Facing another Spartan Premier side, the Canaries notched up another comfortable 4-0 win, with two goals in each half. It was a comprehensive display from the entire squad selected, with all seven substitutes brought on during their second half. I think it was the best performance so far in the pre-season games, as it involved well-worked goals, some majestic passing and some effective and elaborate defending.
Starting today was Luke Brown who has returned to the colours from St Albans City, with his brother Alex, who was again at left back. The pitch at Bell Close was superb and since my last visit I noticed some fine refurbishment to the clubhouse. When I arrived there was a cricket match in progress next door and I exhausted my knowledge of that game by mentioning to our cricketing secretary that the bowler was left arm over, medium pace.
The hosts, aware that they would be facing a stern test, made a good start, once they had seen off one or two sweeping moves from Hitchin, who switched play well. They had one chance ruled out for off-side, a searching cross that needed defending and in another attack they hit the post, with the follow-up shot being well saved by Charlie Horlock. This though, was really the best of their efforts in this half, as Hitchin were soon to enlist the marauding pace and predatory skills of Callum Stead.
There was, first of all, a good move involving Alex Marsh and Dan Akubuine (whose contribution was noteworthy the whole game), a cross from the right saw Stead put in a weak header, and another chance for Stead was well-defended. Stead was caught off-side in another foray but he was not when he received a perfect through ball, enabling him to open the scoring after eleven minutes.
Stead struck again a few minutes later, again converting from another pin point piece of assistance. It was an instinctive and a clinical finish and we had played just a quarter of an hour. It seemed that the gulf between the spartan League and the Southern League was being made painfully apparent – but it was more a case of being convincing in the finish after elaborate forward play – knowing where to place the ball for the best effect.
After this we had a more even spell of play and I noticed that the decent chaps playing cricket were very obliging in punting the ball back when it had encroached on their field of play. One good punt contrasted with the thwack of willow on leather.
If there was one little weakness, we might point a finger at Hitchin free-kicks from promising positions. One of these. Aimed at providing Stead with a chance of a hat-trick, but it was too strong for the striker to reach effectively. Marsh did get the ball in the net, even though he knew full well he was off-side.
Leighton managed a fair shot that was gathered confidently by Horlock and the next bit of significant action was a decent shot from Rio Dasilva which was defended for a corner. This brought a weak shot from Luke Brown. Another effort from Leighton was thwarted by Ciaren Jones and a Hitchin free kick, a few yards outside the penalty area saw Marsh hit the wall with his intended shot.
Dasilva’s run was stopped in its tracks and once more the eager Stead was caught off-side. Leighton wasted a free kick in a good position and a hopeful cross was punched clear by Horlock.
We were almost at the interval and before the whistle there was another effort from Marsh whose cross was cut out by the keeper. Both teams chose to have their interval on the pitch, which was interesting if unusual – and they elected to restart a full five minutes early. Fair enough.
I liked the balance of the Hitchin team and the accuracy of the passing, the confident defending and the switching of play. I liked the confidence of Ryan Smith, the steadiness of Dan Webb and the creative impulse of Josh Coldicott-Stevens – as well as the eagerness of Rio Dasilva, whose promise to me of bagging a goal came to fruition early in the second half.
In one of their first attacks, Hitchin encroached dangerously and after just three minutes of the half, Rio Dasilva was presented with a tap-in and it was 3-0 to the Canaries. Leighton spurned a good chance before Stead netted again but was ruled off-side. Alex Marsh began to pester the home defence and on one occasion ran in possession right into the opposition penalty area but only won a corner. This was gathered by Luke Brown whose shot cleared the cross bar.
Predictably, substitutions were made, initially with Walster, Snee and Tearle coming on – and soon a cross from Tearle needed defending and Dasilva had a shot saved as he sought his second goal. Marsh combined with the eager Snee, and that effort was defended, and Leighton had two chances – one that brought a corner and then a shot that was well wide,
The fourth Hitchin goal was, I thought a beauty. Ben Walster, deep inside his own half, looked up and sent a marvellous pass to Alex Marsh whose persistence saw off the defender’s challenge, leaving Marsh with the relatively simple chance of deceiving the keeper, who had committed himself fully and left an empty net and Marsh converted smartly after seventy-three minutes.
There were one or two decent chances for Leighton that were spoilt by dithering or precise defending, but the hosts still sought to get some compensation from the game. Snee’s shot was saved and again a Hitchin free-kick could have been better – but you cannot have everything and to win 4-0 was a satisfactory result.
On Tuesday night (27th July), Hitchin face a home game at Top Field against Southern League, Premier Division south club Beaconsfield Town. Remember to say Beck and not Beak and you will be all right. They will provide a strong challenge.
We thank Leighton Town for being our hosts today and wish them well in their Spartan League campaign.
Charlie Horlock, Dan Akubuine, Alex Brown, Ryan Smith, Dan Webb, captain, Ciaren Jones, Alex Marsh, GOAL, 73 MINUTES, Josh Coldicott-Stevens, Callum Stead, TWO GOALS, 11 AND 15 MINUTES, Luke Brown, Rio Dasilva, GOAL, 48 MINUTES.
All substitutes were used at various stages in the second half. They were:
Kye Tearle, Ben Walster, Henry Snee, Jake Davis, Sam Kelly, Stan Georgiou and Darren Furlong.
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REPORT BY PIPEMAN