This third League win in a row makes up a good deal for the disappointing exit from the FA Trophy on penalties at Bedfont Sports – leaving us to speculate that if the scorer of both goals today, Alex Marsh, had not been cup-tied we would probably still have an interest in that competition. But today’s three points give us clear daylight from the relegation zone, unlike our opponents before who, understandably, saw this one as a ‘six pointer’. On the substitutes’ bench was new signing for Hitchin, one Shaquille Ishmael, signed from Oxfordshire side North Leigh. If he had come on for the hunt, I wonder if he would have replicated that famous opening line of ‘Moby Dick’ – ‘Call Me Ishmael’. That would be nice.
Hitchin were at full strength, with the return of Josh Bickerstaff and Jack Green – and of course Alex Marsh who underlined once again what a valuable signing he has been. I will add here that in stoppage time we made a temporary ‘signing’ of a goal keeper in the form of Lewis Rolfe who donned the gloves after Charlie Horlock had, as the euphemism goes, ‘taken one for the team’. Horlock received a straight red for handling outside the area and definitely preventing a goal-scoring opportunity. Rolfe made a fine save from the free- kick and Hitchin had to endure playing with ten men for just about a minute.
In what was an overall fine team performance, Hitchin kept a clean sheet and had gone into an unexpected two goal lead before ten minutes had been played. It was unrealistic to expect that that blistering pace could be maintained but there were a number of close calls and Marsh may feel a little disappointed that he did not secure a hat-trick, and skipper Dan Webb was denied when his header hit the inside of the post but stubbornly refused to cross the line.
Home supporters may not have been too pleased when Jhai Dhillon, a former Redditch United player showed some silky skills along the flank and provided the cross for the third minute opening goal. It was Dhillon who seized possession and made his way into the penalty area and then provided Marsh with an inviting pass and the striker netted from close range. The pressure continued for some time, with Hitchin finding Bell on one flank and Dhillon on the other and crosses of quality were plentiful and indeed it kept Redditch goal-keeper Kieran Boucher rather busy and somewhat frustrated – going by the robust exchange of views he had all game with his skipper Joshua Martin.
Marsh served up more Worcestershire Sauce, so to speak by doubling the lead in like manner and from close range after nine minutes. Hitchin had been rampant and the home side were definitely unsettled, being unable to get the ball out of their own half for any meaningful forays on goal. Dhillon met a cross from Bell but Boucher just intercepted. Dhillon won a corner on the run, the ball nearly giving our Communications Officer a cauliflower ear as it zinged into the terracing. Such clinical finishing from Marsh was a great tonic for the team, and the only disappointment was that more goals were not scored as they seemed richly deserved from the impressive direct play.
Dhillon again showed fine skill in possession and his shot was only just wide. Boucher seemed shell-shocked – he muttered in best Brummy, ‘blank me, oi doant believe it’. Neither do we, mate, was the response from the Hitchin faithful. Then there was a little hope for the home team when Callum coyle after good work fired unspeakably wide. Dhillon provided a chance for Rolfe who had more time than he realised and had he lingered a second he might not have fired over the bar into the murky foliage behind the huge fence. Then there was a Hitchin corner and Cawley, badly in need of a goal, headed over. Cawley had a fair game, holding up the ball and laying off passes – and Bell, curiously unmarked was allowed to run in possession and test Boucher again.
Another Hitchin cross saw Martin perform a neat and vital defensive header. After a blocked shot from Dhillon, Coyle again wasted an opportunity and Jamie Lucas replicated this miss a minute later. Walster tried a run but was halted by dense traffic. Then bell, still a terror, won two successive corners, one gained a free kick for Redditch and Boucher claimed the other. Jack Green and Ben Walster helped spread play to stretch the home defence.
Romario Martin was beginning to get into his stride but was foiled on a couple of attempts to create forward moves of some significance and he ended up with a reprimand from the referee for exhibiting his frustration. Cawley had a chance close to the post but the ball went out for a goal kick. Hitchin looked comfortable in all departments and the only sign of frustration they had concerned what they perceived to be with some curious refereeing decisions – nothing unusual there.
Redditch supporters were goaded into song following one decent shot on goal, well saved by Horlock. They included the line ‘Take me home’ and we wondered if they had had enough already. We had not but we did want another goal, and such greediness is understandable when we need to improve our goal difference.
So harmonious was Hitchin’s play in this first half I do believe that if we were awarded a penalty we might have scored it. As it was, we had to be content with just the two goal lead, which we felt was not all that comfortable – but it was encouraging.
The second half saw Redditch improve their game – but whether this was because Hitchin went a lot deeper for spells and absorbed a bit of pressure is a moot point. I think it was a bit of both. Redditch had been poor and they are painfully aware of their position at second from bottom. We know what that is like. Perhaps because of that it might be understandable to a degree to be a little cautious – but it seemed too much and for a spell the initiative was with the home team who made all permitted substitutions and they did create some decent chances on goal. Hitchin defended well and mostly with precision – and were adept at swift counter moves with Bell and Dhillon still enjoying freedom to play to their strengths.
Coyle had a blocked shot that went for a corner and at the other end Cawley tried again and again shot wide – then the exciting Marsh looked likely and his effort skimmed in front of the goal and went just beyond the far post – nearly a hat-trick and he deserved it. Even better was a Walster free-kick, which had some Hitchin supporters warning those high up on the terracing to protect themselves. Oh ye of little faith – as Walster’s effort required Boucher to tip the ball over the bar as that was goal bound. Bell had another go and Boucher saved this and at the other end Horlock made a hood stop following Coyle’s fierce effort.
Joshua Martin saw his effort clear the bar but there was still a needle sharp reminder that a few minutes of concerted home pressure might turn this game around. But the Canaries’ defence was not rattled and apart from one or two questionable clearances they contained home efforts very well. There was still a good contest in midfield. Mendez Jones blocked an effort from Bell and Cawley again headed wide. I just hope he gets a bit of good fortune and can bag a goal or two before his loan period is up.
The closest Hitchin came to a third goal was Webb’s sublime header from a Walster corner – we all shouted ‘Goal’ as the ball hit the upright and travelled a few inches along the bar and dropped just in front of the line. This showed that the home pressure was waning to some degree – but they did not give up and may well have scored a goal in stoppage time when Horlock committed his indiscretion of a ‘professional foul’, which is much nicer than saying ‘cheating’. He ran from his line and was just out of the area when he handled and plainly prevented a goal-scoring opportunity.
We argued that he need not have ‘taken one for the team’ and get sent off as the game was a few kicks from being over , but I think Horlock’s action was instinctive and it would have occurred whatever the score. As I have said, Rolfe was selected to be in goal and Gauge came on for Bell right at the end. Rolfe’s save from the free-kick, just outside the area drew great cheers from the travelling support and I bet it made him feel good as well.
Well, we of the Hitchin contingent were very happy to get maximum points and keep a clean sheet, particularly as other results quite suited our position. And we can pinch ourselves and say – three league wins in a row. There was a good balance about the team today and perhaps a corner has been turned. Opponents in the past have praised us guardedly by saying ‘you are too good a team to be in a relegation spot’ – fair dos but we want the team to be too good to be merely sixteenth – we need to keep the impetus going and rise in the table for greater respectability. Nuneaton are next after the domestic cup game against Welwyn Garden City on Monday – and I think we all agree we owe them one, so to speak. But for today there was much binding in the Marsh.
Kieran Boucher, Callum Mendez-Jones, Ryan Moore, Ollie Mulders, (Liam Truslove), Josh Martin, captain, Joshua Endall, cautioned, Callum Coyle, Thomas Rankin, Jamie Lucas, (Louis Monaghan), Romario Martin, Rhys Hilton (Luke Barlone)
Unused substitutes: Ben Mclean and Max Beardmore GK.
Charlie Horlock, dismissed, straight red card, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, Daniel Webb, captain, Josh Bickerstaff, cautioned, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, Stephen Cawley, Alex Marsh, TWO GOALS, 3 AND 9 MINUTES, this reporter’s man of the match, Bradley Bell (Joseph Gauge, 90).
Unused substitutes: Max Ryan, Marcus Crowther and Shaquille Ishmael.
REFEREE: Mr Tom Wainman, assisted by Mr Kurt Bartlett and Mr Arron Atherton.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN