other end Ola Akiwande ran in possession and shot not too far wide of the target.
I was amused when Hitchin were awarded a throw-in, and a Jammer yelled ‘Thower, Noah.’ This intrigued me and a glance at my team sheet revealed that the Jammers’ number three had the biblical name of Noah. Apparently his job was to monitor the ‘thrower’, surely not because of an accidental rhyme? Maybe not, as he did his job well enough.
Charlie Smith, difficult rhyme there, had a crack but it was wider than he and we had hoped, but it showed the right kind of pugnacity. I may be wide of the mark myself but I saw this game as a kind of rehearsal for the type of League game we will experience in the forthcoming campaign. Given that, I feel this was a valuable preparation, the result notwithstanding.
Smith had another go and some clever work gave Charles a chance but he scuffed his shot. Hitchin were attacking more and some moves were smart enough but the finish was a little lacking. The positive comment is that, after being put under some early pressure and conceding a goal, the hosts did their best to redress the balance but all credit goes to the miserly or precise defending from the visitors.
At the interval I felt that the home side were neither outfought nor outplayed but the forward play just lacked a little of the finesse needed for success. Forward players had found themselves harassed into inaccuracies owing to diligent defending. Having said that it must be said that the visitors had played with assurance and deserved their slender lead.
Glancing at my team sheet I noticed that a named Hitchin Town substitute was no less a personage than Danny Talbot, who had left Dunstable Town to take up his position as Fulham’s international scout. I do not know if he is to be signed officially, and hope he is, since he is a mature player of proven quality. Tonight he was to be reunited with Elliott Bailey with whom he played with the Bedfordshire team – and, incidentally, Jack Green also sported the blue and white hoops in the Talbot era. Danny came on as substitute and like all policeman he seems to look younger.
I expected the usual number of substitutes and this was the case, but as I surveyed the numbers, a small boy asked me what the time was. I told him. What was the month? August. What was that in numbers? Eight. What is the date? Two I said; I was learning. It transpired he was setting up a mobile phone. ‘What is that in your gob, mister?’ was his next question. A pipe, I said and added that it was more polite to say ‘mouth’. He was unfazed and simply said ‘I ain’t polite.’ Quite so. Nevertheless it reminded me of an appropriate Latin phrase quoted in a Joseph Conrad novella, read a little earlier, which translated to ‘slow in hope fearful of the future.’ I daresay I will recover from my lugubrious world-weariness.
A home goal would have helped, and it certainly looked on the cards as Hitchin breezily took to the attack and produced several possibilities in a second half that was generally quite pleasing. Paddy Tshikala and Craig Packham brought some pace and exciting, if at times punctuated by imprecise play. In many ways it was a classic half. The team with the lead defended imperiously, frustrating valiant attempts at an equaliser that stubbornly refused to materialise.
One cannot blame Lucas Kirkpatrick having a stab at goal when a pass might have been the better option. Then Conor Clarke’s subtle pass to Elliott Bailey saw Kirkpatrick’s intended shot robustly blocked. Tshikala ran in possession until he simply ran out of pitch before he could deliver the needed cross. Isaac Galliford was producing good stuff – in one move his run in possession at first brought a play on, advantage decision. He did and was then fouled again for a free-kick. This was parried but Kirkpatrick hit it on the parry and was inches wide. This was more like it and it did seem that an equaliser was forthcoming.
An Ezra Forde effort was well saved and at the other end a free-kick for Maldon and Tiptree only just cleared the crossbar. Packham showed good skills in defending under pressure, and Conor Clarke’s shot from range was again under the category of a near miss. This was a good response from Hitchin who had been hitherto frustrated at the limits imposed upon them – but then the Jammers hit back. They were awarded a free-kick, wide on the left. This was delivered well and appeared to go straight into the net but it transpired that Seth Owens had the final touch and thus it was 2-0, with but a quarter if an hour to go. The visitors had absorbed the pressure in a disciplined and creditable manner.
But that last quarter of an hour was rather exciting with chances at both ends, mostly for Hitchin who never gave up the cause. Yet one or two poor clearances presented the visitors with a chance of increasing their lead, and more than one cross was whipped across the goal seeking the right connection. This demonstrated the visitors’ alertness and called for stout defending to atone for the error. There were a decent number of telling through balls that had real possibilities but exceptional defending from Chris Forino was a vital factor in keeping the Maldon and Tiptree clean sheet. Yet I enjoyed the Hitchin persistence – they countered swiftly, often passing the ball out to the flanks as well as trying through the middle. In this respect it was a fair performance overall and I do not doubt that the team will fulfil its considerable potential. Making the most of opportunities is the desirable improvement – but when faced with such organised defending it makes it all the more difficult – but suffice it to say that there were enough opportunities that just begged for the definite finish.
At the risk of being in the minority, I would say that this was the most enjoyable and in some ways most productive of the pre-season games so far. It was highly suggestive of the kind of standard Hitchin will face and will adapt to. It highlighted areas needed for improvement but it also demonstrated that the team can play well when looking for an equaliser and the strengths of certain players was again in pleasing evidence. They were up against a decent, well-organised team who knew how to defend a lead and seek quiet inroads in increasing their goal advantage.
We now look to the away friendly at Creasey Park on Saturday against a strong AFC Dunstable side who narrowly missed promotion in the Play-Offs at the end of last season.
Josh Mollinson, Conor Clarke, Toby Syme, Kieran McCaffery, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Trey Charles, Charlie smith, Scott Belgrove, Lukas Didik, Isaac Galliford.
Substitutes – Lucas Kirkpatrick, Ezra Forde, Elliott Bailey, Craig Packham, Danny Talbot, Patrick Tshikala, Jack Thomas, Jonny Butler, Desejado Da Silva, Kyle davison and Michael Johnson, GK.
MALDON AND TIPTREE
Ben McNamara, Jimmy Shepherd, Noah Chesman, Harvey Brown, Chris Forino, Seth Owens, GOAL, 74 minutes, Lukle Holness, Glen Southam, Ola Akinwande, Sam McLeod, Shane Cojocarel, GOAL, 15 minutes, – substitutes – Decarrey Sherriff, Chris Miller, Sean Quinn, Lee Barnard.
Referee – S Bates, assisted by M Ball and A Loe. All had reasonable to good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN
Below – The NorthHertsFM commentary team of Becky, Brian and Freddie.