After the fine away win at Stourbridge, the Canaries contested this domestic cup tie, (The Hertfordshire Senior Cup) with a slightly altered team at Pancake Lane, home of Leverstock Green of the Spartan Premier Division. Their latest result was the completion of a League double over Dunstable Town – and I was reminded that it was their third win over the Bedfordshire club, having already eliminated them from the League Cup.
This was a fixture that Hitchin might be expected to win, but of course it being a cup tie and on a heavy pitch manifesting the punishment it had received following persistent rain of late, it acted as a kind of leveller – and in truth we witnessed a somewhat dour game. Hitchin won with a fair degree of comfort but displayed little of the superb play that marked that triumphant first half against Stourbridge.
Hitchin manager Mark Burke had promised to field a strong team and indeed the whole squad had seen first team experience. Pancake Lane is a modest but adequate venue and the sparse attendance found little to be excited about in a goal-less first half.
The Canaries were playing up the slope for the first period and within minutes they had forced keeper Matt Fallow to make a couple of decent saves – one from a free-kick and one from Jacob Hutchinson. This was followed erelong by a header over the bar from Lewis Barker. Levy were forced into defending and this they accomplished well – but it proved to be their major strength as it was well into the second half before they had what might be called a decent crack at goal.
Bradley Bell looked eager in one attack but was neatly robbed within the penalty area, and he did see a fair shot saved by Fallow some time later. After the early forays Hitchin seemed to go off the boil, being bogged down in midfield at times, but Levy, confident in their defending – but they were innocuous up front and relied on the long and hopeful pass – which tended to be mopped up without causing much danger.
For me it was very much like a Spartan League match – and indeed the last time I was here was on such an occasion – witnessing a ground out win for Dunstable Town. In many ways Hitchin had to grind this one out, but play in the first half was at times dull and uninspired. Saturday’s hero, Diogo Freitas Gouveia was replaced on the half hour by Jack Green, who needs playing time after completing his recent suspension.
We had looked to Alex Marsh to weave a bit of magic and he did his best but often ran into traffic and was hustled off the ball more often than not. If Levy had not threatened to score in this half at least they had prevented their senior visitors from doing so. But seldom have I seen such a dull half and welcomed the whistle for the interval.
I thought back to the stuttering win on penalties in the last round against a stubborn Welwyn Garden city and wondered why the team is so mediocre in these domestic games – perhaps they do not fire the players with the normal enthusiasm. Levy were here after their 2-0 win over Harpenden Town.
We might have been put out of our growing misery right at the start of the second half when a Hitchin chance looked the business but just cleared the bar. Those who thought we were not in for a goal fest were being proved correct. But, ten minutes into this half we saw skipper Dan Webb replicate his fine goal and Stourbridge with a powerful header that gave Fallow little chance. This came from a Walster corner.
Almost immediately afterwards there was a chance to double the lead with good work from Max Ryan but Hutchinson put this one over the bar. He had another chance a little later but that too was an errant effort. Layne Eadie came on as a substitute and he was soon involved, sending a creditable effort just wide.
Leverstock Green had seemed a little more vulnerable in defence but their long ball game did not dent the Hitchin defence one bit – and it was not until late in the game that they constructed a decent attack on goal.
The second goal of the game came from a penalty after Eadie had been brought down and Hutchinson defied our cynicism by converting well. We had played almost eighty minutes and I thought that we had done enough to be forced into the ‘indignity’ of a penalty shoot-out, as at Welwyn. The team had done enough to win, and with a reasonable degree of comfort but there were some uncomfortable moments of haphazard play that might well have been punished by a more astute opposition.
Ironically, Levy’s best chance came after an unnecessarily prolonged piece of possession from Marsh who had his pockets picked and Levy tried, but failed to exploit the error. The match slogged on to its inevitable conclusion – a form book result but not a form book performance.
Hitchin now turn their attentions to the home league match against Needham Market – a tough match to follow the hard fought draw in Suffolk.
Matt Fallow, Alex Ward, Ollie Cox, cautioned, Jamie Ovington, Dan Weeks, John Smith, captain, Steve Hawes, cautioned, Chris gosling, Luke Peerless, (Louie Griffiths), Adiel Manning (Cass Grant), Frank Jowle (Ollie Lawford).
Other substitutes- Connor Blake, Louie Griffiths and Luis Brooker.
Charlie Horlock, Max Ryan, Josh Caldicott-Stevens, Lewis Rolfe, Dan Webb, captain, GOAL, 55 MINUTES, Ben Walster, Lewis Barker, cautioned, (Joe Gauge 65), Bradley Bell (Layne Eadie), Jacob Hutchinson PENALTY GOAL, 78 MINUTES, Alex Marsh, Diogo Freitas-Gouveia, (Jack Green, 29). Other substitutes- Dev Simms and Brett Donnelly.
REFEREE: Mr S Beekman, assisted by Mr N Neophytou and Mrs J Woodward. They had reasonably good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN