This was a fourth successive defeat and the Canaries are perched precariously one place above the relegation zone. ‘Hitchxit’ may have been avoided but it was influenced by the results of other teams.
Curiously, this game did not look in the least lost until a penalty was conceded in the second half – and up to this point, Hitchin had been invigorated by an equaliser, went on to be denied a second time by the woodwork and drawn a magnificent save from the Redditch goal keeper. Then heads went down and a third goal made it comfortable for the hosts.
On a day of glorious weather (which necessitated impromptu water refreshment breaks), Hitchin, in white shirts took to the artificial/3G pitch looking to end a losing sequence. Team news was that Michael Cain, Matt Nolan and Josh Bickerstaff were unavailable.
The game kicked off with what seemed a pre-season atmosphere in the very neat and well maintained Valley Stadium, and the early stages were notable for the inordinate number of free-kicks, equitably shared between the combatants. All this seemed a bit of posturing, but a poor clearance from Johnson enabled a venomous shot from Luke Yates, which was wide but had a warning with it.
Charlie Thake’s unintentional air-shot was not his last of the game but he made a full contribution, including a kind of slow-motion equaliser –and one effort struck the post as well. We have a Canary called Bird and he was a real tonic today and I did like the input from Kazeem as well. The early forays favoured the home side and with all the free-kicks awarded there was the lugubrious notion that one of these would strike gold and it did.
Sixteen minutes had expired and a free-kick from the right, which was nobly parried by Johnson but into the grateful path of Leam Howards who converted smartly. Once more a set piece was the undoing. ‘Oh well,’ said Fixtures’ secretary Chris Newbold, ‘It was good while it lasted’. But he was a tad too pessimistic, since Hitchin not only came back from this but were, as I say, invigorated. I did not like that tune that was played when they scored. I hummed it to my wife before writing this and she said it was by the Fratellis, which sounds like an Italian coffee bar to me.(Dooh dah dood do dah doo) . I take her word for it. They did not play it when we scored the equaliser.
The equaliser? Oh yes. It was blessed with a little good fortune and there was considerable hrrumphing from the Hitchin contingent when the announcer soberly ascribed the goal to their own keeper’s aberration. It was Charlie Thake’s goal, so make no mistake.
Hitchin had won a free kick. Galliford obliged but the two man wall unsportingly interposed themselves. The ball bounced up into the air and Thake got a nick, the ball went towards the far post and went in off the same, with the goalie, Reece Francis, wrong –footed and a little red faced at the error of judgement. He made up for this later with the save of the match from a Galliford blaster of a shot that he finger tipped over the bar.
Twenty minutes and Hitchin were level and they began to reel in the initiative. But Redditch did not surrender this lightly as a fine shot from Joshua Hawker needed a splendid one-handed save from the unusually orange clad Johnson. (Their keeper was in Johnson purple so MJ had to change his apparel in case his counterpart went up field for an eighty-ninth minute corner, and the clash of colours would be too much for officialdom to bear).
There was a speculative header from Dan Webb, which was cleared almost with indignation, and Bird tried a neat little over head that trickled tamely towards their keeper, but we were enjoying the variety nonetheless. Thake added to the repertoire with an almost apologetic back header and Thake hit the post with a neat shot after thirty-seven minutes. So, from an inauspicious opening spell Hitchin had settled well and were looking confident.
Despite the refreshment breaks, there was little time added on and we went to the interval feeling that there might be something to be taken from this game. I had been impressed with both bird and Thake, as they suggested a hunger for a goal and I was pleased that after conceding from the set-piece there was a suitable riposte and, with a bit of good fortune – meaning if the post had got out of the way, we might have taken the lead.
I am not saying that, regrettably that was as good as it got, because, upon resumption there was further good stuff from Hitchin. It was a pity about the final passes from these promising moves and a greater pity when Lewis Ferrell blasted over the bar from close range following a rather cunning corner. It was Galliford’s screamer of a shot that might well have gained the lead but Francis saved magnificently at the expense of a wasted corner.
This Redditch goalie was up for a bit of banter and at one stage he admitted, apropos of nothing that he was a supporter of Birmingham City. He added quickly that someone had to be and that he cared not as jot for Aston Villa. There is a sort of conversational intimacy about Non-league football.
Galliford had another crack on goal and Thake made lit of another air-shot. Ezra Forde came on and had a bullish attitude, exemplified perhaps by an attempt on goal that cleared the bar by a greater distance than we would have liked. Then it all went awry.
Kazeem’s infringement meant the award of a penalty to Redditch after sixty-six minutes and this was converted with arrogant ease by Joshua Hawker. For me this was the real turning point of the game. I go so far as to say that Hitchin were looking the better team but this was altered in a moment and from this the game was as good as lost.
Kazeem almost redeemed himself with a decent cross and Forde struck – only to see hois shot cannon off the post. What a chance that was for regaining a foothold – and if Galliford had been on target a bit later instead of firing way over the bar we might have been in business.
So, opportunities were lost and the initiative was regained by the home side that scored a fine third goal following a free-kick on the right from Ashmore which was converted by man of the match Luke Yates after seventy-seven minutes. It was a well taken goal. That annoying tune was played again as well. For Hitchin it was really downhill from there despite some promising moves and thwarted attempts.
The thumping truth of four successive defeats is not a welcome fact, but in this case I feel there was much that was attributable to misfortune. It was a definite improvement on the Lowestoft performance and it might be argued that to finish fourth or fifth from bottom or even sixth is negligible now that we are deemed ‘safe’. There are still matches to come versus Banbury United and Royston Town and it would be a bit of a boost if we could win one or both. It was also confirmed that the Hertfordshire Charity Cup Final is against Hemel Hempstead Town, which will be the last match of this somewhat disappointing season in terms of League results.
Reece Francis, Jamie Ashmore, James Bowen, cautioned, Michael McGrath, cautioned, Richard Batchelor, Robert Evans, Joshua Hawker, captain, PENALTY GOAL, 67 MINUTES, Robbie Bunn, (Michael Nelson, 65 minutes,), Leam Howards, GOAL, 16 MINUTES, Luke Yates, GOAL, 77 MINUTES, man of the match, Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham (Harry Franklin , 65 minutes).
Substitutes not used – Lewis Wright, Jordan Stoddart and Jack Downing.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Al-Amin Kazeem, Jay Dowie, Daniel Webb, captain ,Lewis Ferrell, cautioned, Max Ryan, cautioned (Edwin Mensah, 62 minutes), Scott Belgrove, (Ezra Forde, 57 minutes) , Charlie Thake, GOAL, 20 MINUTES, Isaac Galliford, Jay Bird, this reporter’s Hitchin star man.
Substitutes not used – Alex Anderson, Jack Thomas and Nathan Mullings.
REFEREE: Mr R Williams , assisted by Mr S Kavanagh and Mr H McKittrick, all three had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN