What is all this, I hear you say – two successive league wins, two clean sheets and this victory away from home against an in-form team. Yes, all right we still remain second from bottom but we have games in hand and the team is looking confident and has become a harder nut to crack.
The first success of the day was not related directly to the game. We had stopped at the M6 services and a smiling Michael Johnson returned to the coach with his subway, soft drink and £140 he had won on a one armed bandit, which is a lot better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick.
Oddly, after that we had left the pleasant sunny weather behind and MJ might well have said apres moi le deluge because the swirling rain added to the ill-tempered wind that made one or two aspects of the match descend to the comical. The Pics were denied their amber and black traditional strip because the League had considered that the all black rear of the shirt was too close to the referee’s sober outfit, with one official, in a previous match, bedecking himself with a pink training bib to make himself more noticeable than resplendent. So they entered the fray in their away strip that was grandiosely described as aquamarine.
I was tempted to say Hitchin were on parade in ochre and jade, but, on reflection, all yellow with green facings, with a bit of mud on will do. In the handshaking queue was one Alfie Cue, signed on loan from Dartford and he was outstanding for Leatherhead in our cup ties – another loan spell. He had a promising debut and the soothing tones of our three points make me appeal to all to forgive that his debut also brought our solitary caution.
The hosts began with a confident urgency, with plenty pf possession and some vibrant passing play, with one early shot from Brian Smikle went safe to the arms of the lucky punter Michael Johnson. They domineered with possession and probably thought that an early lead against their lowly placed opponents would make later efforts a trifle easier.
But they were a little unwary and a less than convincing back pass almost let in Scott Belgrove, and this was not the last error – indeed another led to Hitchin’s opening goal that home supporters would consider was well against the flow of play. Well, it was and it wasn’t because once Hitchin did score after nineteen minutes they consolidated their play and played with more assurance which lasted until the last quarter of an hour when the visitors may have dug in but were hanging on, to use a mixed metaphor. We were a bit concerned that Matt Lench was ruled out through injury , but his absence was compensated for by some real playmaking from Isaac Galliford.
Chesmain and Cue were notable, Belgrove was bustling and Forde was eager, but by way of contrast The Pics had a sure talent in Daniel Waldron who often picked up a pass on the left and proceeded to make worrying inroads against the Hitchin defence. Hitchin were restricted to thalf chances at this stage but the hosts just lacked the clinical penetration. More than one pass was too strong, crosses were over hit aided by the idiot wind.
Jack Green at right back played as if he had made this position his natural one despite it originally being a shoring up measure. He had a fine game. Cain’s cross was defended and it did occur to me how much this player was becoming a notable part of this rejuvenated Hitchin side.
I will not disguise the fact that the opening goal derived from a slack defensive header, but the onus is on the team to exploit any perceived weakness, or make the most of a momentary lack of judgement. Ah the rain – it may not raineth every day but we got a couple of weeks’ worth, dramatically emphasised by the floodlights. Waldron sent in a shot that was relatively easy for Johnson, who did submit to a couple of spills and quick recovery, just to keep us on our toes.
The rain sent us all to cover and I heard the familiar shout of ‘put the bloody pipe out’, which I did with a sense of abiding nicely by the rules. Then the goal. Dowie got a ball right in the much that left him a little dazed but on he went. The short defensive header went to Forde, and then to Galliford, who finished the move with some elan. Celebrations were muted as they all knew there was a long time to go in this blustery match
I made the note that this seizing of the lead, whilst not as bold as Drake’s singeing the king of Spain’s beard at Cadiz or wherever, was a lovely piece of initiative. It was unexpected but from this moment Hitchin consolidated their play, saw more of the ball and then had the audacity to add to this lead about six minutes before half-time. I made the curious note that the home side were beating themselves up. At times their play was too elaborate for the conditions and when they resorted to simple directness that saw the ball sail into touch too many times. We even had a kind of football tennis where the ball would go from ne keeper direct to his counterpart. This formed some of the criticism of the Pics’ chairman who did not regard the game as a classic example of semi-professional football. He is mostly right but I always err on the side of charity since it was not easy to play pretty football in the rain and wind that often mocked the skilful intent of both teams.
The onus was on the home side to get on level terms and regain the strong suggestion that they would overwhelm their opponents with repeated attacks. One could argue that the goal came from the only serious error committed by the Pics, but this ignores the comprehensive display from Hitchin who looked increasingly comfortable.
If the first goal was aided by unintentional error the second was simply a piece of beautiful football, and Galliford was able to secure his and his team’s second, vital strike. Before this we saw Johnson forced to punch away one cross and then he fisted away a second, such was the sensible direct approach from Olympic. One home free- kick looked the business and Johnson’s next display of a bit of his repertoire was deemed unnecessary by the off-side flag. It was living a little bit dangerously but the visitors at least expected.
One good Pics header was headed just over the bar by Ashley Sammons. Given this effort, a snatched equaliser was probable rather than just possible, but there was just that lack of final accuracy, and , though it was of course the same for both teams, the weather did not help one bit.
Galliford played a smart pass to Belgrove, who returned the favour and the former’s smart turn and shot was precise and delightfully on target. Another Pic shot went over the bar from Daniel O’Callaghan – it was indeed close, and signified that no-one could relax. At half-time we streamed from the cover to the clubhouse, with Hitchin supporters well-pleased at the way the team had grown into the game and met the challenges.
The second half started well for the Canaries, they put together some aggressive moves that departed from the home recovery script. But not entirely – as the Pics picked their moments well and gradually put Hitchin under a degree of continual pressure. This pressure resulted in one of those defensive strategies that embrace the existential clarity of boot it anywhere as long as it is out of our penalty area, out of our half, out of the ground. But I am ahead of myself. Hitchin had a good few goes at goal, Alfie Cue nearly showed them what it’s all about, but the goalie gave him the answer.
What was still lacking in so much was that element of precision; but it is hard to measure your pass in a virtual gale when you are down to lower tops’ls. The home side cannot be faulted for their effort and they went close to pulling it off. They snatched a goal back after seventy-six minutes that had our fixture secretary announce that it was squeaky bum time. This may be liberally interpreted that the visitors were going to storm the damp, windy barricades and get in more crosses than a league of vampire hunters. Right, I am chastised for mixing metaphors again, but it was a long journey home and I am imbibing a glass of wine of three whilst I head towards the small hours.
I mentioned earlier that Rushall appeared to be ‘beating themselves up’. They had the ideas and endeavour but blow me down they kept putting the ball out of play, allowing goalie MJ to be very leisurely in taking a goal kick. Hitchin clearances were not open to interpretation. They were high but not always mighty, but a gaining of territory and a bit of a breather. When the aristocratically named Desejado Dasilva came on, clean shirted, with short sleeves and damn the weather, he had a couple of chances to outpace a tiring home warrior and put the ball beyond the grumpy Adam Przybek. It did not happen, but it might have done.
The goal that gave the Pics realistic hope came in the seventy-sixth minute. As such it was not entirely unexpected since they had attacked with a will and a purpose but with varying degrees of accuracy. An attack came from the left, yes, one of many and substitute Gurgit Singh finished a move. It left, realistically, about twenty minutes where Hitchin did not entirely capitulate but they were psychologically in retreat. We have all seen this before, but it does not make the viewing any the more comfortable.
Hitchin supporters showed their stoic side by conceding to one another that an equaliser would be inevitable, and if not achieved then the dastardly, biased bounder of referee would keep playing until they equalised or , failing that give the cads an undeserved penalty. We get like that and may we be forgiven. Hitchin held out through that nervous last patch. Credit to Rushall for storming until the last. If they had managed an equaliser we would have gloomily said it was coming and stoically agreed that a point was better than nothing. But with each successful piece of defending we took heart. If someone lofted the ball into another part of Staffordshire, we saw it as a welcome move.
It might be seen as a bit of desperation when you hear a visiting fan implore the referee. ‘blow the effing whistle’, which he did and with an air of, ‘we knew we would hold out’ we applauded our heroes and felt a good deal of relief. A first away win, a hard-earned three points – we took it gladly. I joked with the lads later and said, well done, never mind the last quarter of an hour. ‘We dug in’ said Jack Green and Michael Johnson wondered if the bar would change his 140 pounds coins into notes for ease of carriage
Was it a good performance? Yes, and allowing for the hoofing and contrived using up of seconds, it was disciplined and augurs well for future games. Rushall paid us the compliment in their programme that Hitchin were better than their league position suggests. We happily agree with this but we must ensure that the games in hand yield points. You may be too good go down but if you are in the bottom three down you go. History and statistics has a habit of ignoring heroism.
There is much to do but on this windswept, sloping pitch the team did much to face the present and the coming tasks. Any journey begins with the first step and today it was more of a stride than a mere step.
Adam Przybek, Brian Smikle, cautioned, Aj Adelakan, Gurjit singh, GOAL 76 minutes, Daniel Waldron, Daniel O’Callaghan, cautioned, Ashley Sammons, captain, (Joseph Hull), Tyler Lyttle, Simeon Maye, Edwin Ahenkorah, Orrin Pendley, cautioned, Benjamin Lund, (Richard Brodie).
Substitutes not used – Joseph Slinn & Kevin Montero.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Scott Belgrove, Michael Cain, Ezra Forde, (Desejado Dasilva), Isaac Galliford, TWO GOALS 19 and 39 minutes, Alfie Cue, cautioned. (Robbie Burns).
Substitutes not used – Josh Bickerstaff, Craig Packham & Kieran McCaffery.
REFEREE: Mr Andrew Ellis – he had a good game and was ably assisted by Mr Ashley Clarke and Mr Ryan Mcilravey.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN