When you are three minutes away from a hard-earned point and your team has been the better side in the second-half and one error costs a goal and all the points, you might go home a trifle miffed. I did and I accidentally nicked our fixtures’ secretary’s mobile phone as well, which I discovered only when I had reached home. Heartfelt apologies to him for any inconvenience. Call it a senior moment.
In a positional game of chess the term ‘zugzwang ‘means that one player is forced to make a weaker move and well, that is what happened in a game that never promised the hatful it threw out in the seven goal thriller at Garden Walk in a replayed League Cup tie. It was dour stuff to match the dull weather but I feel any neutral or even home supporters would admit that a sharing of the points was the most justifiable conclusion.
Mind you, it did not start like that, since the Crows set about their task with commendable eagerness. With only twenty seconds gone Alex Anderson conceded a corner in a profligate manner. Vance Bola missed the cross, but it was soon back on track with Rohdell Gordon sent in a cross that went for a goal-kick. At the other end Alfie Cue set up Isaac Galliford who ballooned it over the bar.
There is no denying that the Crows enjoyed the greater possession and the more accurate of chances in the first period – but they did not sustain this pressure. Bola had a shot on target that came off Michael Johnson’s right boot. A free-kick for Royston in the attacking half was taken by Joe Newton, which was defended by Anderson. A long throw from Harold Joseph gave Gordon a chance but Johnson was impeded. Tom Newton, in possession, cut into the penalty area and had a kind of shot that was more like a harmless cross. Spyros Mentis had a shot after Anderson spilled a defensive pass, but it did not test Johnson.
Ferrell headed a a cross away but it came back to Newman who headed only just wide. Hitchin needed to get some possession but were finding it rather difficult. Royston cleared their lines a lot more neatly that the Canaries who were finding it strenuous to achieve some rhythm. It was to come but we had to undergo some nervous moments that called upon tenacious defending as the hosts looked like breaching the defence.
A Royston free-kick brought a shot from Newton and a follow-up effort from Castiglione were both saved. Alfie Cue won the first corner for Hitchin, taken by Galliford – which Webb managed to head towards goal but without pace. Chesmain and Galliford had a bit of a go next, with the former getting in a cross that was awkward for the keeper- Webb advanced from the right, crossed without real effect and Royston cleared their lines.
Dowie and Ferrell were working hard, Moses Olanrewaju was unsteady despite the natural showboating, Bickerstaff was as intent and uncompromising as ever – but we were not encroaching on the Royston goal. They had a free-kick that Johnson was forced to punch clear and Ferrell had to clear with some emphasis, forsaking accuracy.
Cue had a shot, which went wide of the far post – which was worth a go – and good to see a spontaneous bit of play under some pressure. Chesmain won a free-kick, wide on the left and Harold Joseph had a slight reprimand from the referee. This free-kick went into the penalty area, defended only as far as Bickerstaff who sent it in to see it booted out almost in indignation. Already the mental note had been made that this game was not going to be a classic. Cue was eager and played it simple and direct. Galliford put another way, way over the bar. Wild and wasteful.
A vibrant young lady walked by us all shouting fifty-fifty, which I thought might be an erroneous statistic about possession, but she was touting tickets for club funds, and why not? Bola received a word about soon sly play and we saw out the goal-less half with the home side seeming to lose some of the earlier momentum. This was confirmed in a second-half that saw Hitchin improve and look as if they may go on to record an away win.
Gordon pit in an on-target shot, saved by Johnson, and it is true to say that some of the defending was a little fragile. Newton wasted a shot within the penalty area – it was both low and lacked power. A free-kick for Hitchin brought a caution for, I think, Joseph. This was eventually crossed, but too deep and Royston could build again.
Cue was able to get a shot on the turn that was defended. At this stage, our chairman informed me that I was dictating to my pipe-lighter instead of my voice recorder. He was wrong, but I have done that in moments of confusion and have to overlook the muffled sounds. It was very cold and the match was not warming; it was grim and prosaic.
Joe Welch, in the Royston goal was not shy of dispensing advice to his team mates, a job that had been covered well by Dan Braithwaite, who played a good defensive role.
When the whistle went I do not think that it was held as a surprise that no goal had blessed Garden Walk so far. Hitchin, it seemed, had done all the really hard work and they settled into the second half and proved to be the better team and that is why it was so deflating that they conceded a goal with about three minutes to go. I had made the note that of a goal did come it may well come from a set piece and so it proved to be.
During the bulk of the second half the visitors looked the likelier to score since their football had become more enterprising notwithstanding a few industrial challenges that resulted in cautions. Jack Green came on as a substitute and showed how we had missed him – but the little bit extra from the team was just absent. Cue had another shot, well saved by Joe Welch. I was speculating if a named Royston substitute, Dan Green was the brother of our Jack, and was assured that he was.
Bola had a free-kick that went just over the bar – not a bad effort at all. There was a dispute over a throw in because we on the terraces nearest to the incident were convinced a Crow player had nudged the ball into touch with his scrotum – evidence against was that he did not wince in pain.
Forde was bundled off the ball but Green retrieved it only to lose possession – but Hitchin were indeed pressing. It was tight and did seem that a single goal would gain the points.
Newton’s corner was headed weakly by Bola. Forde tried to run on to a pass – he slipped it to Galliford but the effort again cleared the bar. Webb was getting forward more, being caught out of position occasionally but was able to recover without mishap. Bickerstaff helped Forde get into the area but the cross was too heavy.
A Hitchin free-kick was also inconclusive with Galliford seeing the effort defended – yet Green got in a shot that was defended for a corner. Time was getting on and I was silently considering that a point away from home was fairly honourable and indeed useful – given our slightly perilous position. If nothing else, a halt to the unwanted sequence of three successive defeats would be doubly welcome.
Alfie Cue had a clash of heads, with substitute Gus Scott-Morriss and they were treated and sportingly shook hands on the touch line before being beckoned to re-join the fray.
Bickerstaff had a sneaky go but the goalie was alert to it. Johnson held a tricky cross, Cue scampered down the left and both Forde and Galliford could not get a shot away and Dowie’s follow-up cannoned off Joseph. Our optimism believed we might well sneak one – good gravy I would have taken an own goal or an ‘iffy’ penalty, which is not very sporting but we all have our weaknesses. Dowie’s flick brought a shot from Galliford that looked certain but the keeper deflected it for a corner. Close but no cigar. Ferrell put a later one over the bar as well.
But as it turned out when the goal did come, it was for the home side and came from a set piece on the left after an avoidable foul. A bit of slack defending completed it and Spyros Mentis from the free-kick, made up for his caution by scoring the only goal of the game. It came with minutes to go and we seemed to know there was no way back and thus after four successive league wins Hitchin suffer four successive defeats.
After all that hard work we have to go again and it will be against Rushden and Diamonds, who, at their place, if you recall, they just denied us a draw by the skin of their boots and the frame of the goal. Oh well.
Joe Welch, Harold Joseph, cautioned, Joe Newton, Scott Thomas, cautioned, Adam Murray, Dan Braithwaite, captain, Josh Castiglione, Spyros Mentis, GOAL 87 MINUTES, cautioned, Vance Bola, (Dan Gallin, 76), Tom Newman, (Gus Scott-Morriss, 65), Rohdell Gordon, (Dan Green, 87).
Substitutes not used – Sam Cocoran, Adam Crowther.
Michael Johnson, Alex Anderson, cautioned, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Moses Olanrewaju, (Jack Green, 45), Josh Bickerstaff, Ezra Forde, (Scott Belgrove, 85), Isaac Galliford, Alfie Cue – this reporter’s Hitchin star man.
Substitutes not used – Edwin Mensah, Desejado DaSilva, Craig Packham.
REFEREE: Mr Joshua Crofts, assisted by Mr Thomas Beeton and Mr Shaun Gregory.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN