This report is respectfully dedicated to the memory of John Gray, Hitchin Town supporter, volunteer, and friend.
Hitchin Town extended their unbeaten run to three games, and tonight it was preserved in the last minute of stoppage time to secure a deserved draw in what turned out to be rather an exciting match at Knights Lane. It also needed a fighting second-half comeback as the Canaries trailed by two goals to nil in what was an underwhelming first half performance.
Back in September the Canaries defeated Stratford at Top Field 2-0 and the hosts were placed two places below, with ten points fewer. There would be no doubt that both teams thought that a win was a distinct possibility – and at the end of the first half it seemed that the men from Warwickshire would garner the points.
The notorious ‘Hitchin Cold Start’ was again manifested – that is to say the early concession of a goal without a real touch of the ball. It took Rushall Olympic eighteen seconds and tonight Stratford replicated the feat after a relatively sluggish two minutes. It was like Rushall – a quick attack on the left a cross and Robert is your father’s brother. Well – it did take two successive corners but the free-header ought to have received more than a symbolic challenge and Dan Vann was the man who did the damage.
I know it was a cold evening but Hitchin really ought to have stamped their feet a bit and started the game at the same time as their hosts. This tendency to make things more difficult is not a good habit – but I will say that they did set about waking their ideas up and only the inside of a post denied them a deserved equaliser. A free kick, centrally from about thirty yards saw Cawley head over the bar. Stephen Cawley had another fine game tonight – his work rate was excellent and his awareness was notable – and he deserved more than his one goal. It is also ironic that hos one successful strike had many thinking that in the goalmouth confusion it might have been a Stratford defender who managed the unwanted lethal touch – but Cawley receives the credit.
As the half progressed it became apparent that the hosts’ game plan included the effective tactic of not giving their opponents any time on the ball whatsoever – and this prevented Hitchin from settling into their rhythm. They also had the notable pace of Javia Roberts and Kynan Isaac to cause mayhem in the Canaries’ defence. Hitchin had their pace men too but Gouveia, when he tried to evade challenge found himself outnumbered and inevitably dispossessed.
A Hitchin free-kick wide on the left saw Gouveia combine with Webb and Cawley and the last named had his shot effectively blocked. From this Stratford again attacked on the left and the cross brought a corner. At the other end Marsh had his shot blocked and this also brought a corner. Walster took this and his ambitious cross found the foliage behind the fence. Stratford were looking particularly good on the left but showed they could switch it to the right with ease. A cross from Isaac saw Roberts test Horlock with a shot and there was another corner.
Hutchinson found himself in a shooting position and might have tried to ‘chip’ James Pardington but he fired directly and the home keeper was perhaps relieved at conceding a corner rather than picking the ball out of the net. Walster’s cross received a long clearance from Rowley and in the next Hitchin foray Gouveia was again robbed on the run as he tried to cut in. Then there was a fine cross from Lewis Barker, allowing Gouveia a shot and there was yet another corner. From this Webb slipped the ball on to Barker whose shot actually came off the inside of the far post. I cursed inwardly… pshaw and tarrradiddle or some such mild expletive. Hitchin had been dominant for about ten minutes and an equaliser now would galvanise them further, I am sure.
Mind you, Javia Roberts was quite close with his run and shot from the right and an assistance from Richards saw Sweeney’s shot saved by Horlock. Roberts’ pace was a worrying factor. We had a temporary break in play when a tall gentlemen of the Stratford managerial staff incurred the referee’s displeasure and then he became the night’s first caution for petulantly refusing to return the ball for a throw-in. I never cease to be astonished at the anger caused by a hugely insignificant moment as to whose throw in it is and the verbal haranguing that ensues.
At this time I thought that if Hitchin could not improve upon their perceived misfortune and secure an equaliser then a one goal deficit at the interval would not make the game irretrievable. As if on cue the hosts added a second goal on what is often referred to as the stroke of half-time. It came from another attack full of verve and pace on the left and the cross enabled Roberts to belt home an emphatic shot – and moments after the restart the whistle announced the interval.
It was disappointing for the Hitchin contingent as we felt that the lads had done enough to deserve to eliminate the Cold Start and with a deficit of two goals it did seem likely that the home side would contain Hitchin in the second period and garner the very useful maximum points. I agreed with the Stratford gentleman who gave an honest opinion that it ‘did not seem like a two -nil game’. In our little Hitchin huddle we were all agreed that now was the time to bring on the combative Max Ryan as this seemed his sort of game. Our wish was granted and the leggy one obliged to our satisfaction.
It still seemed a tall order – but there was the thought that the hosts, whose admirable pace and challenge had thwarted the Hitchin rhythm so far, might tire just a little and not be so quick to the ball and so slick on the break. So, with the welcome factor of standing within a snug covered terracing we had good cause to worry less about the cold and to hope that Hitchin could turn on the heat. At best, at that stage we thought a draw would be welcome, even if it came from a defensive blooper , a penalty (I should cocoa) or a majestic own goal.
But upon resumption there was a pleasing determination about Hitchin. They were going to give this one a good go. They were up for it and we could not ask for more… well no, we wanted a goal, we wanted the post and the crossbar to get out of the way, please, but the damn things took centre stage again and there are a few ball marks on that white paint, I could tell you.
Marsh, who had an indifferent first half, had a second that was as fiery as his hair. Jack Green seemed to want to stonewall the whole Stratford defence. But the home goalie was in fine fettle and took a knock or two with some brave interventions here and there. Gouveia had a shot that he put out for a corner and then the tall goalie jumped to claim the ball with a proprietary air.
Skipper Webb went off, presumably injured and on came the combative Ryan who got stuck in with admirable dedication. There was even a defensive error that allowed Ryan a free-shot, which had he not been so surprised he might have converted, but Pardington’s legs got in the way by accident rather than design. Curses, foiled again. At the other end, with a typical break Vann had a go at getting his second goal, but Horlock held it.
After almost an hour, Hitchin did pull one back. There was a corner, there was some confusion in the penalty area, Cawley and defenders challenged – the ball ended up in the net. We cheered, we applauded. Was it an own goal asked one, who bleedin’ cares answered another. It was credited to Cawley and he deserved it. This chap, still on loan from Hemel Hempstead, has grown into a Hitchin shirt and his performances have achieved fruition of late.
Green put in another cross, Cawley tried again – but the equaliser came two frenetic minutes later when Jacob Hutchinson appeared on the right, running in and unleashing successfully. He patted a few of us on the head before he ran back to position for the restart. Two goals each and Hitchin were in the ascendancy, and good lord, we might go on and win this, was the thought.
The trouble was that in pressing forward, Hitchin were susceptible to the break, and Stratford were cunningly good in this manoeuvre. Substitutions were made, the tannoy was an audible blur but Stratford dealt what looked like a killer blow. Leam Howards had come on and his pace in possession was admirable and he restored the home lead after seventy-three minutes. We grudgingly accepted that it was a good goal and it might prove a worthy winner, but there was still a lot of time.
The fatigued Gouveia gave way to Bradley Bell who applied himself well , but not before Isaac and Howards had threatened again. Marsh had been fouled and Walster’s free-kick hit the post and we groaned again. A cross from Ryan saw Pardington save bravely and well at the expense of a knock. His heroics were detracted from by the sight of a couple more bodies prone and awaiting the magic sponge.
Then there was a fine cross from Marsh, aimed at Cawley who stretched, did well , but put the ball over the bar at close range. It would have been a fine goal. Bell crossed again and once more Pardington claimed. We were not yet done and there repeated efforts on goal, punctuated by swift breakaways by the home side – but justice appeared to rule as we approached stoppage time.
Marsh was fouled and there was a free-kick, centrally just outside the area. The defence was elaborately arranged, with defended assuming the lantern jaw of ‘they shall not pass’ or rather whack the ball into the net. Ryan assumed the pose and narrowed his eyes and his kick hit the blessed bar again – but all was not lost when Hutchinson pounced and in the last minute of stoppage time as we were – he scored the equaliser – even before we could groan at the ball striking the bar as it had seemed to do so many times in this pulsating match.
I will add here that there was even time for Bell to have one last go but he seemed to adhere to the script of a fighting draw and he shot wide. The whistle went and we were glad to get out of the cold. I was very pleased to be present in the numbing cold at so entertaining a game and a point apiece will do a bit of good for both teams who linger in the bottom half of the table.
All I ask is that at Tamworth on Saturday the team will start at the same time as the opposition and not concede the gambit of an opening goal to make things all the more difficult.
James Pardington, Daniel Vann, GOAL, 2 MINUTES, Gedeon Okito, Courtney Richards, captain, Daniel Alessi, cautioned, Kyle Rowley, Javia Roberts, GOAL, 45 MINUTES, Muhammad Sebbe-Njle, Daniel Sweeney, Reece Flanagan, (Leam Howards, GOAL, 73 MINUTES), Kynan Isaac, (Paul Douglas, cautioned).
Substitutes not used: Kyle Ambris, David Pitt and Robert Thompson-Brown.
Charlie Horlock, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, Daniel Webb, captain, (Max Ryan), Lewis Barker, Alex Marsh, Stephen Cawley, GOAL, 58 MINUTES, Jacob Hutchinson, TWO GOALS, 67, 90+2. Diogo Freitas Gouveia, (Bradley Bell).
Substitutes not used: Rio Da Silva, Brett Donnelly and Kye Tearle.
REFEREE: Mr Neil Pratt, assisted by Mr Paul Sparrow and Mr William Doyle.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN