As I was going to St Ives, I passed a pub called the Seven Wives. I recall the riddle and believe the answer is ‘one’. I wish I could have reported that today the answer was ‘won’, but alas the Canaries, struggling to get back on to the perch of form suffered their sixth consecutive League defeat and return ignominiously to the relegation zone, with dissident supporters muttering incandescent oaths.
There was an impressive presence of visiting supporters, nevertheless, but once again they witnessed the insistent fragility in defending set pieces. Both goals scored by the hosts came from corner kicks and were scored with embarrassing simplicity. Both came in the second half, after Hitchin had taken a first half lead, albeit against the general flow of play. The corresponding fixture at Top Field saw Hitchin grind out a single goal victory, and but for poor defending from those corners may well have held out for the same score today.
St Ives, with their tight budget putting constraints on their larger ambitions, kept their mid-table respectability with a tenacious display, whilst Hitchin again failed to fulfil their early promise in this rather scrappy game on, in weather terms was a miserable afternoon.
We kicked off then, oddly we kicked off again as the referee was not happy about something or other. One bit of good news was that Alfie Cue has now officially become a Canary. An early home free kick bounced off the defensive wall. The Saints had most of the early possession and forced some early corners. Already it did not bode well. A shot from Ollie Snaith went wide. The tricksy wind was to play its devilish part, assisting heavy passes into the oblivion of touch, but in these opening stages there was little from Hitchin until a headed assistance form Matt Nolan gave opportunity for Alfie Cue to have a shot on target.
Both sides employed the long throw, which seemed a decent tactic, given the conditions but the game already seemed to lack clarity of purpose – but the hosts looked likelier to liven matters up. A header over the bar from Snaith was followed by good work from Newman, bringing a blocked shot. We looked to Hitchin to shake off their diffidence and it did occur, but ponderously. Green and cue combined – looking to set up Nolan – who was very much a presence today but unable to penetrate sufficiently.
Absorbing some insistent, but inconclusive pressure, Hitchin stabilised matters. Bickerstaff and Chesmain were positive and the welcome return of Jay Dowie added some lustre and style – but it seemed nowhere near enough.
Too many forward balls were routinely intercepted or plainly over hit. It was becoming so cold that the club shop was selling brass monkeys that had slight imperfections and the floodlights were on.
It was indeed a pleasant surprise that Hitchin took the lead three minutes before the half hour mark – and it was a well –taken opportunity by Isaac Galliford. Matt Nolan and Michael Cain were involved and it was the latter’s assistance that enabled Galliford to turn well and place his shot beyond the reach of Martin Conway. It was a heartening moment but left us wondering if this lead could be sustained for the rest of the match or even improved upon.
Galliford had seen one earlier shot saved and to score as he did must have been a bit of a boost both to him and the team. After conceding the Saints seemed to lose the thrust they had enjoyed – but right at the end of the half they began to probe with uncomforting insistence. For me the whistle for the interval could not come fast enough but the warning signs were well in place.
I confess to misgivings during the interval, foreseeing no happy hunting today in Huntingdonshire and so it proved to be. That fragile lead was eradicated barely two minutes into the second period. It should not be the case that there is a bit of involuntary bum-clenching every time the opposition secure a corner kick, but it proved to be the undoing of the Hitchin cause today – as in other games. The debilitating late loss to Rushden and Diamonds after storming back from a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2 and then to lose 4-3 in stoppage time does little to keep the blood pressure stable.
Cue’s long throws brought a volley that Conway held. The hosts got it to the other end and won that corner and so the day was deconstructed. Ben Jackson put the hosts level and I made the note that a different complexion had been put on this game and from this moment we saw Hitchin put in effort without reward and concede another goal from another corner – and the pain of that was that it was a free header that entered the net like a bullet.
That goal came right on the hour and was headed in with full emphasis by Charlie De’Ath, who was suitably praised in song by the home choir, who , whilst eulogising their scoring hero sang to someone that ‘you’re not famous any more’, which for me, begs an explanation.
I will not denigrate the Hitchin effort after this, because it was full of honest endeavour but lacking in real punch. The Saints played it in a masterful way, and they knew they could do with the points in any case. I became aware of some forthright criticism of the team and the manager by some disgruntled visiting supporters, which is understandable but not entirely objective.
Bringing in on Ezra Forde was not a bad idea and he applied himself assiduously enough but it was never going to be really effective. The club finds itself embroiled in some challenging fixtures against strong teams, where points gained will be at a premium. Perhaps an intensive training session at defending set pieces might help but all this may be lost in actual play, who knows?
St Ives are a workmanlike team and did enough to win without lording it with skilful supremacy. Hitchin were simply one dimensional and unable to replicate that bit of skill and creativity that gave them the lead and the wherewithal to hang onto that advantage. Vulnerability at set pieces is a damaging prospect and it must be attended to somehow.
I find criticism disconcerting since what is needed is constructive support – yet what is it that is missing? Flair, creativity, work rate? It is difficult to establish just why the team that works so hard finds itself at such a disadvantage so often. The talent and skill is there but it needs co-ordinating and soon.
What follows is a challenging visit to Stratford Town on a Tuesday night, with a home match against a very strong Stourbridge side at Top Field on Saturday. This disturbing sequence of straight losses needs to be stemmed if we are to avoid what now looks increasingly like a possible relegation. I do not like to say that but results have shouted it out to us.
I left the ground with some disgruntled Hitchin supporters imploring me to tell it how it was. I think I have done that – but I would add that negativity brings negativity. Keeping the faith is the better option.
ST IVES TOWN
Martin Conway, Ben Jackson, GOAL, 47 MINUTES, Mark Coulson, Munashe Sundire, Jarvis Wilson, Charlie De’Ath, GOAL, 60 MINUTES, Ty Ward, Robbie Parker, captain, Jake Newman, (George Bailey), Ollie Snaith, (Ben Baker), Ben Seymour- Shove, (Joe Hood). Substitutes not used – Gordon Tokornoo.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Daniel Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, (Ezra Forde, 66), Josh Bickerstaff, Matt Nolan, Isaac Galliford, GOAL, 27 MINUTES, Alfie Cue. Substitutes not used – Scott Belgrove, Edwin Mensah, Craig Packham and Alex Anderson.
REFEREE: Mr S Bates assisted by Mr M Fletcher and Mr S Parberry.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN