St Ives Town 1 v Hitchin Town 2
Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central 16-12-2023
Nigel Howlett Reports
Ives battled long and hard to finally get their noses in front with twenty minutes to go only to be denied any reward from a game where their overall play certainly deserved something as Arnold Matshazi came up with two late goals in five minutes to snatch full reward for the high flying Canaries.
With both sides missing a few players due to the inevitable injuries and illness that come along at this time of the season and both keen to get back on track after recent defeats in games where they would have hoped to get some return the expected cagy opening was exactly what we got.
Things could have been a little different though had ex Ives man Jack Snelus converted the only decent chance in those first twenty minutes. The opportunity came very early, only three minutes in, when Snelus dropped off his marker at the back post to get a free header onto Kye Tearle’s deep cross. But fortunately Benji Mensah got his body in the way of the effort to deflect the ball wide of the post.
The next noteworthy attempt at goal by either side did not arrive until 17th minute when Mensah was brought down wide right by Layne Eadie. Myles Cowling’s free kick to the near post was met by the head of Michael Richens but like Snelus’s earlier effort the ball was deflected wide off a well placed defender.
The first save for either keeper came only moments later at the other end as the Canaries broke quickly from the resulting corner. Matshazi managed to turn Luke Harris in midfield before teeing up Isaac Galliford whose 25 yard effort dipped and swerved on its way towards goal forcing Eddie Brearey into a flying save high to his left. Brearey’s opposite number Charlie Horlock was called into his first meaningful action two minutes later, diving to his right to clutch onto Richens well struck drive from distance.
Another Ives corner led to panic in the Canaries box in 21st minute. Stephen Gleeson swung a boot at the ball as it bounced around the box and was fortunate to see his attempted clearance ricochet off a team mate and drift across the face of goal with no one on hand to force it home. The closest that Ives came to opening their account in the first period was ten minutes before the break when Cowling’s corner was fed back to him giving the midfielder chance to side step his man and curl a left footer inches wide of the far post.
Each side had one more noteworthy attempt on goal before the half time whistle. Richens fired a 25 yard free kick over the visitors wall, but also over the crossbar in 37th minute and seconds before the break Matshazi fired well over the top from just inside the box after being fed in by Gleeson at the end of a flowing move which started with a good advantage being played by referee Haydn Lavender.
Ives started the second half the brighter of the two sides with their two Cambridge United loanees combining to go close five minutes after the re-start. Dan Barton burst through the centre on one of his trademark jinking runs before feeding the ball to Brandon Njoku who fired inches wide from just outside the box. There were claims for a handball outside the box against Horlock two minutes later as the keeper rushed forward to block Barton’s attempt to flick the ball over him at point blank range right on the edge of his area.
The Canaries responded to the Ives powerful start to the second half and game then opened up a little more with chances starting to appear at both ends of the park. Toby Syme found a little space beyond the back post to get on the end of Gleeson’s 58th minute corner but Jonny Edwards back defending did very well to divert his header back into the mix away from danger. With most of the visitor’s threat coming from dead ball situations conceding a free kick only inches outside the box brought real danger for Ives. A clever Canaries free kick saw the ball shifted sideways to give Tearle chance to get his shot away but Cowling was alert to the danger and closed down and blocked the effort.
At the other end a 64th minute Richens free kick looked like the perfect inviting delivery, but somehow the ball evaded everyone as it flashed along the six yard line and away to safety. Ives went even closer in 68th minute as once again Horlock had a lucky escape as he rushed from his line to block an Edwards effort at point blank range right on the edge, or maybe just outside, his box. But once more the claims for handball against the keeper were waved away.
But Ives only had to wait three more minutes to finally get the goal that they deserved, although it came in bizarre fashion courtesy of Canaries centre back Stan Georgiou who met Dan Barton’s low cross from the right perfectly at the near post to side foot the ball high into the net past his startled keeper from eight yards. Now in front the question was could the hosts consolidate and possibly build on that lead. They had a half chance to add to it only ninety seconds later with Barton again scampering through the midfield to tee up Njoku but the usually deadly striker had not got his radar right today and his effort from just outside the box flew high and wide.
Having previously mentioned that the Canaries looked most threatening from dead ball situations sure enough it was from just such an opportunity that they got level in 75th minute Galliford delivered a free kick from the left deep beyond the far post where Syme won the header and knocked the ball down into the mix for Matshazi to sweep it home from close range.
Having looked a beaten side only a few minutes earlier suddenly the visitors looked the more likely to claim all three points. It took a very well timed tackle from Richens to prevent Matshazi putting them in front two minutes later. But the vibrant Canaries number seven was not to be denied for long and it was he who ghosted in to nod home Galliford’s perfectly flighted clip to the back post with ten minutes to go.
Ives pushed hard in the remaining time to get themselves at least a point from the game but it was not to be with Njoku and Edwards both failing to hit the target with efforts from the edge of the box. The former being set up well with a ball pulled back from the bye line by Paddy Casey and the latter teed up by substitute Khris Oti.
The Canaries complete their double over Ives and remain in fourth place eleven places above their hosts who are now on a three game losing run following their six game winning streak that had boosted them up the table. With the only game ahead of the Christmas and New Year fixtures being a trip to third placed Leamington the squad now need to dig deep and show their character to swiftly get back to winning ways.
Final Score: St Ives Town 1 Hitchin Town 2
ST IVES: Georgiou 71 (own goal)
HITCHIN: Matshadzi 75, 80
Team Line Ups:
ST IVES: Brearey, Mensah (Joyce 80), Harris (Hottor 89), Richens (capt), Williams, Casey, Barton, Cowling, Edwards, Njoku, Tessler (Oti 89) Unused subs: none
HITCHIN: Horlock (capt), Tearle, Eadie, Syme, Emovon, Georgiou, Matshazi, Gleeson, Snelus (Wilkinson 70), Galliford, Freeman (Thomas 89), Unused subs: Bell, Jolley, Idiakhoa
Cards: Yellow: ST IVES: Edwards (50), Williams (66) HITCHIN: Thomas (90+4)
SPONSORS MAN OF THE MATCH: Myles Cowling