This match reminded me of the anecdote of the chap who leapt from a thirty storey building and as he passed the fifteenth floor he said ‘so far, so good.’ It was very curious, though, as in a very even first half the visitors matched the higher placed hosts and the major discernible difference were the two first half goals that were of outstanding quality.
Before the game started I had a personal indication that the Poppies were going to regain their form with thoroughness. I went by car rather than the team coach and a zealous, fully kitted steward impeded my progress, asked for name, rank and number, my mother’s maiden name and my sister’s mobile number. He directed me to park and really, what would make him happy would be a pair of those table tennis bats to guide me, like they use at airports. As I walked away he gave a glance at the way I had parked and probably thought I had won my licence in a raffle. But, he and his cohorts are worth their weight in platinum to the club.
Latimer Park is not renowned for the carpet like quality of its pitch, and the ungenerous mud was in abundance and even played a part in one of the goals. I used to regard the ground as like my house – a bit shabby and in need of renovation, but when that happens it does not look that different. But a new, multi-sponsored perimeter fence has finally sealed it off from the rest of Northamptonshire.
Team news revealed that playmaker Matt Lench had been recalled to play for Wealdstone at Truro and it had not gone ahead. At Latimer Park there had been a pitch inspection and it was deemed playable. Matt Nolan was among the substitutes and I spoke to him briefly before the game and the major point he made was ‘as long as we do not lose.’ I wondered if this would mean what the rude populace call ‘parking the bus’, which in bleak terms is ten men behind the ball and lofting the thing out of the stadium for good measure.
It was not like that – in fact Hitchin played very well in the first half. At two- nil down Isaac Galliford’s shot almost made it 2-1, but for a mere formality of a second half, our hopes were forlorn. Adam Cunnington tried an early shot that was held by Michael Johnson, who was blithely unaware that he was later to face two penalties. Kelly-Evans combined with Stohrer and Cunnington and this brought a defended header before man of the match Rhys Hoenes put it over the bar. Hitchin reacted quite well, getting forward, albeit tentatively at first – and they were closely marshalled.
Kettering looked sharp and made good use of the long sweeping pass as well as some close-play in possession. The pitch already looked impossibly heavy. Green’s free-kick from the centre circle was aimed for Alfie Cue but it proved unreachable. Neither goal had been really bombarded as yet and play was largely even. Bickerstaff, Forde, Dowie constructed a decent attack with cue crossing to Forde, but the ball was too high, and Kettering were soon on the counter.
Dan Holman had his knuckles rapped for a foul and the free-kick from Chesmain saw Webb go for the header, but Stohrer cleared emphatically. Solkhon passed to Kelly who crossed and that was defended – but there seemed increasing spaces on both flanks for Kettering to exploit. Cain had a go, but the ball cleared the bar by a country mile. The Greens were not strained yet. Kelly-Evans had a blocked shot and then Hoenes had a belter of a shot that hit the side-netting.
Hoenes sent a cross along the floor that was partially cleared and Holman crossed that was awkwardly defended – giving a slight sense of defensive fragility that might buckle under the strain. A corner was conceded by Ferrell, which was taken short, and then there was a high cross to Cunnington that brought another corner. Kelly Evans’s cross brought a save from Johnson from Graham’s effort. A header from Dan Webb lacked strength, but the idea was a good one.
Cain’s cross was too high was too high for Galliford but Bickerstaff picked out Cue, but the ball went into touch. Green’s throw-in, brought a muddled attempt that was easily cleared. We had been at it for just over twenty minutes and Hitchin supporters could be reasonably satisfied thus far. Cue looked the business and he won a corner, from Solkhon’s stout defending. Bickerstaff was wide of the mark.
Hitchin do not have an enviable record at this stadium and have leaked a goodly number of goals and they added to this with melancholy submission, but at the moment they were battling well and being equally competitive. Before we had reached the half hour mark the Canaries succumbed to a strike of skilful proportions.
This was one of those moments that are plucked from the game and are memorable for the smart execution of the chance. Some use the term a ‘worldy’ but I am more sober in my descriptions. It was a smart strike from range by Lindon Meikle and he will be pleased when he sees it on the video. Cue responded with Cue having a shot deflected for a corner which brought the usual referee insistence on a limit to the pushing and shoving bravado that is so prevalent these days. Dowie’s corner came off the head of Solkhon,
I happened to believe that Hitchin had a goal in them but it was not to be granted. Yet it was still relatively tight and the Poppies did not add to their score until the ;last minute of the half and , oh boy, what a goal that was. Galliford’s free kick necessitated a dramatic punch clear from Paul White, who maybe relished the chance of a bit of drama, since he had not been severely tested so far.
Another home shot cleared the bar, sundry free-kicks were conceded and spent unwisely by both teams. There was a promising moment or two within the Poppies’ penalty area but it just about favoured the defenders. Then there was that cracking second goal, again from range, netted by Michael Richens, which was greeted exuberantly by the home announcer which, though understandable does need to be a little more sober in its delivery. I have noticed the more partisan home announcers do let themselves down in reporting strikes against their team with a dismissive announcement that seems trased out with huge reluctance.
But that was the difference – two magnificent goals and opportunities taken handsomely. We had reached half-time, with the Hitchin committee members readily acknowledging the imperious nature of those two vital strikes. At home later I went on to the southern League website and saw the result as 5-0 and with a note that Kettering had won 2-0 on penalties. A amusing clerical error no doubt, but if a penalty competition had been won by 2-0 you would be kicking a few backsides.
I consoled myself by saying to myself that Hitchin always pick up in the second –half. I should cocoa. Instead of saying this was a bad day at the office ( groan at clichés), this was more of a disastrous day in the lush Latimer Park mud as things went from bad to worse and a bit of a kick in the nuts in terms of goal difference that might have a bearing later in the season. No politicians could kick up such mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood, as the song goes.
It perhaps did not help our lack of equilibrium with the match assessor repeating ad nauseam that the two goals were not able to be contained with the most gushing of superlatives. But he was a neutral and we forgive him, even if we had momentary ideas about where to put his official pad.
The second half was indeed painful to the travelling faithful, since three more goals were scored. Two of them were penalties. I was amused at one chap who declared amusedly that both of these penalties were off-side. That is a new twist. We cover our disappointment with gallows humour at times.
There was no serious resurgence from Hitchin, but they continued to seek some sort of compensation. The closest we came to some redress was Galliford’s worthy effort that Paul white saved with his trailing leg and the rebound went begging. My concentration was interrupted by a chap from Belfast who was waxing nostalgically about the famous Spurs double team of 1961. He was a little miffed when I let slip that the north London team had not won the League since, and facts speak for themselves.
Cain and Cue had efforts, one saved, one went wide. The third goal was a little mystifying as green appeared to be fouled, Hitchin lost possession in the abundant mud and the hosts scampered forward, heedless of the circumstance and Dan Holman made it 3-0. This was in the sixty-fifth minute, and worse was to come in terms of the game and our goal difference. I do believe that Hitchin lost 4-1 here on their last visit.
Bickerstaff put in a cross for Cue, Cain picked it up and there was a fruitless free-kick. After four successive league wins it was not comfortable to lose by such a margin. The opening day of the season had seen Kettering win at Top Field by a solitary goal, but they were praised for their play and even then reckoned to be championship contenders.
The toast continued to fall butter side down with the award of two late penalties, both scored by Brett Solkhon in an impressive manner, with the unsporting bounder sending Johnson the wrong way both times. These penalty goals came on eighty-three and eighty –seven minutes and it was the end of a somewhat miserable afternoon. Matt Nolan came on to roll back the years and he had a decent chances or two but the prospect of a consolatory goal was remote.
I was a little perplexed by those who said it was not really a 5-0 game. It patently was. Kettering regained their form with a degree of flourish. We can hope that the clash with Biggleswade on Boxing Day might yield a better result. The Bedfordshire team lost for the second time in as many games today so they will be eager to stem the bad flow. So will we, and I am pleased that it will be a 1.30 pm kick off, which will reduce the time away from the family in the Festive period.
Kettering had led the Division for a long time but had shown a vulnerable underbelly in recent games, but all was emphatically put right for them today. In true journalistic tradition I will say, a happy Christmas ‘to all my readers’ and I so wish that I had better news to report from Latimer Park today.
Paul White, Brett Solkhon, TWO PENALTY GOALS, 83 AND 87 MINUTES, Gary Storher, Michael Richens, captain, GOAL, 45 MINUTES, Lindon Meikle, GOAL, 27 MINUTES, Dan Holman, GOAL, 65 MINUTES, (Ben Milnes), Rhys Hoenes, Man of the Match, Dion Kelly-Evans, Marcus Kelly, , Marcus Kelly, (Ben Toseland), Luke Graham, Adam Cunnington,(Aaron O’Connor).
Substitute not used – Lathaniel Rowe-Turner.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, Josh Bickerstaff, Ezra Forde, (Scott Belgrove), Isaac Galliford, Alfie Cue (Matt Nolan).
Substitutes not used – Dese DeSilva, Craig Packham and Vlasislav Bursa.
REFEREE: Mr Samuel Kane, a reasonable game, assisted by Mr Paul Buck and Mr Gareth Williams. Assessor: Lee Forrester,
REPORT BY PIPEMAN