After the understandable abandonment of the home match against Leiston, I imagine that all eyes were on the weather for this latest trip. A severe frost overnight was of some concern but then I was reminded that Olympic had put in place an artificial pitch which almost guaranteed that the game would proceed. Last season, as I recall, the weather was inclement and as I sought shelter from the deluge in the stand I remember our club secretary looking at me with mock disdain and calling me a ‘fair weather reporter’.
We had met Olympic early in the season and had suffered a home defeat. The new artificial pitch looked magnificent In the sunlight and is indeed state of the art. Team news was simply an unchanged side from the abandoned game but Max Ryan was on the bench and Bradley Bell made a start. Also on the bench and recovered from illness was Diogo Freitas Gouveia. Jacob Hutchinson was also on the bench having been permitted to continue his loan period from Colchester.
For the Pics they had on show their shrewd signing from Stratford Town – namely Chris Wreh, son of the former Arsenal player. The home side, with four wins in their last five games, were one of five clubs in the top seven on forty-two points.
For Hitchin there was an inauspicious start when within twenty seconds they were a goal to the bad. An immediate Pic attack on the left saw a short cross and Kieran Cook slipped the ball beyond Charlie Horlock. There was some grim amusement from Rupert, one of our ground staff who suggested that the goal was against the run of play. It must have been the fastest goal of the day.
The second one, after just eight minutes was not when Daniel Waldron calmly converted an undefended cross. We were still waiting for Hitchin to construct a meaningful move. It was calamitous so far. But there was something suggestive in Jhai Dhillon’s play and his cross won a corner that, like others it was all too easily defended.
Wreh tried a diagonal shot that went wide and a further Hitchin corner was defended. A cross from Alex Marsh was blocked and Stephen Cawley’s cunning back heel pass was anticipated.
Cawley, who had a good game, combined with Bell whose cross looked good but Dhillon just failed to connect. A cross from Ben Walster was punched clear by Jonathan Flatt and Cawley’s shot on the turn went over the bar. Hitchin were trying but the home side managed some stylish play on the break and they harried Hitchin whenever they had possession.
There were still forward moves from the Canaries and they obtained some reward after thirty-eight minutes. A smart move, blessed with pace saw Dhillon cross to Cawley who converted well. There was hope but it lasted just two minutes when Cawley and Dhillon tried to replicate the successful move which was thwarted and oh calamity – there was a counter move and Horlock conceded a penalty and was cautioned for his challenge on Rowley.
Sam Whittall scored well from the spot. It might be of interest here to mention that today’s referee was the same gentleman who awarded Hitchin two penalties in quick succession at Banbury and yes, I know they were both missed.
There is a spoiler alert here where I can reveal he did award Hitchin a second half penalty and evoked a reprise of the Hitchin tradition of missed penalties.
That threat of revival and parity was thus consigned to the cold – and believe me it was freezing at Dales Lane today. Two late crosses at the end of the half were defended and then the whistle went for the interval.
The disastrous start was compensated for to some extent but the game did not seem to be beyond Hitchin despite the comfortable play of the hosts. It might be said they had simply stopped Hitchin from getting real fluidity into their play.
But the second period did manifest a more concerted effort from the visitors, who, in going forward inevitably left gaps at the back that could have been punished more severely than they were.
Hitchin created half chances – in particular for Marsh and Barker and I know that one Hitchin supporter was glad of the trip because he won nearly a hundred pound on the Fifty-fifty draw.
I had the fanciful notion that the referee might abandon the game since I was feeling the cold. This desire increased when the Pics picked out their fourth goal on the hour mark. It was probably their best goal of the game.
This came after an effort from Marsh went just wide. Rushall had a free kick forward of the half way line, wide on the left. This went towards the goal and was only partially cleared. Mitchell Clarke gathered this and sent in a lie shot which found the bottom left corner of the net.
Although it seemed that with half an hour to go that it would be unlikely that the Canaries could rescue this – but they had a good go and it made the closing stages a lot more exciting. After Batchelor had won a corner for the Pics, a long clearance saw Cawley eagerly combine with Dhillon, with the latter seeing his shot rebound from the cross bar and then there was a foul and Hitchin were awarded a penalty.
We privately sighed inwardly thinking that the unwanted Hitchin tradition of failing to score from the spot would rise again. But Dhillon seemed to have different ideas as he placed the ball with calm deliberation, hit a blaster and lord love you he hit the crossbar again. It seemed incredible as I can think of no other club to have such a dismal record of penalty misses.
There was a bit of “ afters” in the box with several players assuming an aggressive ode and it culminated in a booming for Rolfe but the referee was unsighted when Omin Pendley’s push would surely have forced the referee into doing what he did at Banbury and give Hitchin two penalties in as many minutes.
Oh well, it is said that those who do remember the past are condemned to repeat it but not on this occasion and it was still 4-1 with not that long to go.
Hitchin employed substitutes in the form of Gouveia and Hutchinson and they were an excellent choice with Hutchinson scoring a fine consolation goal and had a near miss or two. Perhaps they both should have been in the starting eleven.
Cawley still tried and his goal in the first half did him a power of good. Walster and Dhillon fed the ball into the penalty area and it looked a distinct possibility that Hitchin might score again soon. But the hosts were adept at the measured counter punch and right near the end they went close to increasing their lead.
Hitchin pulled one back with nine minutes of normal time to go and it came after Webb’s fine effort hit the cross bar. Hutchinson followed up well and it was tense until the end.
Dhillon won a corner from a ‘bounce-up’ following a delay for injuries. During that delay I reflected on Hitchin’s game against Needham Market where they hit the cross bar twice and had to be content with a draw.
Letford, a Pic substitute had a decent shot in the closing minutes but Wreh really has no excuse for ballooning his shot when faced with a one on one with Horlock. It would have made the score line unduly harsh as Hitchin had played particularly well in the second half. If only they could have started the game with the same resolution.
This was the fourth meeting of the two clubs and three wins have been claimed by the Pics. The Canaries only success was at Dales Lane last season in weather almost as bad as that at Top Field on Monday against Leiston.
Oddly I did not feel a sense of overwhelming disappointment since it was a spirited display from Hitchin against possible promotion candidates. But I do hope that on the next outing that the team will pay full attention from the opening whistle and avoid that kamikaze ten minutes that saw them give away two goals.
The team visit Peterborough Sports on Tuesday evening which means another game against one of the top teams in the division.
Jonathan Flatt, Mitchell Clark, man of the match, GOAL 59 MINUTES, Reece Mitchell, cautioned, Sam Whittall, PENALTY GOAL, 40 MINUTES, cautioned, Orrin Pendley, captain, Kieran Cook, GOAL 1 MINUTE, Alex Moore, Levi Rowley, Christopher Wreh, Richard Batchelor, cautioned,Daniel Waldron, GOAL 8 MINUTES.
SUBSTITUTES – Asa Charlton for Sam Whittall, Lee Smith for Dan Waldron and Daniel O’ Callaghan for Lee Rowley.
Unused substitutes: Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham
Charlie Horlock ,cautioned , Jack Green, Ben Walster, Josh Colldicott-Stevens, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, Lewis Barker, Jhai Dhillon, Hitchin man of the match, Stephen Cawley GOAL 38 MINUTES, Alex Marsh, ( Jacob Hutchinson- GOAL 81 MINUTES), Bradley Bell, ( Diogo Freitas Gouveia).
Unused substitutes: Max Ryan, Rio Da Silva and Layne Eadie.
REFEREE: Mr Daniel Pattison assisted by Mr Daniel Ellis and Mr Richard Booth
REPORT BY PIPEMAN