This was a simply magnificent performance by Hitchin Town who continue to raise their game against the higher placed teams – in this case third place Sports who are seeking a play-off position, but tonight they were outplayed as the Greens strained the Blues in a remarkable game where the half-time score should have been at least four goals to nil instead of just the one – and we were a little nervous that, as at Stourbridge, the second half would see the home side get their collective act together.
I am betting that no-one won the Prediction League tonight – and must admit that along with the travelling support we clearly did not expect such a superb win and what really was the performance of the season so far as well as the highest scoring win of four goals without reply. No-one will mind the spoiler alert that Steve Cawley bagged a hat-trick and ought to have had a couple more.
This was my first visit to the Bee Arena, although I have visited the nearby Peterborough Northern Star. The tight parking arrangements caused me a little problem as my car has the turning circle of an ocean liner and I needed a local supporter to help me park after a rather tricky journey.
Team news was not exactly unexpected – with Diogo Freitas Gouveia and Jacob Hutchinson, who had performed so well as substitutes in the 4-2 defeat at Rushall Olympic being in the starting eleven. Alex Marsh and Bradley Bell were on the substitutes’ bench. It was another murky, cheerless night and the sparse home attendance seemed to group themselves in one main area, as if huddling for warmth.
After an initial probe on the left, sports needed to defend as Hitchin went forward confidently – and after a wild and wasted free-kick, their play became more intricate and co-ordinated. A cross from Jhai Dhillon almost brought the opening goal and from a Ben Walster free-kick it was Dhillon again who was the provider- indeed there were two golden chances in this remarkable opening phase and already it was sensed that the hosts were finding it difficult to cope.
A Cawley effort was very close by the far post. The hosts tried to get going with Lewis Hilliard and Dion Sembie Ferris showing some idea and pace but Hitchin defending was precise and top notch tonight. Both Jack Green and Ben Walster timed their interventions just right. Sports best effort was a Hilliard header – on target but ruled off-side. With Gouveia fouled, a Walster free-kick was held by Lewis moat, who as the game progressed at his team’s expense, he maintained a pleasing bit of banter with the Hitchin supporters behind his goal.
Then there was another accurate cross from the enterprising Dhillon and Lewis Barker, who had a tremendous game overall will not like to be reminded of a somewhat serious miss from close range. We all know that such misses can turn out to be expensive but not on this auspicious evening. As long as there were chances a goal might be expected and the opening one was a mixture of cheek and skill. Curiously it followed a poor home free-kick that occasioned another rampant forward move that saw Gouveia and Hutchinson combine, with the former sending in a delightful lob that went right over Moat and into the net. We had played twenty-one minutes and the lead was entirely deserved.
The hosts had seen their visitors tear up the scrupt and the form book and tried to make inroads with Ferris having a half-chance, and a free-kick wide from the left was held by Horlock, who will be delighted with his clean sheet tonight. At the other end the irrepressible Dhillon tried a lob for himself that Moat kept out with an outstretched hand and not for the last time in the game. A Ferris move was ably defended by Barker for a corner which led to a Mark Jones header going wide. As the half drew to a close Sports did exert some pressure – and Horlock needed to punch away one effort but the truth was that the home side were counting their blessings that they had managed to keep the deficit to just the one goal.
There was a Hitchin cross from the right that grazed the post and could have crept in – Walster put another over the cross bar and Cawley – looking very dangerous and focused volleyed just wide. There was a bit of a kerfuffle right at the end of the half that culminated in a caution for Josh Moreman.
The half-time discussion among the Hitchin contingent was almost predictable. Whilst we all agreed it had been a scintillating performance so far – we expected that , like Stourbridge, the hosts would endure the peroration of a presumably disgruntles manager, substitutions would be threatened or put in place and the third placed team would play like, well, a third placed team. If you had been a neutral it would have seemed inconceivable which was the tram with the finer league record this campaign. The consensus was that the one goal lead, though creditable, might not prove enough. How delighted we were to be proved so wrong, and so emphatically so as well. It was noted too how home officials were full of praise for the Hitchin effort and thought a four goal half-time lead would not have flattered them. But like us they could not see their own team do anything but improve their meek stance. One thing that was not meek was a late effort that saw Lewis Rolfe clear the ball close to the goal line.
There was a feeling of concern when Hitchin replaced two influential players in the course of the second period – and quite early as well. Dhillon was replaced by Alex Marsh – a player of the same ebullient temperament and Max Ryan replaced Gouveia. The home side began playing a bit tighter but soon Hitchin were at it again and Cawley had a deflected shot. Marsh, in a good scoring position again delayed for a a nano second and that was enough to see his attempt also deflected.
Hitchin’s second goal came after sixty-four minutes and it followed an effort from Max Ryan, parried neatly into Cawley’s path that allowed a tap in at very close range. Players flooded into Moat’s penalty area for the celebrations.
The closest Peterborough came to scoring was from a free-kick, wide on the right from Hilliard whose effort struck the post before being cleared. Matty Miles enjoyed a mazy run but not the whistle for off-side. Five minutes after his goal, Cawley stroked in a second goal for himself and the team were now comfortably ahead. Ferris showed a bit of pace but was caught by Ryan who defended well and Cawley completed his hat-trick on seventy-nine minutes after a header from Lewis Barker allowed the striker to get a little touch on the ball that deceived the hapless moat. A later lob from Cawley was just a little too causal and he really ought to have bagged a fourth for himself. Barker was anxious to get on the score sheet but his last effort cleared the bar.
Hitchin played out the game in the comfort afforded by such a lead and when the whistle went the players accepted the applause from their supporters and in the time honoured way they acknowledged the support that had been constant throughout this contrasting season. To say that this was Hitchin’s best performance of the season might be tempered by the observation that Peterborough have probably not turned in such a poor performance all season, and they were comprehensively outplayed in all departments. As well as the four goals from the strike force we must also give credit to the excellent defending – the intelligent distribution and the sheer willingness to compete. Hitchin seemed to get to loose balls first and won many fifty-fifty balls.
I also agree with the observation that here was a team that ‘allowed ‘ Hitchin to play – as Rushall certainly did not. The fluid moves and the anticipation was a joy to watch and we feel perhaps that we may well have been owed such a good and positive showing.
The visitors to Top Field on Saturday are Alvechurch who beat Hitchin by the same margin earlier in the season in what was an impoverished display by the Canaries who have not allowed themselves to fall to that level since. With the confidence obtained by tonight’s wonderful performance we indeed hope they can lay the ghost of that sunny day mauling. It is well within their capabilities and we look forward to it. It was pleasant to see that the win tonight did the goal difference a lot of good and that the team rises a place or two in the table.
Finally it must also be highlighted that there was a goodly number of travelling supporters tonight and that in itself must have a positive effect on the team.
Lewis Moat, Mitch Griffiths, Matty Miles, Paul Malone, Richard Jones, captain, Daniel Lawlor, Dion Sembie Ferris, home star man, Joshua McCammon, Mark Jones, (Avelino Veira), Lewis Hilliard, (Tresor Lua Lua), Joshua Moreman, cautioned, ( Abduramane Sano Sani). Substitutes not used – Charlie Jemson and Matthew Sparrow.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Rolfe, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, (Alex Marsh), Stephen Cawley – Man of the match – HAT-TRICK – 64, 69 AND 79 MINUTES, Jacob Hutchinson, Diogo Freitas Gouveia, GOAL, 21 MINUTES, (Max Ryan). Substitutes not used – Bradley Bell, Rio Da Silva and Brett Donnelly.
REFEREE: Mr Oliver Mackey, assisted by Mr Minesh Gupta and Mr Thomas Burt.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN