The Linnets were in it to win it today as a riposte to their 0-3 defeat at Top field in January, and for the first fifteen minutes Hitchin supporters felt that perhaps we were going to endure a game reminiscent of the Needham Market debacle – but what transpired was a performance that any Canary supporter may feel a good deal of pride. Quite simply Hitchin deserved a draw and were singularly unfortunate in not obtaining this result. But for a quarter of an hour it looked like what that grizzly fellow said in that Western ‘ a goddam massa-cree’ But it was no massacre but a noble recovery and a dramatic close to the game where all occurred except that deserved equaliser.
I have found that the more ardent the supporter, the more lugubrious are their remarks and impoverished are their expectations. Alfie Cue’s Dad showed the pessimism of a Schopenhauer with his prediction that Hitchin would be two goals to the bad after ten minutes. He was wrong as it took the Linnets twelve minutes to achieve this score and it had an odd effect on the Hitchin supporters behind the goal. Whilst I had decided to accept the two goal reverse without umbrage, dudgeon or pique, the Canary faithful launched into an improvised chant that pointed out that our new dugouts were vastly superior to those of the home club. Any port in a storm, eh?
So, what went wrong in that fateful opening spell. Well, that rogue wind had a say in things, but the major difference was the Linnets having better control along the floor. They had an early chance when Ryan Fryatt ‘s pass to Adam Marriott produced a shot from the latter that went wide. The rogue wind had already declared its intention of playing an active part and so it proved to be.
Galliford, who had an exceptional game, was elected to take a free-kick, this saw Chesmain have a blocked shot and it led to an immediate counter that found the Hitchin defence playing an unintentional high line and would you Adam and Eve it, it resulted in a goal. A goal emanating from your own free-kick leaves a bitter taste but so it was. Adam Marriott, with his second chance made this one count with an emphatic simplicity. Five minutes gone and the hosts were one up.
A Hitchin corner saw a blocked shot from the tenacious Michael Cain, and a great pass from Bickerstaff saw a header from Harry Draper, saved low at the near post by Alex Street, given the nomenclature of Sponge Bob by the Hitchin fans because of his yellow jersey and strangely square shorts. Street enjoyed this banter and proved to be a fine ambassador for his club when, after the game, he shook the hands of innumerable young Linnet supporters. Good to see. Good to know too was the home club’s policy of letting juveniles in at no cost to their pocket money.
The second goal for the hosts had a tragi-comic aspect to it. Our hastily signed replacement for Michael Johnson, (who, it will be remembered, took one for the team against Tamworth, when he both fouled and handled outside the area) – one Tiernan Parker, of tender years and experience. Parker thought his lofted clearance would enter the imperious stand and clip a few ears or widen a parting or two, but he saw, as we all did, the ball get caught in the sinister giggling wind and return to play, opportunely at the feet of Jordan Richards, who doubled the home advantage. Alfie Cues’s dad stuck up two fingers which I thought was a bit over the top, but he was merely signalling the number of goals and the triumph of his prediction. The two minute error he put down to poetic licence. There is no doubt that under ‘normal’ conditions that clearance would have all but left the stadium.
At this stage I thought we were in for a bit of a walloping but I must insist that we cannot blame our goalie for this second goal, as who can predict the effect of such a blustery wind? Under normal conditions that clearance would have nestled in the stand to no more than a derisory jeer. What, two down and not even a quarter of an hour played. This was vengeance writ large and the phrase ‘damage limitation’ was mooted as a working idea.
Oh, we of little faith – did we not see or appreciate the workmanlike manner that the Canaries applied themselves to the task of clambering back into this game? Galliford had a good crack on goal, but it went wide. It was not indicative of a determined assault on the Linnets’ goal, but the visitors did not concede further in this half and three minutes before the interval they pulled one back.
Henderson had a shot from a cross from Michael Gash. Parker saved this and distinguished himself later with a wonderful one-handed save that prevented a near certain third goal that would have made this match of mere academic interest. Still a teenager, this match on a relatively big stage was one he can look back on with some pride. He did well, and I asked Michael Johnson to tell him so.
Harry Draper went down injured and was a touch aggrieved that it evinced no great concern or sympathy and was deflected in any case with the away comment that ‘it was never offside, ref.’ The referee, who had a fine game, and was a rather decent fellow, was called Sannerdude, which some wit unkindly remarked that it sounded like a disinfected and suggestively shaped lavatory brush. Lord knows what they might have said about Michael Gash.
Jay Bird, who had come on as a substitute against Halesowen had fulfilled his early promise and went on to play a major role, albeit tinged with misfortune at a critical moment. Suffice it to say that he might well have had a major say in bringing the game to a drawn conclusion and the equitable sharing of the points.
A Linnet corner in the thirty-eighth minute saw a huge lob over the bar by Henderson. It may have appeared wasteful but two goals to the good they felt they could afford such an extravagance – but Hitchin hit back and took just the one goal deficit to the interval that could have been a couple more. The goal was a remarkable one, as well as being unexpected.
The ebullient Jack Green won a free-kick after being floored and this came to Webb, to the left of the goal. He did well to screw the ball back to Ezra Forde who converted on the bobble. We almost forgave the home side their modest dug-outs. Parker’s magnificent save from Gash’s venomous shot was supremely important and marked the last bit of significant action of the momentous first half.
As the half ended I reflected on what a fine stadium The Walks is – and if they do manage promotion I do not think they need make any major improvements. The dominating stand is an imperious sentinel and the covered terracing is more than adequate. Support is god but the home chairman, like many of his counterparts scratches his head for ideas to get more bums on seats and feet on terraces. We all share this concern, of course. But whilst television is saturated with and ‘hyped’ up on major professional football we in non-league will get the rough end of the deal. It seems restricted to a plucky, near skint club having the good fortune to draw a league club at home and filmed hoping for a scoop of an upset. Gertcha.
I snaffled a sandwich for Alfie Cue’s Dad, who had found the local sausages indigestible, and raw enough to bite him back. It put him in a good enough mood to believe that it was a game of two halves and, Hitchin, with the wind now in their favour, could set their spinnaker and jibs for an onslaught on the Linnets’ goal. In this we were not disappointed except for the rather disconcerting matter of scoring an own goal, which inadvertently punctured the exertions of the classic comeback.
Suffice it to say that after a first half of many disagreeable setbacks, the Canaries were on song for the second half in the noble tradition. They never drew level but they reduced the arrears to a single goal after the misfortune of the own goal attributed to Chesmain. I was at the other end and thought it was a header from McCauley but I stood nominally corrected later on. This setback came after sixty-two minutes and was announced as an own goal without further detail. There is time for a vignette here as home stewards were persuaded to take a group photo of the travelling support who bunched together so closely as to suggest that if the camera retreated a yard or two there would be further numbers to swell the effect. But a fine word here for the travelling faithful, they kept their humour and they were both vociferous and optimistic.
This was a fine, fighting half for the Hitchin team who cannot be faulted for effort or passion. I strive for neutrality in my reporting but I can say with conviction that such was the vim and vigour of Hitchin’s play in this vibrant second half that they did deserve a draw and came so painfully close to achieving this objective. Jay Bird hit the upright with a glorious effort and then improved on this by scoring the second Hitchin goal. The hosts were restricted in their chances and they were called upon to defend their slender lead, which they did competently and comprehensively. They countered as well but inconclusively, almost aware that the more important matter was not conceding, which would mean a prestigious point for the visitors who had looked well out of the running after the first fifteen minutes of the first half.
But I must say that some of the goalmouth melees, which though exciting in themselves, did not produce a menacing shot on goal until late on. Galliford was through on one of these and although he could not stab the ball home we saw Street, the home goalie stretched on the ground as if scythed to the bone. I asked the referee later if Galliford had netted, would the goal have been disallowed. No, he told me. Blast I thought, but then I did recall that Hitchin, despite frantic efforts in a most exciting finish, did not get the ball over the line. Lynn defended well and held out. It was curious, really, as it seemed for most of the first half that this would be almost a routine win for the home club.
Two very late substitutions for Hitchin had the faithful questioning the wisdom of such a decision, but had one of them scored we would be hailing it as a mark of tactical genius. It was, really, defeat with honour but had they drawn it would have brought greater honour; such was the cumulative team effort. It had been an exciting second half, even if ultimately unsatisfying.
I spoke to no-one who would have begrudged a sharing of the points. Indeed as I listened to the summations of my colleagues I took away the impression that I really ought to pay more attention to the match as I seemed to miss so much of the finer detail. But we did agree that a draw would have been a big deliverance, but no-one was shouting ‘We wuz robbed’, as credit goes to Lynn for their stalwart defending and no doubt many of their supporters may feel that they ought to have wrapped it all up in a dominant first half.
I felt a distinct pride in the Hitchin team who had battled so well, and indeed made those closing stages so exciting. Despite the result I had enjoyed the game and my visit to The Walks (as always), and I drove to the old town to pick up my wife whom I had left to go for a mooch round whilst the game was on. I was full of the game but she was more concerned with the CD she had bought featuring a singer of a group called Aha, called Luton Market or something like it. Not everyone loves non-league football. All she said was ‘so you lost then?’ Well, yes, I said but it was so much more than that- an equaliser was so close….and yet so distant. I recalled how much the referee and his assistants had enjoyed the game and expressed commiserations after the game.
‘Yes, but you still lost ‘was the rejoinder from the missis. We did, but we went down fighting. So we now face the tough task of facing Coalville and their rather vociferous managerial team on Wednesday. They were impressive and will take some beating but if that fighting spirit is reprised I think we are in with a good chance. Bring it on.
KING’S LYNN TOWN
Alex Street, Joe Robinson, cautioned, Frazer Blake-Tracey, Ryan Jarvis, Ryan Fryatt, Rory McCauley, cautioned, Michael Clunan, captain, cautioned, Jordan Richards, GOAL, 12 MINUTES, Michael Gash, Adam Marriott, GOAL, 5 MINUTES, Chris Henderson, (Ryan Hawkins, 84 minutes).
Substitutes not used – Craig Parker, Will Mellors-Blair, Harry Limb and Charlie Congreve.
Tiernan Parker, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, OWN GOAL, 62 MINUTES, Jay Dowie, cautioned, Dan Webb, captain, cautioned, Josh Bickerstaff, Michael Cain, Harry Draper, cautioned, Ezra Forde, GOAL, 42 MINUTES,(Scott Belgrove, 88 minutes), Isaac Galliford, this reporter’s star man, Jay Bird, GOAL 70 MINUTES, (Morgan Penfold, 90 minutes).
Substitutes not used – Alfie Cue, Max Ryan and Edwin Mensah.
REFEREE: Mr A Sannerude, Lowestoft, Suffolk, assisted by Mr R Thurbin, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and Mr T Watson, Lowestoft, Suffolk. All three had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN