So, it was three goals, three points from an impressive Hitchin Town display in Huntingdonshire, a clean sheet kept as well as the maintaining the ‘tradition’ this season of missing a penalty. But we willingly forgive them that aberration as this was a pleasing and cohesive performance – or, to quote Victor Hugo, ‘Style is the force of the ideal, rhythm is its movement’.
This match was preceded by some rather interesting weather and earlier as I walked my dog in a fierce wind and a deluge, I met myself coming home and wondered if a postponement might be the news. The pitch at was once notorious for becoming unplayable if the groundsman merely piddled upon it, but these days it is much better maintained and we were good to go.
Hitchin had to endure an enforced rest last week owing to what I will term the Bedfont saga, but it may well have done them some good as they were eager to impress from the kick-off. Indeed they could have taken a very early lead when a cross from Jhai Dhillon was aimed at Stephen Cawley, who if he had connected would have slotted home.
In the opening minutes the hosts were strangely subdued and struggled to get the ball into the Hitchin half. A break on the left again saw Cawley needing to hold up the ball but a defender beat him to it. Jack Green’s shot went wide, but it was worth a crack, Jack.
Not only were the Saints subdued but they were unimaginative as numerous apparently optimistic hoofs up field would suggest. A Hitchin appeal for a penalty was correctly dismissed as the ball struck a chest, and Finley Iron in the home goal was becoming increasingly busy. He appeared to be quite solid and I thought the name Finley Iron sounded like an early manufacturer in the Industrial Revolution. A cross from Bradley Bell was headed away by James Peters, but Ben Walster sent it back again via a free-kick, which brought a corner. This brought a peach of an opening goal from Joe Gauge who gauged the ball’s flight correctly and the ball fairly zipped into the top corner – and we had played just nine minutes.
A cross from Green was heading for Barker but Cameron McWilliams defended this well, but Hitchin were dominating with intent. A free kick was awarded to St Ives and there was an Iron hoof forward – but to an opponent in green. Alex Marsh tried to get a telling pass to Bradley Bell but it was anticipated. One Hitchin supporter told me he was glad that Hitchin were playing good enough to win and, with a rather startling piece of reality he added ‘mid-table obscurity here we come’.
Green had a shot blocked by Joe Curtis but a second goal looked likely. Dhillon’s pass to Walster saw Lewis Barker, in possession, put in a shot – accurate but too soft. The forward play from Hitchin was the best we have seen this season. The first attempt from the hosts came after twenty-two minutes and it was so wide it was woeful. It was not until the second half that they had a shot on target; so suffice it to say they were well below par today.
Then came the penalty award. There was a free kick before for The Saints and it did bring a corner – but it was ineffective and served merely as a prelude to the Hitchin Corner Paradox. Why do we win’em to miss’em? Cawley’s cross saw Dhillon fouled by Cameron McWilliams, with Hitchin supporters, including myself to have a crack. We greet penalties with a soft ironic cheer, grimly expecting a miss or a save to ensue. In this we were again proved correct and the latest culprit was Ben Walster who sent it past the post with Iron not needing to show his mettle. I espoused the idea that we miss all these penalties to show we are jolly good sporting chaps, but other spectators, witnessing this latest shameful punt were saying something about a king in hell.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Two minutes later we were as excited as Romeo was when he said that, and we were gleeful to see Alex Marsh open his overdue account as a Hitchin striker. Cawley and Barker were involved but the deft finish came from Marsh who celebrated fulsomely. I think that is the first time that Hitchin have led by two goals, but I hope I may be wrong. In any case this lead was richly deserved.
What a change from the meek showing here last season. There were further Hitchin opportunities to add to these two goals – and Bell almost outfoxed Iron to have what would have been a tap-in but the keeper recovered well and again the ball was launched hopefully forward.
The interval came and it had been a very satisfactory Hitchin performance in attack, defence and midfield. It seemed obvious that the hosts would address the problems they were having but they improved only marginally in the second period, where they employed all three permitted substitutes. It did make some difference as these were involved in some goal attempts but not all were on target – their best effort coming from a header that cleared the bar. I will also add that they had two attempts ruled out for off-side and protests were merely routine.
Some of us were in agreement that it was vital that Hitchin did not concede an early goal as they would give the game a very different perspective – and I am pleased to say that defending was as precise as it was confident. The expected resurgence from the hosts did not materialise and Hitchin maintained the initiative to the end, adding one further goal.
This was a floating shot from Lewis Barker that Iron had little chance to save and the goal came after sixty-five minutes. It was apparent that there was no way back for the hosts after that strike – but, as I say, they did improve but Horlock was only called upon to make one save and that was a soft one. Iron needed to come out smartly to clear with Marsh advancing menacingly. One move saw Bell in an advantageous run after being fouled and we expected the advantage to be given but the referee mistakenly blew too early – and it was an understandable error.
Hitchin made two late substitutions themselves, with Walster going off with ten minutes to go, being replaced by Max Ryan and Cawley giving way to James Verney after seventy-five minutes. The visitors cruised to their most comfortable win of the season – well there are only two other victories to compare this to but this was indeed satisfying since it was the most comprehensive and harmonious team performance to date – even if it was against a team that aspired to mediocrity on the day.
Next week sees a break in league action where the team contests in the FA Trophy against either Bedfont Sports or Grays Athletic, with the original fixture against Lowestoft rearranged. We look forward to seeing the team playing as well as today and even scoring a penalty if there is one.
ST IVES TOWN
Finley Iron, Cameron McWilliams, cautioned, Charlie Johnson, cautioned, Tom Wood, Danny Kelly, (Matt Foy, 54), Jarvis Wilson, Ben Jackson, Robbie Parker, captain, James Peters, (George Bailey, 70), Joe Curtis, Ben Seymour-Shove, (Dylan Wilson, 61).
Substitutes not used – Mark Coulson.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, cautioned, Ben Walster, (Max Ryan, 81), Lewis Rolfe, Daniel Webb, captain, Joe Gauge GOAL 9 MINUTES, Lewis Barker, GOAL, 65 MINUTES, Jhai Dhillon, Stephen Cawley, (James Verney, 75), Alex Marsh, GOAL 31 MINUTES, Bradley Bell.
Substitutes not used – Lewis Ferrell, Alex Anderson and Josh Bickerstaff.
REFEREE: Mr Oliver Morris-Sanders, assisted by Mr Brian O’Sullivan and Mr Paul McVey, all three had good games.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN