If expectations were tentatively raised after the narrow FA Cup win at Barton Rovers, the Canaries were unseated from their perch in this fairly dismal return to league action and with this latest defeat they still await a win. Kings’ form in the league had taken a dip with three defeats in as many games, but tonight they ruled with an impressive display of slick, passing football and thoroughly deserved their three points.
There was a lot of action on and off the ball, with the referee retiring injured, a home supporter with suitable qualifications running the line in place of the senior assistant who took the whistle. Hitchin had a player dismissed and late in the game the red card was shown to a disgruntled Mark Burke, who has struggled to field his preferred starting eleven owing to a crop of injuries.
The heavy rain overnight and during the day had me wondering if the game was in danger of a second postponement, which , in retrospect might have been kinder and advantageous to Hitchin, but the new pitch had coped with the deluge and it was match on. I arrived at the ground – impressed with the continuing development and also the enthusiastic car park attendant who guided me in like one of those chaps at airports. He only needed the table tennis bats to complete the manoeuvre.
Rain still fell but in a gentler persistence and from the kick-off the hosts sought to establish control. An immediate assault on the left was defended by Bickerstaffe gave only temporary respite, and the hosts seemed to retain possession with ease. If Hitchin got to the ball they were harried and crowded out. But a cross from Hitchin needed Melvin minter to punch away – but it was some long time before he had to face a direct shot.
Charlie Pattison’s cross was cleared but it simply meant that those in green had to face another attack, and a fine home shot took a nick for a first Kings’ corner. This was taken by Max Hercules, son of the well-remembered Cliff Hercules who gave yeoman service to Aylesbury United. A second corner cannoned off an attacking player but the hosts won a free-kick on the left. This was defended by Dowie, but back came Kings – pushing the ball around confidently. Horlock and Crowther combined to nullify one threat, but there seemed a definite fragility about the Hitchin defence.
Roddy Collins had a pop on goal that was defended, but we sensed that a breakthrough was imminent – and indeed it came, after seventeen minutes. Connolly already had a shot that had cleared the bar – but it was the level of seemingly effortless possession that was worrying. Cawley, who started the night was having a quiet time so far, and he was caught off-side with his first real foray, with limited service, it must be said. The opening goal came from a throw-in and a quick interchange of passes and Hercules did not labour but thumped in the shot so hard the ball came right out of again. This lead came as no surprise. Kane Farrell’s shot was easy from the increasingly busy Horlock. Farrell was almost roaming free on the left and able to put in searching crosses. A half-chance for the subdued Okuboyejo was easily snubbed.
Weiss had a cross-cum-shot that Horlock read well – but the hosts’ ability to turn defence into immediate counter-attack still proved to be a worrying factor. The came a long delay when the referee, who had slipped over, went to the benches to speak to both managers. One of his socks was down and indeed he left at the interval on crutches. Obviously he could not continue and the senior assistant took over. As I said, a home supporter donned the black and took the flag and we are all grateful for his impromptu appearance. It added a full eleven minutes to this first half – which left us a little surprised that Kings had been restricted to a single goal lead at the interval.
Some Hitchin defending had been good and more was to come – but what was lacking was a real purposeful attempt on the Kings’ goal – involving passing play rather than a hopeful punt from midfield. The hosts, in having the lion’s share of possession always looked as if they would score again and this was perhaps helped considerably by the dismissal of Lewis Barker right at the end of this half and who received his red card for what appeared to be a very rash challenge – with the decision disputed by Hitchin players and supporters. At the very least this made the task of recovery all the more difficult – and this was made increasingly burdensome when, with only four minutes into the half Kings bagged their second goal.
It came from a corner and was headed home by Harry Crawford, who had been a lurking presence hitherto. A cross from Hercules very nearly brought number three – yet this was another of those anomalous occasions when the team that is reduced to ten men actually play better than when they had a full complement. That is not damning with faint praise as there were some commendable moves from Hitchin who actually reduced the arrears with a fifty-eighth blaster of a goal from Joe Gauge. There had been a firm shot from substitute Charlie Thake a little beforehand – and at that juncture some of us thought that the home side would continue to dominate possession and almost wait for the right opportunity to bag another goal. Come on the ten men, then. Well, that has been the case in many matches but here it was relatively short lived. One tense moment saw Josh Bickerstaff prevent a goal with a stop on the line – but it caused him considerable pain as the ball caught him squarely in the goolies and there was no male in the stadium who begrudged him some time on the deck to recover. Taking one for the team indeed.
Josh had a real battle in defence but once again he received a caution and seems impervious to reformation in this respect.
Kings Langley restored their two goal lead in the sixty-seventh minute when Charlie Pattison headed Farrell’s cross beyond Horlock. The three points were now secure for the home side and making substitutions they were able to ride the mini flurry of Hitchin attacks that were all with unfulfilled promise.
There is also the question of player discipline with three cautions and a dismissal. As well as that the frustration of manager Mark Burke was in evidence when an incautious comment to the replacement ( and very busy) referee saw the official march to the bench and after a reprimand he showed the red card. Mark Burke moved only a few metres away from the dug-out and he witnessed the spirited but unfulfilled end to the match from his team who were definitely second best tonight.
When you are fairly well beaten it is perhaps best to accept it and move on. There is a home match against Stratford Town before the FA Cup match to senior opposition in the form of Maidstone United. Of course an over-riding concern is the misfortune of injuries to key players. I did like the effort put in by substitute Theo Reed but overall this was not a memorable Hitchin performance. It is only fair to say they were beaten by an impressive and stylish team who worked very hard for one another and the goals they scored were well-executed.
That elusive first league win may seem overdue – but each team seems strong and, like last season, Hitchin are yet to find their best side – and injuries have prevented this. The two cup wins have been welcome far more than they have been convincing and have been against lower division teams. The three drawn games have been the result of good performances – but that little extra – that wins games conclusively is still a missing aspect. The full potential is still to be realised. The position in the League table is not a pleasant sight but at least there are many games to come in order to play our way out of trouble and we hope this may be realised soon.
Melvin Winter, Gary Connelly, Kane Farrell, Roddy Collins, captain, Callum Adebiyi, Kyle Connelly, Charlie Pattison, GOAL, 67. Josh Caldicott-Stevens, Mitchell Weiss, Harry Crawford, GOAL, 49, Max Hercules, GOAL, 17. Substitutes used – Matty Campbell-Mhlope, Stevie Ward and Eoin McKeown.
Subs not used – Jake Victor Lloyd Doyley.
Charles Horlock, Jack Green, Marcus Crowther, Jay Dowie, Joseph Gauge, GOAL, 58, Lewis Ferrell, Lewis Barker, dismissed, straight red card, Max Ryan, cautioned, Steve Cawley, cautioned, (Theo Reed, 72), Leon Okuboyejo, (Charlie Thake, 55), Josh Bickerstaff, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Josh Mollison GK, Jack Thomas, James Verney.
REFEREE: Mr Gregz Kornasiewicz, assisted by Mr Constandinos Christodoulo, and Mr David Nicholson, all Oxfordshire. Thanks to the qualified home supporter who ran the line in the event of the referee retiring injured.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN