In a vibrant FA Cup tie, in blustery weather Hitchin secured their first win of the season, but, starting at the end, we must thank Charlie Horlock for a crucial save in the dying seconds of time added on. The Fenmen had eliminated Jay Dowie’s penalty goal and had, with that last effort been converted, then the tie would have gone to a replay at Top Field. so, as matters stood, James Verney’s goal, six minutes after Joel Earp’s strike proved to be the winner.
Wisbech Town, held to a draw by Ely City at the Fenland Stadium, ran out comfortable winners in the replay and Hitchin ‘spies’ at that game had been impressed, predicting a hard game for the Canaries. So it proved to be, but it was, overall, a good performance by a changed Hitchin team that was without the services of Harry Draper, injured and skipper Dan Webb, unavailable. Jack Green was back in the side following injury but ironically had to be substituted after he took a knock in the second half. there was also a srart for the experienced Brett Donnelly.
The Fenland stadium is a tidy, impressive stadium, somewhat reminiscent, in design to Dunstable Town’s redeveloped home, being all ‘single storey’ but the facilities are somewhat superior. I had visited the former Wisbech ground some years ago and it is now covered with housing.
The game commenced with Hitchin having the wind behind them on a magnificent pitch and they seemed to want to make the most of this advantage, with immediate aggressive forward play. Fenman Jay Whyatt cut out a promising forward run, with James Verney looking hungry for opportunities. In one attack Donnelly put the ball into the net as a matter of routine as the off-side flag was firmly raised.
Lewis Ferrell’s free-kick from some distance looked bound for the goalkeeper’s clutch but with pace from the wind it landed on the roof of the net. The hosts were finding it hard to connect passes and make a meaningful attempt as yet. They had a free-kick, taken by Callum Traynor, and Whyatt found himself dispossessed after another.
Conditions were clearly difficult and both teams may have benefited from keeping the ball on the floor. Jack Green’s header went behind for a goal kick. Anderson was brought down on a run and a free-kick ensued for the visitors – and Green tried to get on the end of it but the angle was too tight. Green sent in a cross-cum-shot and it cleared the bar with pace – but what goal attempts that came were from Hitchin.
Then came a moment of what I will loosely call controversy, because we are all aware of a major change in the rules. Donnelly had possession, flicked the ball up and a Wisbech defender accidentally handled the ball within the penalty area. It was clearly ball to hand – totally unintentional, but a penalty was awarded to Hitchin. Home players knew the futility pf protest and interestingly two fellow Hitchin supporters agreed with my view that a penalty decision was unduly harsh, given the player’s patent lack of intent. But the change in the rule is the same for both teams, of course, and so we must get on with it.
The drama did not end there since Jay Dowie’s spot kick appeared to be saved by Dan Farrell who then spilled the ball over the line. He kicked the foot of the post in understandable anguish and i found myself in quiet agreement with the Hitchin supporter who said that he hoped we would win but not by that goal. He also added a rhetorical question as to why it was each new amendment to the rules seemed to add more controversy to the game. I added the view that had that accidental handling happened elsewhere on the pitch I wondered if the referee would even award a free-kick, but wave play on in acknowledgement of the lack of intention. The home supporters close to me who barracked the referee should perhaps accept that the referee had no option but to follow the rule.
But there we were, eighteen minutes gone and Hitchin a goal in front and playing the more creative football so far. In the next attack Donnelly had a free header that was easily gathered by Farrell, and it was an interesting tussle that he had with his marker,Sam Spencer, the Fenmen’s skipper. James Verney had a cracking shot that was saved, with Donnelly waiting for a possible follow-up. We were over midway for this half and hitchin were looking cohesive in all areas, which is pleasing to report.
A possible chance for Verney was thwarted by Spencer and we were still sparred a meaningful attack on the Hitchin goal. In the thirty-third minute Horlock was called upon to make his first save – which was more of a through ball than a shot, but they all need to be stopped. Liam Marshall’s free-kick needed tidying up by the reliable Norville-Williams. Green had an opportunity, following good work from Barker, but the header cleared the cross bar.
Aaron Hart had a fair run, slipping the ball to Layton Madison. who played it to Marshall but Norville-Williams put paid to that, but Declan Rogers managed to win a corner for the hosts. A cross was then dealt with effectively. Wisbech won a couple of corners, both robustly headed clear. Earps had a pop and his effort cleared the bar and it showed that the home side were making some inroads.
There was a chap on the public address system who occasionally utilised his sound advantage to exhort more effort from his team, which left me wondering if he might be contravening the Berne Convention or some obscure sub paragraph rule – all good fun though.
We were right on half -time and, despite the nature of the penalty goal, Hitchin were good value for their lead at the interval.
I sometimes insert an unrelated half-time anecdote or two, but here I crave your indulgence about my very personal delight at being able to re-acquaint myself with this Cambridgeshire club, which I learned is now actually situated some yards within Norfolk, or metres if you deal in new money. Many years ago, I was on turnstile duty at Dunstable Town, one of my many functions on that and every game, when a gentleman introduced himself. He had the same surname as me and he had come with his club to an FA Vase match with what was temporarily known as Dunstable Town 98, as that was the year of their second reformation.
He, like me was the reporter, and we stood together comparing notes and exchanging quips. his name was Dennis Harris, and he was a complete gentleman who had given yeoman service to the club he loved and we struck up an immediate friendship. We sent our reports to one another and commented on the fortunes of misfortune of our respective clubs via email.
Through Dennis I had arranged a friendly at the old Wisbech ground and we were delighted to meet again. Wisbech won the Vase game (and Dunstable the friendly), but what I remember was his great sense of ironic humour, his honest reporting and how our emails explored a lot more than just football. One quip I particularly remember was at the Vase game at a sparsely attended Creasey Park. Dennis surveyed the few supporters and asked me if I ever felt as lonely as the Archbishop of Golders Green. He died a few years ago and I received the news from ‘Spenny’, the still serving Wisbech secretary. I miss my contact with Dennis and i feel he would have embraced this new stadium with great joy. I remember fondly how he liked my headline of the friendly -‘ Marsh and Flood at The Fens’, which made much of the punning fact that dunstable had players called Flood and Marsh.
Dennis would have had a good laugh at the fate of my half -time repast. the lady in charge of hospitality told me she had both good news and bad for me. ‘We ordered some veggie sausages for you’ she told me and then weighed in with the bad news, ‘but we burnt them’. Oh well. Nobly unfed I took up my position behind the goal, noticing that the wind, now in the favour of the hosts did not seem as strong.
There were no substitutions as yet and any feelings we had about the fragility of the Hitchin one goal lead were rudely dispelled within a couple of minutes when Wisbech snatched the equaliser. Hitchin began well with a promising attack when Green tried to set it up for Barker who was not able to connect effectively. Rogers brought the ball away to the right and Hart was able to send in a decent cross and Joel Earps snatched the equaliser. I think that comes under the category of being caught cold.
It was a goal of some significance and would surely test the visitors, but their response was very positive. There was a significant bit of assistance from Donnelly in a snap attack and it presented a fine opportunity for James Verney whose finish was emphatic. The lead had been restored on fifty-three minutes but shortly after this there was a wonderful shot from Wisbech that struck the foot of the post. Good Lord, I thought, these chaps are not going to make it easy.
Ferrell’s free-kick was headed wide by Green, who was soon to succumb to injury and be replaced. There was a chance for Maddison but Dowie was there in full defensive mode, but they came again, spreading play well, sending in a cross that Norville-Williams headed clear and then Traynor enabled a shot from Ollie Gale that needed a one-handed save from Horlock that conceded the corner, that was defended successfully by Hitchin.
Green was replaced by Max Ryan on sixty-eight minutes and we wonder if he will be fit for the match at Welwyn Garden City next Tuesday. Wisbech replaced Maddison with Shackleton and I wondered what endurance he would show in exploring play. Anderson was doing good stuff as a wing back, but the hosts were beginning to look a lot more dangerous. The referee made a number of decisions that incurred the wrath of some of the Hitchin faithful, one of whom yelled that ‘they don’t like it up ’em’. We had our own Corporal Jones, then. One of the home fans muttered’You stupid boy’, and I did not dare say he had confused the characters.
Hitchin brought on Leon Okuboyejo, for the stylish Anderson, and the announcer did his best with pronunciation, which brought comments of close, (but no cigar, presumably). Rogers took two successive corners for the Fenmen, which saw Ryan defensively astute. The Reds were trying to strain the Greens but without success as yet. One free-kick from Traynor sailed over the bar, almost apologetically.
We had entered the final phase but all possibilities were fluid. There was an amusing moment when Wisbech made a substitution and i did not hear the full details. I asked a steward and he got onto his walkie-talkie to ask another and he did not know and I finally found out the details from a very friendly home a home fan after the match. ironically my voice recorder that I listened to later was crystal clear and I am astonished at my lack of hearing at times. It was Philip for Hart.
The last part of the match was very nervous indeed for Hitchin supporters as we could all visualise a triumphant late equaliser and the prospect of a replay. It might have been the case but for Horlock’s fine save that, in effect, won the game for the Canaries who will no doubt use the prize money to effect more repairs on the ground.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this splendid club and must mention their splendid hospitality and their good wishes. A first victory has come at a crucial time and what we need to do is put in a shift like this in a league game. i will add that Wisbech play at a division lower than ourselves and I do recall what a hard time Godmanchester gave us last season – not to mention Didcot. So, Hitchin progress, nervously so, but it was a good performance and this does need to be translated to League action – which is a hard task, but not insurmountable.
It was a good cup tie, fought to the last with the generic unpredictability that these games bring, but we are in the hat for the draw and who knows what adventures are in waiting. There is just one anecdote I will finish with and it is true, despite its implausibility. I was gathering my notepads etc and a home fan told me i had a nerve coming into the bar area after my dismal performance. I was puzzled and then it transpired that for some incredible reason this fellow had confused me with the referee – perhaps because of my being formally attired in tie and collar.
‘You had a lousy game ‘ he said., asking if i called myself a referee. I told him I was not the referee and his friend said, the referee was not bald as a coot as i obviously was. He reconsidered for a moment but persisted. ‘That was never a penalty’. Here we go, I thought. I told him I was not a referee, but merely the away reporter. He looked hard at me and said ‘And I bet that is biased’. I leave that for you to decide. I had a pleasant drive home, with the blessing that is Google Maps steering me beautifully clear of the closure on the A1.
See you all at Welwyn Garden City on Tuesday, and then at the league game at Banbury United next weekend.
Dan Farrell, Jay Whyatt, Liam Marshall, Jon Kaye, cautioned, Callam Traynor, Sam Spencer, captain, Aaron Hart, Ollie Gale, (Phil Bilson, 85), Declan Rogers, Joel Earps, GOAL, 47 MINUTES, Layton Maddison, (Oli Shackleton, 70),
Substitute not used: Aidan Bradshaw.
Charlie Horlock, Alex Anderson, (Leon Okuboyejo 76), Jordan Norville-Williams, Jay Dowie, penalty GOAL, 18 minutes, Joe Gauge, Lewis Ferrell, Lewis Barker, Jack Green, (Max Ryan, 68 minutes), Brett Donnelly, (Devonte Simms, 86 minutes cautioned), James Verney, GOAL, 53 minutes, Josh Bickerstaff, captain.
Substitutes not used: Josh Mollison GK, Leo Donnellan, Mohammed Ahmed and Marcus Crowther.
REFEREE: Mr Andrew Hitchcox (Huntingdonshire), assisted by Mr Stefan Lewis (Huntingdonshire) and Mr Daniel England (Cambridgeshire).
This report is respectfully dedicated to the memory of DENNIS HARRIS, Wisbech reporter, supporter, friend and gentleman.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN