Listen very carefully, I will say this only once… Hitchin not only ended the run of defeats but won away from home and it was largely due to a magnificent performance in the first half where had they gone to the interval with a four goal lead it would not have been flattering. In fact the only thing wrong with that half was that they did not make the most of the opportunities they forged for themselves with excellent attacking play.
It is but half the story though as the visitors had to face a second half onslaught from the hosts who pulled a goal back and looked increasingly likely to snatch an equaliser and they will count themselves unfortunate in just falling short of that objective.
Team news was of interest as Ben Walster, dismissed on his last outing was not included in the squad, Jack Green was serving his last game under suspension and there were starts for Joshua Coldicott-Stevens and Diogo Freitas Gouveia, who both had fine games. Dan Webb, our loyal skipper was back after shaking off a bug, so to speak.
The Glassboys were not as buoyant as they would have liked having had mixed fortunes lately – including two dismissals against rivals Bromsgrove – but they did beat Biggleswade on the pitch we had cut up in that Boxing Day duel. I recalled the match here last season when the Canaries had done well but collapsed in stoppage time and for some startling moments it looked like that might happen again – but they prevailed and gathered in some precious points.
Mind you, it did begin in an inauspicious manner. Canary supporters were making their way to the far end of the ground and the Glassboys launched an immediate attack, with Will Grocott testing Charlie Horlock, not once but twice. A devout home supporter was enthusiastically banging a drum and others launched into supportive chants – always good to see and hear, but the drum became a little irritating after a while – and after Hitchin’s second goal it fell understandably silent – until the second half.
Just when we thought that the red and white shirted Glassboys would lay siege to the Hitchin goal, there was an impressively stylish response from the visitors in all green. They broke from defence with some stylish play and found themselves facing a diffident and somewhat porous defence, which they did exploit but not entirely. Bradley Bell set up Alex Marsh with a splendid opportunity – his being in a scoring position, but he momentarily froze and instead of testing James Wren he opted for an innocuous pass that was easily read and the opportunity was lost.
We could live with that, however as this was a more determined Hitchin, this looked like a team that had had enough of disappointment – even if it was for the time being. After recent setbacks we were just pleased to see the ball objectively in the opposition’s half. Yet there was something more – there was the ball control of Gouveia, the holding up of Stephen Cawley who really ought to have got his name on the score-sheet today. These early stages were redolent with possibilities and a cross from Gouveia aimed for Cawley saw a decent effort, and this was followed by another in the next minute but Cawley stumbled at the optimum moment. Josh Bickerstaff sent a peach of a pass for Cawley who tried again and this time we thought he must score, but it went wide.
Stourbridge needed to react and they did so, with Chay Tilt leaning on his skill and providing Nathan Hayward with a decent chance, but Charlie Horlock held.
His counterpart James Wren had a roving game, often coming out of his goal to fulfil the role of sweeper or right back – even going up late on to join a last desperate attack on the Canaries’ goal. But for the moment, it was Hitchin who looked the more positive and they certainly were gaining the initiative. After a corner for the Glassboys, Hitchin stormed up the other end and won a corner of their own, after good work from Bell and Marsh. Bell sent in a ding-dong of a corner and skipper Webb headed into the net with an imperious gesture.
Hitchin had taken the lead and deservedly so – and we had played just over a quarter of an hour. A one goal lead was welcome but we honestly thought that another couple would have been even more desirable – given the clear opportunities, but within four minutes Hitchin were two up. Again it emanated from a Stourbridge forward move which was inconclusive, after a free-kick wide on the left. They had a corner, which was adequately defended and a counter move was on – with the ubiquitous Gouveia in on the act – he won possession with stylish neatness and skilfully finished.
Celebrations were fulsome but amidst these, Hitchin players were berating the referee for not admonishing Jordan Williams for his blatant foul before the successful strike. The referee appeased them a little with a bit of finger wagging during a short reprimand, but there was no caution. We, of course, let it go with a feeling of generosity since the luxury of a two goal Hitchin lead must be enjoyed; we were, as Tennyson suggested, living life to the lees – but each had a private thought, I suspect, that it would not take that much effort to balls the whole thing up. That kind of pessimism is not restricted to Hitchin.
But I will emphasise to those not at the game that this first half performance by Hitchin was something quite special. Gouveia came close on two further occasions, as did Cawley. I hoped he would bag one as I feel it would bring further strikes in future games. Thomas Tonks tonked one for the hosts and it was a belter – yet Horlock was equal to it. There was no doubt however that Hitchin had been the better side in this first half and, as I say, they really ought to have had four goals instead of two – and if that had been the case they may not have had such a stringent test in the second period. It was understandable really. The hosts had been exposed as frail, diffident and defensively fragile. Hitchin, their opponents had been on a losing streak but had not read the script.
I imagine the Glassboys’ manager had berated his troops and, as it turned out, his exhortations had a positive effect.
It got the drummer boy going again as well, but that was all right as we were now at the other end. Stourbridge had played an open game and had unwittingly permitted Hitchin to play the way they preferred, but in a stressful second half for the Canary contingent, there was something of an onslaught that proved to be something of a test for the hard working Hitchin defence.
The Glassboys began with two successive efforts on goal that were of some merit, and as it became more worrying I thought of Lily Savage’s throwaway comment that she found herself ‘sweating like a glass-blower’s ass.’ Well she might and perhaps we might have too as the hosts grabbed a goal back with almost indecent haste. Fifty-one minutes, and it was Nathan Howard who was the provider. It came from creditable pressure and it did suggest that they would go on to bolder and better things.
We have been here before of course, and there were those among us who were prepared to sacrifice the aesthetics of the game and quietly applaud every clearance that headed gamely towards the sentinel cricket pavilion that is used to disregarding the antics of those engaged in the upstart game of association football. The Hitchin defence was challenged and they responded in gallant manner and cared little for the niceties of stylish play. The pressure form the hosts was unrelenting. They refused to let the Canaries retain possession, and greedily poured forward to eradicate that hurtful lead. To be honest, I was more or less expecting them to sweep that one goal lead aside and give succour to the majority of the near six hundred spectators.
When Hitchin ceased clearing into space where no-one lurked, they put together some good moves and the closest we got was when Bell’s fine shot struck the foot of the post – and a third goal for Hitchin might well have deflated the spirit of the Glassboys. It was a delicate balance – Stourbridge attacked, Hitchin defended without recourse to the niceties of technique, but they held out. There was a pregnant moment when Jordan Brown, steady as a rock throughout the game, sent in an inadvertent defensive header that nearly beat his own keeper. Cawley combined with Bell, whose shot struck the side netting and the former had a fair go, which went wide.
I know it invokes the cliché of a game of two halves but that is how it was and the hosts may feel aggrieved that they did not salvage a point. The frustration was felt late on when Chay Tilt tried to land a left or right hook on Bradley Bell and thus received a straight red card from the referee, who had, in general, kept a weather eye on proceedings. This was before the sore announcement of a full five minutes of added time which made us think of the conclusions of the Kings Langley game. When you have a slender lead that time lasts longer than you might anticipate and the referee has deaf ears when he receives appeals to look at his watch. I think they do it on purpose at times. I cannot deny the fact that Stourbridge played some exhilarating football in this second half that matched the majesty of Hitchin’s first half showing – but it fell just short of success, and if they had succeeded I would be among the first to say they deserved it. But, so much for objectivity – Hitchin held on and garnered the points that were thoroughly welcome. The key was in the damaging first half. It showed that a team that has had a bad run of form can reverse it with a bit of change in the personnel and some robust managerial exhortation.
As such it was a satisfying performance from Hitchin – they exploited when they could and dug in when they could not. I think Brett Donnelly summed it up succinctly when I chanced upon him in the bar on the way out. ‘Thank goodness for that’ he said to me, only he did not say ‘goodness’ but a much more emotional word, and I found myself in broad agreement.
I think of the sterling performance of Max Ryan, Lewis Rolfe – and the enterprise of Gouveia, the steadfastness of Horlock, and that unstoppable header from Webb. But it was a team performance against a tigerish Glassboys side who threatened to turn matters around in a feisty second half. Those points were won and won hard – and more of this will augur well for future games.
James Wren, Joshua Ezewele, Cody Fisher, cautioned, 50, (Bradley Birch, 74,), Thomas Turton, Jordan Williams, Jordaan Brown, Thomas Tonks, Nathan Hayward, GOAL,51 MINUTES, (Aaron Lloyd, 85), Alex Nicholls, Will Grocott, Chay Tilt, dismissed , straight red card, 90+3. Other substitutes – Charlie Price, Jamie Willettts, Anthony Dwyer.
Charlie Horlock, Max Ryan, cautioned, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, Lewis Rolfe, Dan Webb, GOAL, 16 MINUTES, Josh Bickerstaff, Lewis Barker, cautioned, 32, Bradley Bell, Stephen Cawley, (Jacob Hutchinson, 86,) Alex Marsh, DiogoFreitas Gouveia, man of the match, GOAL, 20 MINUTES,(Jamie Jellis, 87), other substitutes, Joseph Gauge, Dev Simms, Brett Donnelly.
REFEREE: Mr Greg Rolason, assisted by Mr Matthew Bond and Mr Jordan Griffiths.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN