After the rousing draw at home to Leiston where Hitchin seemed to embrace the Spanish proverb that if you cannot get what you like you must learn to like what you get – expectations were generally high.
These expectations were ultimately fulfilled but it was a very close run thing in a game that seemed to have everything.
Of course one always associates drama with Stratford on Avon and in this we were not overlooked. We had barely completed two minutes when Alexander Marsh was clear through on goal and was fouled by home keeper Tyrell Belford and a penalty was awarded.
Hitchin supporters favoured Chaucerian language rather than Shakespearean, making full use of the referee’s surname of Pratt as he saw fit not to caution or dismiss Belford.
The spot kick went as usual to Layne Eadie but this was well saved by Belford but when the ball was driven back towards the goal the referee could not have seen the unintentional handball from a home defender that should have resulted in another penalty.
It was more a comedy of errors rather than much ado about nothing and it was a while before Hitchin supporters ceased their show of wrath in colourful invective. I will leave it to Shakespeare to sum up my feelings:
“How much methinks, I could despise this man,
Were I not bound in charity against it.”
( Henry VIII).
I feel the referee had something of a difficult game, especially in the frantic second half.
Stratford, fired by the penalty miss stormed forward and one chance was just cleared. Eadie sent in a cross at the other end and this was cut out by the very tall George Heaven. Ryan Smith followed up with a shot that Belford kept out with his leg but Hitchin kept up the pressure.
The visitors snatched the lead with a very well worked goal involving Alex Marsh and Luke Brown with the latter converting with a low shot into the bottom corner. There was a further chance when another from Eadie saw Lawrie Marsh fire wide.
Stratford employed the underrated tactic of the long throw and Tiernan Parker was just able to hold the ball as it whizzed across the goal area. A good chance fell to Leam Howards whose effort was just defended at the expense of a corner.
It was now end to end stuff ablaze with opportunity. Ashley Samson’s was illegally halted on a spirited run and the free kick was only partially defended but a following cross was cleared with a good old anywhere will do punt.
There was more from Stratford with a corner bravely defended by Eadie. Yet another home corner was beaten away but this provided Hitchin with a counter move and Luke Brown’s shot brought a Hitchin corner. This brought a flurry of activity in the penalty area with Belford making two vital stops but right at the end of the half when Alex Marsh’s accurate pass enabled Marcus Goldbourne to double the lead and enjoy the applause of the travelling faithful behind the goal.
Despite the controversy it had been an exciting half and Hitchin had looked good despite some worrying moments in their own penalty area. It was a moot point as to whether this level could be sustained and indeed the second half provided worrying moments as the hosts set about reducing the arrears.
There were repeated moves involving Howards, Callum Powell and Ashley Sammons that stretched the Hitchin defence. William Grocott made his presence known and one of his efforts needed a careful save from Parker.
Hitchin were grateful for any chance to get forward and a chance fell to Brown whose shot was too soft to test Belford whose vital saves restored Stratford’s belief that they could get something from this game.
Howards and Powell combined and the latter’s shot only just cleared the cross bar.
Ben Walster’s assistance provided Goldbourne with an inviting chance and his shot looked goal bound but Belford just tipped it over the bar. Walster then put in a cross that was converted by Callum Stead but this would be third goal was ruled off- side. Had that counted it would have made matters a lot more comfortable.
Powell and Sammons were soon at it again and a free- kick was awarded when the latter was brought down , centrally just outside the area. Grocott came close and then Parker saved the follow up. It now seemed inevitable that the hosts would breach the defence and it was soon to be the case. A Sammons effort was punched away by Parker and Grocott fired over the bar.
A pivotal moment came when Stead neatly nicked the ball from Williams and he found himself with a one on one. He looked certain to score but once again Belford’s foot got in the way. It really should have been three – one.
Shortly after this Stratford won a corner and Heaven headed in a fine goal. We had played sixty- seven minutes and the initiative was firmly with the home side who laid siege to the Hitchin goal and the visitors unwittingly aided them by conceding three free- kicks in inviting and dangerous positions.
Substitute Kynan Isaac won a corner and Williams headed effort was again very close. Another home long throw caused Mayhem but Parker was able to dive and smother the ball. It was nail- biting stuff and this gruelling second half seemed endless.
Two blocked shots from Stratford was again followed by a crucial save from Parker. Some relief came when Hitchin substitute Steve Cawley essayed a fine header following a good move from fellow sub Rio Dasilva.
It was all still frantic when Walster was dismissed with a straight red card with four minutes of normal time remaining and an eternity of time added following an injury to Layne Eadie and for less than subtle time- wasting
Crosses were sent in with a wing and a prayer and it seemed we would play on until the hosts equalised.
There was a huge penalty appeal for Stratford and there was some delay until it was dismissed, and to their credit the hosts tried for parity until the last kick.
Hitchin held on and were relieved when the final whistle signalled the first away win of the season even if they had a touch of good fortune. It demonstrated that the one on one miss and the unconverted penalty could have had serious repercussions.
We were applauding the Hitchin players at the end and were puzzled at raucous cheers from a section of the crowd. It turned out to be a group of Birmingham City supporters baiting a solitary Aston Villa fan. Oh well, whatever floats your boat.
It had been a fine match with every conceivable drama and I can finish with another quotation from Shakespeare.
“Close up (our) eyes and draw the curtain close;
And let us all to meditation.”
Or should that be celebration? Yes, I think so.
Tyrell Belford, home star man, Rhys Sharpe, Sam Muggleton, James Fry, cautioned, George Heaven, cautioned, GOAL,67 minutes, Jordan Williams, Callum Powell, Ashley Sammons, Harry White, Will Grocott, Leam Howards.
Substitutes used: Daniel Vann for Sharpe, 45, Kynan Isaac for White, 58, and William Dawes for Fry.
Unused substitutes: Joe Curtis and Ryan Baimbridge.
Tiernan Parker, Daniel Akubuine, cautioned, Layne Eadie, cautioned, Ryan Smith, Samuel Okoye- Ahaneku, Ben Walster, dismissed, straight red card, Alexander Marsh, Lawrie Marsh, Callum Stead, Luke Brown, GOAL, 12 minutes, Marcus Gouldbourne, GOAL, 45 minutes.
Substitutes used: Steve Cawley for Brown, 67 minutes, Joshua Caldecott- Stevens for Smith, 76 and Rio Dasilva for Stead, 85.
Unused substitutes: Patrick Gourgel Sequeira and Jack Green.
REFEREE: Mr Neill Pratt, assisted by Mr Aaron Ford and Mr Ryan Mcilavey.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN
PHOTO BY CHRIS ROBERTS