Holders Hitchin Town took their leave of this competition in dramatic circumstances in what possibly the most exciting game of the season, against a vibrant, creative Royston side. The match was billed as a replay, even though Hitchin won an earlier match, also at Garden Walk 2-1. There was an administrative discrepancy and after a hearing, following an appeal, The FA ruled that the game was to be replayed.
And thus it was, and for both teams this was a good deal better than a training session – this was a blood and guts cup-tie that was replete with the usual incidents of drama and excitement.
Hitchin almost drew first blood with a cross and a cross from Ezra Forde and an attempt from Scott Belgrove that hit the cross bar. It was not the last occurrence when the ‘woodwork’ would deny the Canaries in this pulsating encounter. Yet, for the first half, the Crows suggested strongly that the second period might be academic when they took a seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead to the interval. As in the first (effectively nullified) game, the Crows took the lead, but not with a penalty this time but a rather classy goal after eleven minutes. The notably fleet of foot James Potton, completed a swift attack on the right flank, with aplomb.
Hitchin’s loan player, Alfie Cue, playing sporadically as a left –winger, or outside-left if you are of a certain age, was impressive. Royston had a definite spring in their step following this successful strike and looked good to add to their lead. Tom Newman strode forward at every chance, and he was ably assisted by the persistent Josh Castiglione and Vance Bola. Hitchin were, however, unfazed and they produced a number of good chances and shots on target, despite seemingly to lose the initiative. They did not enjoy the relative freedom on the ball of their opponents but their approach was pleasingly direct.
Three minutes after the opening goal there was a second home strike of undeniable beauty. Cue had a decent shot that the keeper parried to a defender. Good slick passing was seen by Royston saw some neat defending, but no defending could stop the magisterial might of Potton’s second goal, scored again by Potton, on fourteen minutes. They were worth the lead but mention must be made that Hitchin were playing well, and re character shown became evident in a wonderful second-half. Dowie had been notable in defence and anticipation – and some good distribution as well.
Green’s cross saw Cue put in a header that went for a goal kick. Bickerstaff had some classy moments of play, but the quest for a goal seemed a little beyond them. But this was to change in a really super second-half performance, where the home side suddenly found themselves facing rigorous pressure and a vulnerability to increasingly direct, bold attacking moves.
There was a shot from Tom Newman that Johnson made a one –handed save for a corner. There was an effort that went wide from Crows’ skipper Scott Thomas. There were notable moments too from Josh Castiglione, no slouch in creating concern to the opposing defence. But then the hosts had to clear one shot from the line and handle some feisty action within their own penalty area. It was becoming a really good game, blessed with good pace and the end-to -end action that abounds with possibilities. I do not think I have seen Hitchin play so well without scoring, but at the same time it needs mentioning that the Crows were deserving of their lead and that the second goal was a class apart. It was a match of memorable moments.
For home supporters it must have looked like a comfortable lead that they could increase, but being in the true and happy nature of a cup –tie we were treated to a roller-coaster of a second period that reinforced the unpredictability of the outcome. Galliford – whose improvement in performance is noteworthy, had had a fine first half and a delightful second that exhibited his burgeoning talent. The solid play of Noah Chesmain, who plays his last on-loan game on Saturday, (and we hope we get an extension to this successful transaction), the gritty show by Lewis Ferrell, Jack Green and Josh Bickerstaff, were all vital factors.
A combination between Galliford and Forde saw the latter create that well-known thought of ‘game on.’ What was intriguing is that the first shot hit the foot of the post and before being finished with considerable (and slightly unnecessary emphasis). Forde hit it so hard that the net bulged as if in pain.
We expected an immediate search for an equaliser and this was somewhat deflated by the home side restoring their two goal lead, and from close range, following a corner. This came in the fiftieth minute and was netted by substitute Harold Joseph. Such a quick response was a challenge to the character of this current Hitchin team who always seem to improve in the second-half.
It was perhaps seen as a surprise by home supporters, but Hitchin pulled a goal back with just two minutes of the half being played. This goal was scored by Ezra Forde, after typically bustling forward play.
From a corner, Webb won the ball and after a moment or two there was an off-side flag and the skipper tried a superfluous finish and might have felt some chagrin that it went over the bar, anyway. Royston fired one in, with Castiglione finding just the side-netting. The second Hitchin goal came from Bickerstaff, but before then Green had put in a cross that Galliford narrowly failed to convert, albeit with his chest. Suddenly, Hitchin were in the ascendancy but trailed by two goals. Bickerstaff’s goal came after fifty-five minutes and was a rampant strike from a firm header.
Belgrove and Forde combined and then the latter made it 3-3 on the hour mark. This kind of football deserved a higher audience that the meagre 96 who had braved the cold. The spectre of penalties was but a flicker in the mind as we still had close to half an hour and the game looked now as if it had another goal or two within it.
Galliford was booked for simulation and he did not dispute this, and I thought that was that, but after the game, two Royston officials felt that it was a penalty. I wonder. The flowing game continued apace and the deciding goal was scored with six minutes to go by Adam Crowther. They had ridden the storm and were good in the counter
Right to the end the result was certain as Hitchin hit the bar with a late lunge and the five added on minutes could well have seen this game go into the finality of penalties.
Hitchin’s play tonight was good; it was fluid and shots were on target. Royston reacted well to loss of initiative and doggedly regained it. Such a good game it was and a pleasure to see it free from any serious disputes. There were three cautions, Adam Crowther, James Potton – in a kind of take one for the team incident and for Hitchin , Galliford’s yellow was perhaps the only one we could have a flicker of dispute with. Galliford was a bit unfortunate as his best effort hit the post and had that gone in, what a difference it may have made.
All is not over between these two teams who meet here at Garden Walk on New Year’s Day, for a return League match. I look forward to this return even if the sight of two cars coming into the less than spacious car park causes home stewards an inordinate degree of panic that leads to close scrutiny of each driver and his or her right to be there.
Hitchin return to league action with a bit of a six-pointer against Halesowen Town at Top Field on Saturday.
Harry Smart, Dan Green, Luke Oswick, (Harold Joseph, GOAL,50 minutes), Scott Thomas, captain, Adam Crowther, cautioned, GOAL, 84 minutes, Lewis Endacott, (Dan Gallin), Tom Newman, Rohdell Gordon, Vance Bola, James Potton, GOAL, 11 minutes, Josh Castiglione,. Substitutes not used – David Mooney, Aidan Dawson, Michael Baulk.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, (Desi Da Silva), Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Scott Belgrove, GOAL, 61 minutes, Josh Bickerstaff, GOAL, 55 minutes, Ezra Forde, GOAL, 47 minutes, Isaac Galliford (Robbie Burns), Alfie cue, this reporter’s Hitchin star man,
Substitutes not used – Alex Anderson and Craig Packham.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN