This was not really a pre-season friendly, but a competitive annual match for a trophy. I was unaware that it is a two-legged affair, with the return game to be played ‘later in the season.’ My vague grasp of knowledge does not end there. I confess that I did not know of the opposition and their imaginative name smacked of an American football or hockey team. But I was informed they are a Hertfordshire Senior League club, playing at Step Seven. I also believe that Letchworth was the first Garden City.
Another unusual factor was my daughter asking to accompany me, when her interest in football was previously manifested as she snoozed peacefully on the sofa during the England v Croatia game. It was a kind of penance on her behalf as she had surreptitiously placed exorbitant articles in my shopping trolley at Sainsbury’s.
A rather sparse attendance at Top Field welcomed the teams onto the pitch and I fully expected the Eagles to have a good go. They did, but could not sustain it for the duration. Indeed they almost took a surprise lead in the very first minute when a cross found the consistently lively Craig Cutt who fired in well and not that far wide. We were soon made aware of the personal duel between Trey Charles and Sam Nicholls, the Eagles’ uncompromising full-back. Charles received a pass and was robustly bundled over – and to his credit he did not react negatively – and referee Stuart Cheek had a quiet word with the offending chap in the blue and black stripes. I was amused at a home fan, in a replica shirt appealing to the referee to ‘have a word’, which he did, and the supporter then added that ‘This is not Sunday football’. I felt a little aggrieved at this, as a former Sunday footballer on Hackney Marshes, where being challenged in a follicle sense I felt I bore a passing resemblance to Bobby Charlton. But I did concede the point.
There was a flurry of Eagles’ forward play, which was generally promising, but erelong the hosts imposed themselves territorially and began probing the Letchworth defence, which was remarkable efficient. They put everyone behind the ball quite effectively, and I must say cleanly denied a goodly number of goal-scoring opportunities. Ezra Forde shaped himself for a clear shot and had his pockets picked and saw Mark Bryant clear with a defensive header. Hitchin pushed on and the Eagles refused to be harassed with good defending from Luke Donnelly and James Farrar.
A Conor Clarke cross was put out for a corner, habitually taken by Charlie ‘in-swinger’ Smith; this was dealt with but partially and Smith found himself able to have a shot himself , but it was a little wide. At the other end, a smart bit of play from the superbly named River Amis Robinson was cut out by the award of a free-kick, which went for a goal-kick. Another Smith corner resulted in a blocked shot from Lucas Kirkpatrick. Jack Green received a smart pass but put his shot into the generous foliage that waves poetically behind the goal – and then the Eagles’ Mark Bryant thought his defensive header was rather timely until it fortuitously avoided what would have been a spectacular own goal.
I found myself appreciating the clean defending of the visitors – an example being where Ezra Forde found himself in an opportunistic position and he certainly looked like scoring until he was neatly dispossessed. Trey Charles continued his duel with Sam Nicholls, which I feel did them both a lot of good, and honours were even at this stage. A Smith corner caused a degree of uncertainty and it was Charlie himself who finished the move with a shot that was off-target.
The visitors had held out gamely with resolute defending and counter attacking when they could and it did look as if they would go to the interval with a creditable clean sheet. This was not the case as in the very last minute of the half a combination between the industrious Elliott Bailey and the ubiquitous Trey Charles resulted in the latter snaffling a rather routine goal – finished in a cavalier fashion with an elegant side-footed finish. The grim defence had been breached al last with persistence and patience.
I hasten to add that this successful strike was long overdue as opportunities beforehand had not been exploited – a combination of ill-fortune and some imperious defending. This gave the visitors a lot to do, but in the second half they found it a bridge too far.
So, one-nil to the hosts and half time. My daughter asked me why I said ‘off-side’ now and again when the ball was clearly still in play. She seemed to think that off-side was when the ball went out of play- that is to say off the side of the pitch. I also wondered if she appreciated being served tea by the chief executive of the Southern League. For me, I kept thinking of the term ‘Garden City’ and recalled a match between Welwyn Garden City and Dunstable Town at Herns Lane, some years ago. It was Dunstable’s record league victory – 12-1. As the tenth goal went in, the Welwyn captain peeled off his skipper’s armband and said unpoetically, ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers,’ marched off the pitch, jumped into his car, still in his kit, and drove off into the late afternoon. I do recall with some amusement that the referee brandished a yellow card in his distant direction. Come on the ten men.
Inevitably there was the employment of all substitutes named by both sides, which for those involved was adequate recompense for getting your kit on and sitting on the bench. I was very impressed with the exuberance of Craig Packham and Scott Belgrove. Their exuberance, coming on fresh, was contrasted by the energy and enthusiasm of Trey Charles who was repeatedly found on the right flank where he caused mayhem and a degree of torment. I think he and Paddy Tshikala have pace and talent to spare and will be of great importance to the team in future games.
When we resumed play, I had hardly time to see what substitutions were made when Letchworth had a worthy effort engineered by the impressive Craig Cutt – then the ball was whipped up the other end and Trey Charles nonchalantly netted his and his team’s second goal of the game. From here the senior team’s superiority was underlined with increasing severity to the opposition, but it did not stop them having a crack when they could and their numerous substitutes were ensuring they were savouring the opportunity of facing a senior team.
Elliott Bailey whose efforts had been hitherto thwarted added a third goal with a neat finish a few minutes later. Trey Charles saw a hat-trick as an imminent possibility but he shot meekly at Paul McGennity. Scott Belgrove found himself in an aggressive role and a sly pass might have brought a fourth but he found he lacked a colleague in the immediate vicinity. More and more passes went to the lurking Charles on the wing and I was surprised that he was not more closely marked since he was becoming a thorough nuisance. He was involved in an abundance of moves and there was no limit to his enthusiasm. His marker, Nicholls was substituted and thus the Hitchin man found himself enjoying greater freedom.
Daniel Webb had a go but his header went behind for a goal-kick, whilst at the other end the still energetic Craig Cutt hit the side netting with his creditable attempt. Letchworth, after a promising attack, won a corner which sailed over everyone’s head and then led to an immediate counter attack from Hitchin. This resulted in a blocked shot from Kieran McCaffery, which won a corner. There was a lovely bit of play from Charlie Smith, who was fuelled by persistence in the penalty area. He refused to relinquish possession and he threaded a pass almost from the by-line and Craig Packham completed the move with the fourth and final goal. This was in the seventy-sixth minute.
It was the third pre-season game where Hitchin have scored four goals – the others being against Arlesey Town and Eynesbury Rovers. Yes, it is against ‘lower’ opposition but it is still important for players to see the successful culmination of their efforts.
So now we turn our attention to the game at home against Maldon and Tiptree on Thursday and AFC Dunstable at Creasey Park on Saturday.
Michael Johnson, Conor Clarke, Toby Syme, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Daniel Webb, Lewis Ferrell, Trey Charles, TWO GOALS, 45 and 47 minutes, my man of the match, Charlie Smith, Ezra Forde, Elliott Bailey, GOAL, 53 minutes, Jack Green. Substitutes – all used – Koieran McCaffery, Alex Anderson, Craig Packham, GOAL, 75 minutes, Scott Belgrove.
LETCHWORTH GARDEN CITY EAGLES
Paul McGennity, Liam Huckle, Sam Nicholls, James Farrar, Scott Pigott, Carl Williams, Luke Donnelly, Ray Antcliff, Mark Bryant, River Amis Robinson, Craig Cutt – my vote for Eagles’ star man. Substitutes – all used- James Endacott, Matt Campani, Matt sharples, Michael Payne, Ian Thorn, Angus Vasey and Dami Fajobi.
Referee- S Cheek assisted by A Steele and T. Johnson – all of whom had comfortable games.