The first away League game of the season was much anticipated and this followed the news that the next FA Cup game was also away and to St Albans City. Both would be tough calls and it started at the War Memorial Stadium, Stourbridge.
It was good to see that all the permitted number of tickets, 600 had been sold. There was one change in the Hitchin line-up from the FA Cup win over Needham Market with Alex Marsh replacing Jack Green who was injured Dan Webb was back from injury and was included in the substitutes. Lewis Barker sat out the penultimate game of his suspension.
Talking of suspensions, goalkeeper Charlie Horlock will discover soon just how many matches he will have to miss as in a dramatic moment just four minutes in, he was dismissed following a late challenge outside his penalty area. He ran to cover a short pass and brought down Richard Peniket, who needed to be replaced by Andre Landell. The Hitchin replacement keeper was Alex Marsh who gave, like the rest of the team, a heroic performance, given the necessary change of tactics.
If you are a Hitchin supporter you may feel very proud of the way that the team adapted to the dismissal and the consensus was that the Canaries deserved a point. In particular the second half performance was outstanding and the home side were having to work very hard to maintain their slender lead.
This was a point of view put forward by the many home officials and supporters I spoke to as well as complimentary remarks overheard in the chilly, windswept stand.
Alex Marsh had to face action immediately and after seeing a fine shot by Greg Mills over the bar he punched away a cross. The Glassboys played patiently, keeping possession and made the Hitchin players run a lot and defend in depth. Darryl Knights had a shot deflected for a corner and Alex Marsh dived bravely to smother the ball.
At this stage it looked like a case of damage limitation. A free-kick from Layne Eadie was defended, allowing a quick break for the hosts with the very agile Mills putting in a cross that was well defended.
The only goal of the game came after Mills sent in a cross from the left that was headed home by Alex Fletcher. It was a move of classic simplicity and ably finished. It left an awkward feeling that there would be more where that came from but it proved not to be the case. The goal was timed at thirty-eight minutes.
In a delay caused by treatment to goalkeeper Marsh, both sets of players received an impromptu tactical talk from managers Mark Burke and Mark Yates. Just before this there was an optimistic lob from Hitchin’s man of the match Ben Walster that very nearly caused a surprise. It would have been a very audacious equaliser.
After a smart move from Callum Stead and Luke Brown, the former was just prevented from getting his shot away and the moment was lost. After a foul from Lawrie Marsh the Stourbridge free-kick gave the ubiquitous Mills a headed chance but Marsh held it.
Walster in defence was nothing short of magnificent and as the half moved to its end, with lots of time added, Hitchin were indeed seems no to prove the phenomenon that ten men can play better than with a full complement.
We did hear during the interval that Charlie Horlock’s offence was deemed to be serious foul play, and that is likely to result in a three match ban, which gives the club a bit of a goalkeeper crisis, since Josh Mollinson is apparently cup-tied and it is unlikely that Dan Weaver will be utilised, given his youth and relative inexperience.
Ellis Deaney’s shot, saved by Marsh was the last chance of the first half for Stourbridge and a fine cross from Stead to Brown was neatly intercepted. It had been heartening to see the Hitchin determination and in a vibrant second half they were unfortunate not to come away with a point.
After resumption, Jhai Dhillon did good work on the left flank. Corners were won and needed careful monitoring by the steadfast home defence. This was a good spell for Hitchin who, with their attacking mindset a little vulnerable to the swift counterattack.
A long clearance by the makeshift Hitchin keeper was met by Dhillon who, through sheer persistence presented Callum Stead with a half chance that was defended. Then Eadie sent a cunning through ball and Stead reprised the audacious lob that was only just wide.
In one preparatory move Josh Caldicott-Stevens lost possession at a crucial moment, allowing Mills a run on goal but he was again thwarted. Another inviting cross from Dhillon enabled a shot from Stead but Charlie Price held it well.
Mills proved that audacious lobs were not Hitchin’s copyright and his effort bounced just wide. Lawrie Marsh played himself into trouble and was booked for a misdemeanour and his brother was there to hold a headed effort from close range. Stourbridge needed another goal to be comfortable but not only was this denied them they found themselves needing to defend as Hitchin looked likely to grasp the reward of a goal.
But the hosts could have more or less wrapped it up and if Landell had let the cross travel Kayelden Brown would have had a tap in. Hitchin replaced Dhillon with the sprightly Marcus Gouldbourne whose slight figure suggests he might need to be tethered in a breeze but he proved a torment to the home defence and was a little unfortunate not to score.
The ball did not fall kindly today for Luke Brown but his support play was outstanding. Rio Dasilva also utilised his cunning and pace on the right. Once more the hosts had a chance to put the points beyond doubt and the impressive Mills fired in a beauty only to see the ball ricochet off the foot of the post.
Gouldbourne and Stead has one more realistic chance right at the end but the latter’s shot was wide. It was a bit of a shame and even though we were verified by the praise heaped on the team by home supporters a defeat is still a defeat and in Song Contest parlance ‘nil pwah’.
It may be of some consolation for me to emphasise again what a sterling performance this was against a fine team. If Horlock could have evaded his moment of rashness we would have had a very different game from a tactical point of view.
As it is we must take this and move on. We have information that the Hertfordshire FA Cup derby is to be played behind closed doors at Clarence Park. There is no option to move the game to Top Field.
For today we take away a proud performance of eight-six minutes plus stoppage time with a classical ten man performance. All that was missing was the dramatic equaliser in the dying seconds. We would have deserved it.
Finally, we would like to thank all at Stourbridge for their excellent organisation and hospitality.
Charlie Price, Kristian Green, Ben O’Hanlon, Alexander Fletcher,GOAL, 38 MINUTES, Kieran Morris, Jordan Brown, cautioned, Darryl Knights, (Bradley Birch, 85), Ellis Deeney, Richard Peniket, (Andre Landell, 5,) Kayelden Brown,(Anthony Dwyer, 75), Greg Mills, Glassboys star man.
Unused substitutes – Martin Riley and Darragh Bustin.
Charlie Horlock, dismissed straight red card, 4 minutes replaced in goal by Alex Marsh, Layne Eadie, Ryan Smith, Lawrie Marsh, cautioned, Ben Walster, captain, this reporter’s Man of the Match, Rio Dasilva, Jhai Dhillon, ( Marcus Gouldbourne, 65), Callum Stead, Luke Brown, Josh Caldicott-Stevens.
Unused substitutes- Max Ryan, Kye Tearle, Patrick Gourgel Sequeira and Dan Webb.
OFFICIALS: Referee Mr Richard Watson, assisted by Mr Mark Bellingham and Mr Ashley Davenport.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN