I have steadfastly maintained a theory that the Canaries always manage to raise their game against much stronger opposition. This has been borne out but not exclusively and I wondered just how this theory would stand up today.
For a start Hitchin were a little depleted owing to injuries, suspensions and also the departure of Max Ryan to Braintree Town. Tamworth, as promotion or even title candidates would want to garner maximum points in what might be seen as a home banker. Yes it was a home win but as it turned out it was far from easy for the hosts in a game that saw two dismissals and seven cautions – six for Hitchin.
In what may be described as a volatile atmosphere the game began with a strong suggestion that Hitchin would have some serious defending to do.
But at least Hitchin started at the same time as their hosts and did not concede as in the last game, a punishingly early goal. Perhaps Charlie Horlock had this in mind when he sent a clearance into a distant part of Staffordshire to expected hoots of derision.
Yet Hitchin were not overawed and an early forward ball might have been if more promising use had it not been to heavy. This was not an isolated occasion – but after the expected early home pressure the visitors asked some serious questions. Beswick’s free kick was held by Horlock. A Hitchin free-kick from Dhillon was aimed at Gouveia who, despite his pace, found it a bit hard going against defenders.
There was notable pace and intention from Obeng and Hoenes, both of whom were later substituted. In a sweeping home move orchestrated by Gough, Hitchin defended the cross and a following corner was cut out by Horlock.
Gouveia had a run that looked tantalising until he was untimely robbed of the ball and then Dhillon won a corner. This was aimed at Hutchinson who hooked the ball without real venom.
There was a relatively early substitution for Tamworth when Magunda was replaced by Howkins who was not on the pitch for as long as he or his manager intended. Hitchin had a foray involving Cawley and Hutchinson and the latter was brought down and a penalty was thus awarded to the Canaries. Howkins received a straight red card with the usual protests from players and the usual derisory comments from home spectators, one of whom asked if the referee had travelled to the game on the Hitchin coach.
I am unhappy to report that, yes, this ignoble Hitchin tradition of missing a penalty reared its masochistic head. Dhillon, who smashed the last spot kick against the crossbar at Rushall Olympic did not even find the woodwork but only a part of the terracing where incensed home supporters found good voice to deride this latest miss.
The comical truculence was not yet dispensed with because home keeper Jasbir Singh was cautioned by an increasingly didactic referee for dissent. The temperature seemed to rise but I must take the view that this latest fluff from the penalty spot had unwanted repercussions. Had Hitchin converted there was good reason to believe that they may well have won – not with such emphasis as at Peterborough Sports but with a tenacious aspect such as was shown at Stratford Town on Tuesday.
Tamworth, down to ten men, did what teams often do, that is they began to play with greater authority that mildly suggested that had put on a couple of substitutes on the quiet. There was one cross, for instance that defied every touch an almost crept in at the far post and to some relief went out for a corner. Horlock held this and for the remainder of the half we saw Hitchin trying hard to capitalise on their extra man – something that was ruled out in the second period when Coldicott-Stevens was dismissed for a second yellow card following a largely unnecessary and totally rash challenge.
Thus there was a sense that in going to the interval level – which under “normal” circumstances might be to their great credit, we had the righteous feeling that they should be a goal up as well as a man up. It may be safely argued that Hitchin had been the better side and that for all their intricate play Tamworth had conceded inaccuracies in the finish.
The hosts replaced the jaded Hoenes with Wilder and when they replaced the influential Obeng with Hearn I thought this might have been advantageous for Hitchin. But alas the Canaries’ performance in the second half did not match the confident display of the first. This was due in part to the referee’s insistence on showing yellow cards for offences that in other matches gain just a finger wagging. The referee also did not employ a sagacious deafness and would not accept any remark of a detrimental nature.
Hutchinson had attempted to connect with a long through ball and was bundled off the ball in the penalty area. He did not appeal and I was amused at home fans asking rhetorically why the so obviously biased referee did not award the kick. I chose to sit in the stand for the second half and was a little astonished at the reaction of some home supporters which may be described as passionate and critically biased. There is nothing new there but it was just so much more notable. Thankfully it was also peppered with humour and after the combative Lewis Barker had fired wide twice there was a solitary home yell of “Come in, number seven, your time is up.”
Well it was not for LB but it was for Coldicott-Stevens and this equalising factor definitely worked in favour f the home team bayed on as they were by their home crowd.
Cawley had a blocked shot and Gouveia had a run on the ball until he blasted wide. A fine and legitimate challenge from Dhillon brought massive penalty appeals and the usual rusted scissors of remarks aimed at the referee for this latest and assumed peccadillo.
Barker, his time plainly not up headed wide and Horlock went down well to cut out a low cross. Just after Obeng was substituted by Hearn there was a corner awarded to Tamworth although it did seem that Dhillon had played it off the attacker for a denied goal kick.
And from that corner came the only goal of the game – a very accurate and floating header from Daniel Creaney. This a was a cue for the very enthusiastic home announcer to elongate his vowels as he revelled in the moment. It did seem to me that it was with a sense of relief as well as thanks. It was also a bit too loud.
The effect on Hitchin was debilitating and they struggled to put together a coordinated and aggressive move on the opposition goal. Bell came on for Gouveia. Marsh conceded a routine free- kick and was genuinely surprised to receive a caution.
Seemingly unsettled by this he soon conceded a corner which brought a shot that cleared the bar by some distance. Tamworth were not cruising but stuttering to an untidy victory and some home supporters near me conceded a little quietly that Hitchin deserved a draw. If I sum up it would be that Hitchin had played well enough for at least a draw and , to my surprise the hosts had not really played well enough to win.
But win they did and of course this keeps up their challenge for promotion. At Top Field earlier in the season they had seen of Hitchin 3-0 in emphatic manner. They were just a little bit fortunate to win but then again they do not take penalties for the opposition and if it really is eleven misses from thirteen then the fault is ours and ours alone. Dhillon told me later that he was going to place rather than blast but changed his mind. Blast indeed. How many more points would Hitchin have if all of those spot kicks have gone in? Quite a few, I bet.
Yet I still feel proud of the overall performance as this surely is one of the least “inviting” venues given the volatile home crowd who did not miss a single incident in order to castigate, blame or deride. One could argue that it was their job and as such they did it well.
I was pleased that many who spoke to me, including one of their management team thought Hitchin deserved a draw. And just think again – if that penalty had gone in and Hitchin led – they may well have caused as big a surprise as the win at Peterborough Sports.
After this gruelling match and disappointment the team has a domestic artist on Tuesday when they are away at Berkhamsted contesting the Hertfordshire Charity Cup. I wonder if we will get a penalty. And I wonder who will take it?
Jasbir Singh, cautioned, Aaron Forde Jordan Gough, Ryan Beswick, Joseph Magunda, (Cameron Hoskins, dismissed straight red card,) Lathaniel Rowe- Turner- Sponsors’ Man of the match, Ahmed Obeng, (Liam Hearn), James Fry, Daniel Creaney, GOAL 71 MINUTES, Bilal Yafal, Rhys Hoenes, (Henri Wilder).
Substitutes not used – Jordan Clement and Dilano Reid.
Charlie Horlock, cautioned, Jack Green, Ben Walster, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, dismissed after two cautions, Layne Eadie, Jhai Dhillon, Lewis Barker, cautioned, Hitchin’s star man, Alex Marsh, cautioned, Stephen Cawley Jacob Hutchinson, Diogo Freitas Gouveia, (Bradley Bell, 72)
Substitutes not used: Rio Da Silva, Brett Donnelly, Theo Reed and Kyle Tearle.
REFEREE: Mr J O’ Connnor, assisted by Mr B Maw and Mr G Carlisle.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN