Hitchin Town’s season has risen like the resurrection! With three straight wins against high-flying opponents the Canaries have banished the demoralising seven straight losses to the back of their minds as they look to build towards a mid-table finish.
This exceptional turn of fortune began with a superb and wholly unexpected victory at home to table-topping Stourbridge in late January. Manager Mark Burke set up the team with a two-pronged attack in Ezra Forde and new loan signing from Stevenage Harry Draper. This strategy was an alteration that many fans had been calling for and Hitchin showed cojonés to be so bold against Stourbridge who had only lost twice all season.
Roared on by a raucous away following, Stourbridge struck against the run of play to open the scoring. Hitchin were more dominant in the opening exchanges, as the match followed a familiar pattern with the Canary’s early dominance dissipating as they fell behind.
However, Hitchin showed great resolve to fight their way back into the match. Loanee Draper assisted Isaac Galliford to rifle home a left footed shot. Draper showed his football league pedigree with the cute, cushioned lay off to talisman Galliford.
Draper’s signing could be the beginning of a bountiful relationship with North-Herts neighbours Stevenage FC. For years we have enjoyed a profitable relationship with Luton Town, benefitting from the loans of youngsters Kavan Cotter, Jack James, Toby Byron and many ex-Hatters youth players like Forde and Galliford. Combined with the previous presence on the coaching staff of Hatters’ legend Matt Spring and Top Field hosting the annual pre-season friendly against Luton, Hitchin have forged really strong ties with the Bedfordshire club.
With Stevenage being geographically even closer, as well as a rung nearer to Hitchin on the footballing pyramid, surely it was time that we tapped in the highly successful youth system at The Lamex stadium, and in the acquisition of Draper it looks like Burke has recognised that opportunity. Draper rubber stamped his impact on the match with the winner in a memorable debut as Hitchin triumphed against the odds 2-1.
Onto the equally testing tie at home to Kings Lynn, and the inclusion of Matt Lench in the Hitchin line up provided a welcome fillip on a frosty evening at Top Field. The presence of the long-haired, elegant midfielder generated a buzz around the club.
Draper was hugely influential once again, opening the scoring with a neat goal that illustrated his poacher’s instinct.
The conditions were treacherous as Top Field turned into an ice rink for the evening. The players needed ice skates on but Lench certainly had magic in his boots, his wing wizardry inspiring the Canaries as it has done on all of his appearance to date (4 wins and 2 draws).
Max Ryan made his full debut at right-back and it is pleasing to see another player with high quality pedigree representing Hitchin Town. Ryan was a professional at Watford until last season and it is encouraging to see him a Hitchin squad also featuring current or ex-professionals from Stevenage (Draper), Colchester (Noah Chesmain) and Luton (Galliford, Belgrove & Forde). As well as being a decent footballer, Ryan is also an accomplished singer-songwriter and it is to be hoped he can continue to get the Canaries singing, as they fly up the table.
For Hitchin’s second goal, Belgrove pounced on a Galliford cross after clever wide play. When Galliford and Lench are in the side, Hitchin have a twin wing threat that could be the equal of any team in this league. In the first half Hitchin put the Linnets to the sword. It begs the question, how on earth has this team struggled against relegation all season?
Whisper it quietly, but Hitchin are on fire. Perhaps it is the new dug-outs recently installed at Top Field that have somehow inspired the team! Two of the league’s promotion favourites have been solidly beaten in four days, and a slaloming run from Chesmain almost produced a third goal.
As the match wore on, the game descended into farce. First there was farcical defending – Galliford seized on a loose ball following very poor defending from the Linnet centre back who completely lost his footing on the skate-rink that Top Field was rapidly morphing into. It was real circus stuff at times.
After an unsavoury off-field incident, victory would be all the more sweet and it was sealed with a third goal from a clinical penalty by Jay Dowie. This 3-0 victory by 20th place over 3rd somewhat gave the impression that the league table may have been the wrong way round!
Up next was a trip to deepest Leicestershire and another “Bird Derby” as The Ravens of Coalville faced up against The Canaries. It would appear that the Southern League Central increasingly resembles an aviary!
Coalville boasted a quaint setting, with a compact pitch enclosed with small, modern stands and contemporary facilities set against a picturesque backdrop of tall trees and steep hills. The match began with Galliford thundering a shot that cannoned off the far post. This was a sign of continuing Hitchin confidence as they exerted pressure on the home side.
The long throw-in of Alfie Cue could be a vital attacking weapon, particularly with the proficiency in the air of Draper and centre backs Dan Webb and Lewis Ferrell, who are always hungry for a goal up from the back.
After a positive start, Hitchin lamentably fell behind to an unfortunate own goal from Ryan, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. With the pressure now on, would they show resolve and fight back, or would they crumble? Could this ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ Hitchin side express the tough and gritty drive of the three recent wins or would they collapse like the seven successive losses?
A second goal conceded from a simple set-piece was a killer blow, coming just on the stroke of half time – highly demoralising for the hardy travelling faithful. Hitchin proceeded to huff and puff but could not blow the Coalville defensive door open. The Ravens proceeded to add two more sucker-punch goals to the scoreline. Despite a fine Galliford late consolation to reduced the deficit to 4-1, this was a flattening defeat for the Canaries who looked somewhat rusty after a two week break due to weather-induced postponements.
That makes it four losses and a draw from six away games this season for this particular travelling supporter. Maybe I should stay at home!
Yet the boys in yellow and green responded with two commendable victories against in the league away to Barwell and versus Royston in the semi-final of the Herts Charity Cup. Hitchin are now, once again, in a cup final (for the fourth season in a row) and this should not be dismissed despite the fact that the tournament starts at the quarter-final stage. Nonetheless, there is a trophy to play for and this should spur the team on in the league to ensure they reach those dizzyingly heady heights of mid-table!