After the chastening 8-1 defeat at Needham Market and some other poor results, in recent weeks Hitchin Town have begun to show some green (and yellow) shoots of recovery. This positivity began with the 1-0 home win against Redditch.
Ezra Forde was a bundle of energy and ebullient enthusiasm up front for the Canaries in their first league victory of the season. He appears to be better suited to the no 9 role than Elliot Bailey, who is perhaps more of a no 10 or second striker. Forde has greater pace in his armoury to stretch defences, along with more physicality to hold the ball up.
Bailey visibly suffered from his penalty miss against Redditch and, after his long-term injury last season having been superb when netting 14 goals for the club by January, he deserves the support of the Canary faithful. Perhaps his place should be coming from the bench to impact games in the latter stages, until his confidence has been restored somewhat.
Wideman Isaac Galliford conducted some mesmerising wing play in the Redditch game and showed that rare ability to beat a man. Along with Forde and forward Scott Belgrove, Galliford is one of a number of Canaries with links to the Luton Town Academy and it is to be hoped that Hitchin Town continue to benefit from this relationship, after the successful loan spells of Kavan Cotter and Jack James from the Hatters last season.
Captain Dan Webb scored the winner versus Redditch and he maintains remarkable leadership qualities form the back. He netted his 30th club goal in the win and, with such recent profligacy from our forwards, goals from defenders particularly at set pieces have been vital to the cause.
Only the frame of the goal (twice) and the offside flag (twice) stopped the margin of victory being greater against Redditch in Hitchin’s most complete performance of the season so far. Arguably just as important as the 3 points was the clean sheet, after some of the early cricket score results.
Onto the local derby against Biggleswade Town, and Mark Burke again employed Forde up top as the lone front man. Forde ploughed a lone furrow with diligence and enthusiasm. If he can add the goalscoring witnessed in preseason, he can perhaps be the all-round no 9 Hitchin so vitally need. He covers ground really well and this is a prerequisite for a lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 system currently favoured by the management.
With the enclave of ex-Canaries descending upon Biggleswade Town (6 at last count), Hitchin v Biggleswade Town this season really is a mouth watering prospect. There was an edge to the fixture, no doubt exacerbated by the presence in The Waders line-up of the talismanic Brett Donnelly. Webb and Lewis Ferrell did well to placate the livewire Donnelly at Langford Road, but the return to Top Field in December is sure to be a spicy affair with local bragging rights up for grabs. Donnelly made a fantastic contribution to the club during his time at Hitchin and it is sure that on his return to Top Field he will receive the reception he deserves. If not, I am sure he will otherwise delight in the role of ‘pantomime villain’.
After an assist against Redditch on debut, left-back Noah Chesmain continued to impress against The Waders. His sweet left foot is a welcome addition to the squad, and his precise distribution is indicative of a player hailing from League Two Colchester United. A regular feature in his appearances so far has been the arc emanating from Noah’s left foot aimed with pinpoint accuracy into the danger area, seeking a Canary head. The sooner the club can extend Chesmain’s temporary loan deal the better.
On the other side of the pitch, the driving runs and boundless energy of right-back Macsen Fraser have been one of the brighter elements of this nascent season. The buccaneering full back has been one of the main attacking outlets in the side, particularly when Burke currently appears to favour utilising the natural width provided by Trey Charles only as a substitute.
Striker Charlie Thake showed in the two recent cup-ties that he is the only genuine out and out target man in the squad. He has a physical presence and no lack of awareness. His sweeping cross in the Southern League Cup lead to Charles almost finding the net as he unfortunately struck the post.
Thake should be an option off the bench at least, as he offers a direct presence and a threat at goal, evidenced by his majestic strike in the dying moment of the Godmanchester Rovers FA Cup match. With the width on offer in the squad from Charles, Galliford and Jack Green, the option of a tall, powerful no 9 to meet their crosses is tantalising for Canary fans.
After the recent loss of Lucas Kirkpatrick to Biggleswade, the return of Jay Dowie to first team contention has come as a welcome fillip to Burke’s side. Dowie has an excellent engine and runs through brick walls for the cause. Whilst Kirkpatrick’s defection was disappointing, ultimately, the team should be well stocked enough in midfield to cope.
The Godmanchester Rovers win can have a galvanising effect on the team. As well as the significant £6,000 prize fund, a late comeback victory is a classic recipe for improving team morale. Hitchin trailed 1-0 in the 86th minute, so to complete the turnaround into a 3-1 victory must revitalise everyone at the club.
Thake’s persistence and willingness came good against Rovers, as his cross created the second goal and he finished adroitly for the third. He has a ferocious left footed shot and is dominant in the air. His aerial prowess was in evidence as the Godmanchester goalkeeper tipped over a powerful first half effort.
The introduction from the bench of Scott Belgrove added greater urgency to Hitchin’s play. He is a diminutive figure but is full of bustling power and clever ball play. Belgrove built on his midweek Southern League Cup man of the match performance with his first goal for the club against Godmanchester and, at this rate, certainly deserves a start in the league.
A notable absence from the recent starting line-ups has been the elusive Trey Charles. His left foot acts as a magnet to the ball as he cuts in off the right flank and engages with defenders. Charles never appears to sulk or moan when he does not make the starting line up, and his fine attitude should be rewarded with a key role in the team. His recent performances on the pitch deserve this responsibility. Charles can be the dynamic winger that sparks Hitchin’s season into life.
With progress in the Herts Charity Cup, the Southern League Cup and finally the FA Cup, set against a backdrop of indifferent league form, Hitchin look set to again be more of a cup team this season. This in itself can still make for some excitement for Canaries fans, as witnessed by last season’s Southern League Cup success. Ultimately though, it is to be hoped that the team can take the boost of FA Cup progress and another home tie against Didcot on 22nd September into their league form. Beginning with the home match against Alvechurch this weekend, Hitchin must get back to winning ways in the league.
BY NICK KELSALL