My spoiler alert is the reassuring news that Hitchin did not miss a penalty tonight – unlike their opponents who missed one in the course of the actual match and then two in the mandatory shoot out that was thankfully spared the preceding extra-time, as is the rule in this competition.
But what a cracker of a match it turned out to be with unwavering end to end stuff – and good clean stuff it was too – and The Citizens deserve much praise for their play and overall effort – they pushed their senior opponents all the way, and were never fazed.
An embarrassingly meagre attendance might have suggested the relative lack of interest in a domestic competition, but at the very least, both teams had a thorough work out that, I believe, will do them both a lot of good. Hitchin lacked Ben Walster and Steve Cawley, the latter, so I was informed has completed his loan period and has returned to Hemel Hempstead, his parent club. This afforded a chance for Devonte Simms who, two air shots apart, gave a fair account of himself.
With both goalkeepers in shades of barely discernible orange I wondered what might have occurred if either custodian had gone up for a late corner in search of glory. That did not happen , but most other things did as the ball went from one end to another with alacrity. Marsh and Bell were immediately active for the hosts – but were thwarted by a consistently hard-working defence. Former Hitchin youth player Callum Stead may well be described as the man of the match as he inspired his Welwyn colleagues to even better things. Bradshaw seemed to rise to this but his wide shot did not exactly fit the bill. Bell’s corner saw Marsh head over, and at the other end Adinna, no slouch himself, had a blocked shot that went for a corner.
There was a sweeping move of majestic proportions from the Citizens that only brought a corner, but they had highlighted their intentions that attack was the best form of defence. Stead’s deflected flick brought another corner, which brought another and this time it was the Hitchin defence that showed stern denial. Bell was picked out unmarked on the right and he obligingly sent in the desired cross, which Marsh headed and Tavares saved. Jay Rolfe had a pop, which Horlock held, then ‘dingdong’ sent in another to see Simms shape well but produce the first of his air shots and the chance was gone.
Cathline, the former Dunstable Town man, had a deflected shot for Welwyn, but better was Walklin instead of trying to walk it in, had a fine run and a decent shot. This eager first half was a fine example of clean, attacking football, and I might add that Hitchin played a lot better than in that notorious Southern League Cup game at Herns Lane where they were on the painful wrong end of a five-nil score-line. Suffice it to say that we went to the interval without witnessing a goal, but it was not for lack of effort. I was not surprised to learn that the visitors were currently lying fourth in their division and will say again that I found them to be an exciting team who work consistently hard for one another.
So meagre was the attendance I thought our announcer was going to announce the crowd changes at half-time, but he forsook this onerous job.
The second period began in the unremitting gentle rain that the Irish call a ‘a soft day’, which seems to embrace the blessing, but we were off to a good chance for Marsh who seemed tantalisingly through on goal only to see the off-side flag raised. Ironically this was replicated about six minutes in and this time it was the super sub of the last outing, one Max Ryan who smartly beat the off-side and put the Canaries ahead. Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay, as Lewis Carroll said, and for my part it meant that at the very least we were now not going to lose five-nil. Now to build on this you chaps and avenge yourselves for that five-nil drubbing. I should cocoa. Those chaps from Herns Lane set about securing an equaliser and came perilously close ere-long when a header from their Rolfe hit the post.
A half chance from Dhillon was defended well, but Dhillon then sent in an inviting cross, again dealt with well . Then Marsh nicked the ball off a dilatory defender but the cross to Ryan saw the effort clear the bar. Then we had a sinking moment when the visitors snatched an equaliser. Horlock found himself committed and by this I mean he had unwillingly strayed from his goal and Stead had the whole of an empty net to choose his spot. Worse seemed to come when the Citizens were awarded an undisputed penalty just a minute later.
Walklin strode manfully forward and let go his spot kick which saw Horlock make a notable save. Hitchin, it seemed had decided enough was enough. So had the Citizens who employed all three substitutes. Then Marsh was through again only to have his pockets picked before he could pull the trigger and I gleefully mix my metaphors there. Simms then stroked the ball into the net to be ruled off-side and before the routine castigation of the linesman had finished Dhillon and Bell combined in a thwarted move.
Then there was a retrospective ‘Horlock moment’ – that is to say that Tavares deliberately handled outside his area, and the referee correctly ignored the collective home shouts of ‘off- off- off’ since there was no clear goal scoring opportunity and a yellow card was the only punishment, except for Hitchin fans who made withering comments about the lack of quality of the resultant free-kick.
Stead continued to make a nuisance of himself and so did Bradshaw who was keen to shoot on sight. Time was marching on in the rain and the spectre of going straight to penalties was hovering. And so it was. Oh Lordy was my rather non football style note.
So – here we are – the penalty statistics. WGC first.
- Eusebio Da Silva – great name – embarrassing miss that hit the cross bar.
- Lewis Rolfe scores. Stead scores to make it 1-1. Simms scores to make it 1-2.
- Lee Close nets, and then Jhai Dhillon restores the advantage, 3-2 to Hitchin.
- Rolfe scores and so does Marsh with a perfect penalty – 4-3 Hitchin.
- Bradshaw fluffs his lines and Hitchin go through 4-3 and earn the right to face Leverstock Green away in the next round.
Commiserations to a fine, fighting Welwyn who played the game right and deserve credit – as do Hitchin who had to work hard to avoid the ‘potential banana skin.’ I thoroughly enjoyed the match – it was a real gutsy cup tie in every respect. Barwell arrive at Top Field on Saturday, you can purchase your discounted online match tickets here, and I hope the regulars return in decent numbers.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Jhai Dhillon, Lewis Rolfe, Daniel Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, Max Ryan, GOAL, 51 MINUTES, Devonte Simms, Alex Marsh, Bradley Bell.
Substitutes not used – Joseph Gauge, Shaquille Ishmael, Kai Phelan, Brett Donnelly.
WELWYN GARDEN CITY
Marco Taveres, Gerando Smaldone, (Romelle Alomenu), Alex Harris, Jesse Walklin, Lee Close, Jay Rolfe, Callum Stead, GOAL, 71 MINUTES, Jack Bradshaw, Alex Cathline, (Brodie Carrington), Greg Adinna, Eliot Bailey, (Eusebio Da Silva).
Substitutes not used – Jon Stevenson and Ryan Schmid.
OFFICIALS: No officials provided on my team sheet – apologies to them.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN