What a difference a goal makes. An early penalty conceded by Hitchin in the eighth minute seemed to set the Crows on course for a comfortable win- This was increasingly evident as the first half progressed but a slightly fortuitous equaliser not only signalled the end of a two game goal drought, but a rejuvenated Hitchin stepped up their game in the second half and went on to win in what was an exciting and somewhat nervous conclusion.
There can be no disguising that much of this game was prosaic with the odd injection of poetry, and it was hindered to some extent by some refereeing decisions that drew criticism from the players as well as from supporters of both loyalties. I try to refrain from criticism since I know it is a difficult job but feel it is within the scope of the report to point out one or two inconsistencies. The players’ frustrations were exhibited by a higher level of general cussing that seemed to reverberate around the homely and very tidy Garden Walk.
Changes were expected in view of the forthcoming FA Cup match against Hastings United, and this meant a little rest for Michael Johnson, who was on the substitutes’ bench. But he, like many will have nothing but praise for the notable performance of Josh Mollinson tonight who made two vital saves at a time the match could have easily found its destiny altered.
The team sheet also revealed a debutant – Edwin Mensah, who has been signed from Hendon. He, however, had the unenviable distinction of being dismissed in his first outing in Canary yellow for two cautions, which a number of people thought were just a little harsh. Nevertheless the referee ought to have ensured he left the field of play and the dugout, which is a clear rule – but no matter.
As we kicked off it occurred to me that this game was of some importance as the onus was on the forward players to answer the grumbling question of where the next goal was coming from. Two successive 0-0 draws (at the end of normal time in one) is deemed as a worrying prospect. The Didcot game needed penalties and the League draw at St Neots was seen as underwhelming.
It seemed to start well with Ezra Forde (who improved as the game wore on), having a half chance – but the early moments were definitely favouring Royston who zipped the ball around on an impressively maintained pitch. One of a number of moves on the left saw a shot go wide. More forays were seen until Rohdell Gordon was adjudged to have been fouled and the referee awarded a penalty. This was after good approach work by Adam Crowther and Spyross Mentis. It was disputed without histrionics and from where I was sitting it seemed a fair judgement – but I did note that one home official expressed the view that it was a soft decision. Gordon was able to soothe his grievance by converting well and thus it made Hitchin’s task a good deal more difficult.
Conceding a goal did have the effect of injecting a bit more urgency into a hitherto lethargic Hitchin performance. One promising attack saw a chance fall to Isaac Galliford, (another player whose performance was enhanced as time went on) but on this occasion he lofted well clear of the new stand behind the goal. Trey Charles and Chesmain seemed to have a good understanding in several moves and one foray brought a cunning corner. Alex Anderson received the pass but he was neatly dispossessed. A cross from Chesmain saw Joe Welch flex his muscles and gather with confidence.
From Hitchin attacks we saw the ball go rather quickly to the defensive end and a home free kick in an inviting area saw Sam Corcoran lob a little lazily over the bar. Chris Assombalonga did not linger on the ball but made some penetrative runs assisted at times by Gordon and he had a blocked shot. What Royston did well was to regroup after counter moves and play some neat passing football whilst they considered their options. I liked the full focus of Gus Scott-Morriss, an attack minded full back. He was to the fore as the Crows forced another corner and the shot that emanated form this was a beauty matched by a remarkable save (described by a gentleman sitting behind me as ‘ a worldy’). A second home goal seemed a certainty but somehow Mollinson deflected the ball which ran along the underside of the bar and trickled down the post.
This in itself is indicative of the home side’s more enterprising play – they were at this stage the more dominant team. I did mention the injection of poetry into the dullish prose and with Charles and Galliford exchanging passes involving a neat but intercepted back heel brought to mind the fickleness of those watching this or any other game. If a classy move comes off we hail it as brilliant but if it fails we see it as mere showboating. We had a few moments like this, including an overhead kick that if it had found the net we would be celebrating a moment of pure vision. It is, of course never as easy as it may look. We may yell ‘keep it on the floor’ but if a route one results in a goal we dance where we stand.
Hitchin simply did not do enough up front to equalise in this first half and as it drew to a close, Royston retained possession , but did conceded a late corner after good work from Galliford and Ferrell – but this was defended and it was now two and a half games without a goal from open play. I took heart from the fact that the last six games Hitchin were unbeaten, with three wins and three draws and there had been plenty of evidence of their resilience and commitment
During the interval I could not help but overhear comments from representatives of both clubs on what was seen as an unsatisfactory performance from the referee – who was criticised for cautioning players when a stiff reprimand would have sufficed. Indeed later in the game we all heard from a Royston player what was nothing but ‘foul and abusive language’ directed at the man in the middle and after the home player made an abject apology he was released from what in this case was a necessary caution, but it was not given and thus the lack of consistency. Here I will relate that if he made an error or two it was nothing compared to a referee who was in charge for an FA Vase match I was present at – as a home official. The game ended 2-2 and the referee made the wrong assumption that we would go straight to a replay. The rules of that competition dictated extra time and the referee waved away my protestations. On being forced to read the sheet containing the rules he uttered an expletive deleted and had the unenviable task of getting players out of the showers to play the extra time. It was all very unfortunate, more so by the fact that I later learned that the official was so aggrieved at his error that within a few months he packed in the game.
To err is human but errors of such magnitude are not forgiven or forgotten, even so I felt some degree of sympathy since I accept that we have all made classic errors of judgement or wrong decisions in our time. One or two supporters tonight were unsure of the procedure should the game end even in normal time. We would have gone straight to penalties, of course. I do not think anyone wanted another penalty competition even if Hitchin have been largely successful in these during recent seasons. This includes a penalty shoot -out win in the last round against a stubborn Harrow Borough.
Perhaps Mark Burke’s presumed peroration did the trick of enabling Hitchin players to get their collective finger out and this along with some substitutions changed the course of the second half. There seemed no reason for Royston to relinquish the fair hold they had on the game – but they did until a rather impressive bit of late pressure where they did all but force the game to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Hitchin had a mostly outstanding half and after an initial bit of pressure which they absorbed a little nervously they seized the initiative.
It was just a little surprising but indeed it was welcome. Crows’ substitute David Mooney blasted one wide and he and fellow sub Vance bola were a tricky duo that needed watching. Hitchin were not yet out of the doldrums and in one move Fraser and Forde collided in an unsynchronised attempt to free the ball from danger – and in fact it led to a home shot. Corcoran and Alomenu combined, forcing Fraser to concede a corner and this led to a spirited run from Galliford whose shot was not that far over the Crows’ cross bar.
But the home enterprise was fading – yet we groaned a bit at a wasteful Galliford free-kick. But more constructive moves followed and from one of these, right on the hour mark, Hitchin bagged the equaliser. It was a positive move and a worry to the home defence whose partial clearance led to the ball falling invitingly to Forde who turned and converted successfully. I am not at liberty to reveal who said it, but one visiting club official had joked that if Hitchin did score, any home player (possibly the goal keeper) deemed to be the unwitting contributor by way if an error would have to wear a tee shirt declaring that he was the one who let Hitchin finally score a goal. We are remarkably fastidious at times – I suppose it is a way of coping with frustration – but this gentlemen would have to concede that Hitchin had an excellent second half full of opportunities and indeed what turned out to be a winning goal.
But it was not a case of ‘roses, roses, all the way’ because Rohdell Gordon had a good chance yet wasted another opportunity and this was not lost on the home players who made their feelings known. Anderson was cool in defence and Ferrell was commanding. Belgrove came on for Fraser and was impressive. We had a penalty appeal disregarded when Mooney, bundled fairly off the ball tried a little dive to exaggerate the contact. Belgrove was looking good along the right and there was now some tangible pressure from Hitchin and a real rhythm in midfield to complement the growing precision in defence. After a move had broken down involving Bola and Corcoran the ball was sent to the attacking end via Michael King and from this Isaac Galliford put the visitors ahead for the first time. We had played seventy-two minutes.
Play was delayed when Corcoran fouled and injured Anderson, the latter needing to be substituted by Matt Spring. This was another case of an obvious caution being forsaken. I am pleased to say that this did not produce any kind of retaliation and Hitchin continued to press forward, with Dowie shooting just wide after good work from Forde.
Royston , seeing the game slipping mounted a decent spell of late pressure, with Gordon firing one in and then Bola shot firmly with the ball whizzing just wide of the near post, taking a deflection and Mollinson making a vital save with, I think his kneecap. Trey Charles had a fine run and he went for glory instead of making the square pass to the unmarked Belgrove. Bola was still a threat but so were Galliford and Belgrove who won a corner-.. This brought that familiar messing around by the corner flag which I never like to see, even if I understand why it is persisted with.
Right at the end Royston won a free-kick, centrally just outside the area, which brought Mensah his second caution and dismissal – Mollinson saved well from Gordon and Mooney was not too far away with his desperate effort to equalise. There was still time for Forde and Charles to combine to try to get a third but the effort went just wide.
Yet this was enough and holders Hitchin had come from behind to go into the hat for the draw for the next round. The match had ended on an exciting note, but we were glad of the improved play in the second half – a fine antidote to the indifferent performance in the first period.
So, all eyes now on the forthcoming FA Cup clash with an in-form Hastings United at Top field on Saturday.
Joe Welch, Gus Scott-Morriss, cautioned, Romelle Alomenu, Spyros Mentis, Adam Crowther, Daniel Braithwaite, captain, cautioned, (Charley O’Keefe), James Potton, Sam Corcoran, Chris Assombalonga, (Vance Bola), Joe Hankins, (David Mooney), Rohdell Gordon, PENALTY GOAL, 8 MINUTES, – other substitutes- Josh Castiglione and Harry Smart, GK.
Josh Mollinson, Macsen Fraser, (Scott Belgrove), Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Edwin Mensah, dismissed after two cautions, Lewis Ferrell, captain, Alex Anderson, (Matt Spring), Michael King, cautioned, Ezra Forde, GOAL 60 MINUTES. Isaac Galliford, GOAL 72 MINUTES, Treymayne Charles.
Other substitutes – Jack Green, Charlie Thake and Michael Johnson, GK.
Referee: Mr Ian Stewart, assisted by Mr Oliver Potter and Mr Tom Cartwright.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN