I am starting at the end again. As we went to the board room at the end of this match the Stourbridge official who greeted us had an apologetic expression and stated without reservation ‘That was flattering for us’. I say this since bias may be suspected if I stated it. I agreed with him, as did other Hitchin Town officials, with programme editor Mick Docking adding lugubriously that ‘it is no consolation’. The fact that the last two goals were scored right at the end, one five minutes into generous stoppage time may give a picture of the continuing slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune suffered by a Hitchin team that actually turned in a fine performance against a team that have lost but once in fourteen league games and are second in the table, with Hitchin, by way of contrast second from bottom. I know – ouch! Mind you, that gulf in alleged quality was not apparent today and I reiterate that this was, saving the despair of stoppage time, a gutsy and defiant display from the Canaries, despite the result
The three hour outward journey was punctuated by inner misgivings about facing a team that had won handsomely 4-0 away in their last game whilst Hitchin were denied a deserved draw at Rushden. Denial was in the air today as skipper Dan Webb saw his header graze the inside of the bar when the Canaries were trailing 1-0 and had been the better footballing side on the day. Another odd statistic was provided today, following Edwin Mensah’s second appearance for the Canaries. The ignoble statistic is that he has been dismissed in both matches for two cautions and his exit today was emblazoned with a kind of rolling wrestling match with an opponent in his defensive penalty area. Had it been a goal celebration it would be remarked on for its originality.
This was only my second visit to The War Memorial Athletic Ground, which everyone seems to remember for its three sided aspect where, from the quaintly designed main stand there is a full view of the adjacent cricket pitch, with its stately pavilion and a compact and bijou football training ground with small boys blasting away at the goal, heedless of the main event. There is an odd feeling of being cramped amidst spaciousness, if you see what I mean, and there was a good turnout of 667 today.
Most neutrals would have put this down as a home banker, but it was a lot closer, with the crucial opening goal coming three minutes into the second half. Hitchin again proved to be an enigma. As at Rushden they played decent, creative football but today they lacked the clinical finesse that brings goals.
The Glassboys, in red and white stripes started somewhat tentatively with a cross that was far too ambitious. Hitchin, in all green today, settled well and soon won a free-kick, taken by Noah Chesmain, happily still with us on loan, but on this occasion a goal kick was the result. Greg Mills on the left wing demonstrated that he needed some monitoring. There was a Hitchin free-kick wide on the right after Michael Cain took a bit of a knock and Chesmain pumped it into the area and it was headed clear.
Lewis Ferrell saw a lot of the ball with faultless defensive play, and soon Hitchin won a corner, conceded by Glassboys’ skipper Paul McCone. Galliford sent this towards Webb who appealed for an infringement, waved away by the youthful referee Ruebyn Ricardo. Callum Powell, he of the interesting hair-do, was tenaciously getting involved. There was a shot from Thompson-Brown and this was one of only a few real goal attempts by either side in a demanding, gruelling but inconclusive first half. A Stourbridge free-kick was greeted with anticipation by home supporters and Luke Benbow had a crack at thirty yards but his effort struck Cain and the chance was gone.
Dowie, Mensah and Bickerstaff were alert to possibilities but Stourbridge had a stonewall defence. After seventeen minutes we had seen one shot from either side, both off target. The work rate of Belgrove and Galliford was impressive, particularly for the latter. Brad Birch needed treatment, and after we resumed Bickerstaff combined with Galliford, providing Forde with a half chance. Forde cut the next chance back, with a reverse pass in the area but this was snapped up by the Glassboys’ defence. Galliford was caught off-side with the next foray, but Hitchin were doing well. Mensah conceded a free-kick, and picked up a caution. Powell had a shot that was way over the bar and a bit of a waste, given the elaborate build-up.
Galliford won a free-kick, and there was a cross from Bickerstaff too close to the keeper, so I suppose it might count as a shot, since if it were not gathered it would have found the net. A free-kick for Hitchin, centrally from about twenty-five yards was sent disappointingly over the bar by Cain. We had reached the half-hour mark and I felt that the visitors were doing very well and giving as good as they got, and then some. Ferrell and Dowie were excelling. But again we looked for the finish, the instinctive striker’s touch. Forde had a bit of a run and a Bickerstaff cross skimmed off someone’s head – I just missed that relighting my pipe. Forde had a half chance following a Mensah cross that flashed across the face of the goal without contact.
Chesmain was a revelation, being involved in so much and I hope he stays with us. Mills and Benbow were proving a bit of a problem and soon the hosts forced a corner whci saw a headed attempt by Broadhurst. Benbow, Thompson –Brown and Mills were still a bit of a worry, but Hitchin defending was assured and we reached the half –time interval with a strong suggestion that the Canaries were indeed on song.
Thompson-Brown won a corner, which unseated photographer Peter Else, snapping away before the accidental collision. Powell put his one over the bar. Johnson was giving his usual assured performance. I was reasonably satisfied at half time and thought once again of the Hitchin enigma. They are playing better than a side rooted to the foot of the table , so what was wrong. Canary supporters are calling for the signing of a proven striker. This is of interest since a proven striker would be retained by any club of sensible merit and a goal is a team effort. The one scored at Rushden was pure poetry, and shows it can be done.
Johnson saved an effort with his feet and Stourbridge applied some late first half pressure but the referee blew for the conclusion of what had been a fairly entertaining first period. Make no mistake; Hitchin had done well thus far.
Stourbridge recommenced with a substitution, with Aaron Forde replacing Brad Birch. After three minutes of this half, the Glassboys took the lead, following a free-kick. Powell took the free –kick very smartly and Greg Mills converted with equal smartness. Once again Hitchin had to roll the rock of Sisyphus and I long for the day when they can take the lead and maybe lord it over the opposition. The cunning move was entirely legitimate and I admire the way it was executed.
Of course it was a bitter blow and made the task more onerous, but the efforts did not relent. Powell, however had a wonderful run, seemingly unchallenged and to some relief he only struck the side-netting. The announcer revealed the winning ticket of the 50/50 and it was later revealed that our own chairman had won, which neatly paid for his hotel bill. Well done that man. I was but one number short, damn and blast, but I bear no grudge.
Hitchin fought gamely to seize and retain possession which was frustratingly denied them at times. Belgrove got into the penalty area and slipped the ball to Galliford who blasted over the bar; damn and blast again.
Mills did well to keep the ball in play to enable a blocked shot from Powell and the home side won a corner. This bounced nicely for Powell but Hitchin defended well. Chesmain’s cross was well defended, and another cross went for a throw by the corner flag. Hitchin were still eager and aggrieved. They had played well enough to at least have parity. Galliford won a free-kick and Belgrove’s pass very nearly fell to Forde. Jack Green replaced Cain. A free-kick for the hosts brought a masterful save from Johnson. A Hitchin free-kick from Chesmain to Galliford went for a throw right by the corner flag. It was a long one, cleared but then sent in again for Green to have a go, which was headed clear.
Green’s cross was just cleared by Mills, bringing another cross , smartly taken by Wren in the Glassboys’ goal. Stourbridge substituted again, Powell for Steele, which was like for like replacement. I must say that I thought their substitutions were very effective. By way of contrast Hitchin’s substitutions did not really have the desired effect. Burns was on for Belgrove, who had done quite well. Forde won a corner, and this signalled a bit of pressure where about three or maybe four corners were sent in with a degree of suggestibility. The uncompromising finish was still painfully absent and the consensus among some grumbling Hitchin supporters that now the time was ripe to employ a renowned marksman. But I say again, what club would release a fellow who was consistently bulging the old onion bag.
I think the solution might be within the team. A goal is a team effort where happy harmony takes place – just like the goal at Rushden. This Hitchin team is evolving but we really do need them to be aware that one league win in the campaign is not really that wonderful. We need to forget the somewhat pleasant cup run and capacity crowds and seek maximum points at every outing until we achieve a respectable position above the bottom three.
Dowie went wide on the right to send in a defended cross. Stourbridge completed their substitutions and Hitchin followed suit a little later. It was still just one-nil and there was always a chance. But the Canaries were frustratingly pinned in their own half by some calculated play. Green managed a cross, which Dowie contested and won a corner, taken by Galliford and this won another after an effort by Burns. Webb hit the underside of the bar following this and it was painful; had that gained the equaliser the boost would have been perhaps immeasurable. It seemed to me that the team was dogged by ill-fortune- but substitute Trey Charles lost out in contesting a ball with the Stourbridge keeper.
Seven minutes remained and Hitchin were still pushing – but the end of this match was nothing short of disastrous. Oh what a falling off was there, with a cruel ending to the match from a Hitchin point of view. Mensah had his wrestling match and despite a fall and a submission to his favour he received a second yellow and off he went accompanied with the usual chants of ‘cheerio, cheerio, cheerio’ and I must confess that I question the integrity of a player who in two appearances received four yellow cards and two dismissals. Such an event has a debilitating effect on the team and Broadhurst added a second goal for the hosts and then a strange goal right at the death t make it a ‘flattering’ 3-0. He must have noticed the bowed down heads of the Hitchin team who had fought so hard for so little reward.
It seemed to me that our referee was having a fine, enjoyable time that he added an extra minute or three to see how things turned out. It was not to Hitchin’s favour and they had unintentionally exacerbated the depth of their defeat. 1-0 might have reflected matters more accurately but statistical are cold, factual things and Hitchin, in League games have recorded but one win in about nine meetings.
It finished with a whimper and not a bang, with the huddled team retained on the field for a debriefing. It was a sombre journey home with the usual misgivings mixed with cautious optimism. Our affable secretary, Roy Izzard seemed to have a painful mantra where he repeated a number of times that the team had managed just nine goals in all their league games. He is right, factually, of course and we all know that improvement is a priority. Leiston are next and they are high scorers. But I feel there is an emerging strength to this team and it was supported by the praise from opposition officials. But then it is easy to be magnanimous when you have won and by a margin that does not accurately reflect the overall play
True, we are disappointed given the effort, but we must move on. A win, however contrived would be a tonic, but it will not be easy and so we can reserve our praise for now.
Each fixture reveals its own demands but that second win of the season, when it comes may have the effect of a rejuvenating tonic on a cynical valetudinarian that is to say he does not expect it but enjoys it when it happens. Hitchin Town are a lot better than the results suggest, but that is not enough – the proof of the pudding, etc.
It has been a frustrating two games in a week where scant rewards have been grudgingly sprinkled. A narrow win or, even better an emphatic one will lift the team and steer them to better things.
James Wren, Aaron Hayden, Jodaan Brown, cautioned, Paul McCone, captain, Aris Christophorou, Brad Birch, (Aaron Forde), Callum Powell, (Chekaine Steele), Leon Broadhurst, TWO GOALS, 90+3 AND 90+5, Luke Benbow, (Kaiman Anderson), Robbie Thompson-Brown, cautioned, Greg Mills, GOAL, 48 MINUTES, Cautioned. Substitutes not used- Stuart Pierpoint and Darrly Westlake.
Michael Johnson, Edwin Mensah, dismissed after two cautions, Noah Chesmain, Jay Dowie, Dan Webb, captain, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, (Jack Green), Scott Belgrove, (Robbie Burns), Ezra Forde, (Trey Charles), Isaac Galliford, Josh Bickerstaff. Substitutes not used – Josh Mollison GK, and Patrick Tshikala.
REFEREE: Mr Ruebyn Ricard, Assisted by Mr Scott Postin and Mr Favio Greenwood.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN