Hitchin Town 2 St Ives Town 2
Evo-Stik League South Premier Division – 25/09/17
In spite of going in front twice, Ives will be the happier side to come away from this encounter with a share of the spoils as they survived a late Canaries onslaught to pick up their first point on the road since their opening day success at Weymouth.
With the very short turn around between this match and Saturdays defeat at Farnborough it may be considered a little surprising that manager Ricky Marheineke made only three changes of personnel in his starting eleven. Brett Longden, Danny Kelly and Phil Draycott replaced Jordan Jarrold, Dubi Ogbonna and Ben Seymour-Shove respectively with the latter trio all dropping to the bench, Equally important appeared to be positional changes which saw Tom McGowan dropping back to his favoured position just in front of the back four, Lewis Hilliard returning to a position on the right and Jimmy Hartley moving inside to play alongside Kelly.
Kelly and Hartley combined perfectly to put Ives in front in the first meaningful attack of the game in 12th minute. Charlie De’ath delivered a long free kick from inside his own half which Kelly cleverly chested down on the edge of the hosts box and Hartley swept the ball home through a crowd of players to beat keeper Michael Johnson low to his left.
The Canaries are also a team fairly low on confidence at the moment and it took them a while to recover from that early blow, but nine minutes later they managed to register their first effort on goal. Left back Ben Walster pinged an excellent cross field ball to pick out his opposite full back Kavan Cotter who had found space beyond Longden. Cotter took the ball down well and cut inside his marker before unleashing a rising drive that keeper James Goff did well to tip away high to his right. The hosts thought they had levelled from the resulting corner as the ball was knocked through to Jonny McNamara who poked it home from close range only to be denied by an assistant’s flag as Ives back line had got up quickly and left him offside.
McNamara went very close again five minutes later as he timed his run to perfection to get on the end of a ball threaded through the centre by Lucas Kirkpatrick. Fortunately Miles Smith had tracked his run and managed to get in sufficient challenge to ensure that although he flicked the ball past the advancing Goff it travelled inches outside the post.
The very mobile Hartley was still causing the Canaries back line problems and he was heavily involved in the visitors twice going close to doubling their advantage in a two minute spell around the 33 minute mark. In the first sortie he combined well with Hilliard down the right before receiving a pin point return pass from the silky midfielder and driving in a low cross which caused panic in the hosts defence with a sliced clearance from Lewis Rolfe almost putting in Phil Draycott.
Hartley and Hilliard combined with Kelly two minutes later to win a corner off the struggling Rolfe. In a pre-rehearsed routine Hilliard very cleverly positioned himself on the near post and then ran forward as if to receive a short corner forcing the man on the post to go with him. Draycott delivered the corner into the space at the near post where an under pressure Johnson spilled it. Fortunately for the Canaries it was a defender’s boot that hacked the loose ball clear before Ives could stab it home.
That concluded the meaningful action of the first half as Ives went in with a deserved lead. As expected the hosts came out for the second period reinvigorated and tore into the visitors from the off. The half was only ninety seconds old when Ives had a huge let off. Kirkpatrick drove at the heart of their defence before unleashing a powerful drive from 25 yards that deflected for a corner off Draycott. Another pre-rehearsed corner move saw the ball delivered low 15 yards from goal where Callum Donnelly met it perfectly hitting a screamer that ricochet away off Hilliard on the line. The Hitchin players and their fans behind the goal were all convinced that it struck the arm of the Ives man. But fortunately referee Alex Rayment and his assistant were both un-sighted and Ives breathed again.
The hosts continued to press forward in search of the equaliser and went close again in 51st minute as McNamara cut in from the right past Draycott and Longden. Fortunately for Ives the pitch a Hitchin is not quite as good as it used to be and McNamara’s pull back to Kirkpatrick took a bobble resulting in the Canaries man firing over from a very good position.
As has so often been the case this season when the pressure really starts to mount on the Ives defence it has cracked and this happened again in 53rd minute as Jack Green somehow managed to pick out McNamara with a ball through the centre of the Ives back line. McNamara managed to hold off the challenge of Longden before cleverly clipped the ball past Goff to level things up.
The Canaries should have gone in front four minutes later a quick throw from Cotter on the right picked out Callum Donnelly in space. He had time to size up his cross and picked out his brother Brett at the far post. Brett Donnelly rose well and looked like he must score, but in trying to direct his header from six yards back past the athletic Goff he only succeeded in putting it over the top.
That miss seemed to take the wind out of the Canaries wings, or perhaps they were simply having a breather. But Ives seized the initiative back and enjoyed a brief purple patch. James Hall had replaced the limping Kelly early in the second half and he went very close to restoring Ives lead just after the hour. A Draycott corner from the right deflected off a defender to arrive at the feet of Hall beyond the far post. He had time to take a touch but unfortunately hammered his right foot effort straight at keeper Johnson who parried the stinging effort away.
Having gone close once Ives continued to push forward and restored their lead with a spectacular header five minutes later. Full back Longden surged forward on the overlap down the left and delivered an inviting hanging cross twelve yards out. Peter Clark met the ball perfectly with a powerful header that flew in the top corner and in spite of keeper Johnson getting a good hand on it the momentum took the ball on into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
However the lead was only short lived as Hitchin equalised in 69th minute with the goal of the game. Cotter delivered a high hanging cross from the right that Goff did very well to punch clear under heavy pressure from friend and foe alike. The ball fell to Jay Dowie fully 35 yards from goal and he decided to try his luck only to find out it was certainly his day as he met the dropping ball perfectly with a dipping shot that arced like a missile to dip in just underneath Goff’s crossbar giving the young stopper absolutely no chance.
Having got back level for the second time the hosts now went in search of the winner and Goff did very well to save his side as Kirkpatrick picked out McNamara arriving at pace at the back of the Ives box and his first time effort from a narrow angle was deflected off the body of the Ives keeper. The resulting corner arrived at the feet of Green at the back post, but he prodded wide from a good position.
Although the Canaries were enjoying a lot of possession Ives were working very hard as a team to shut them down all over the park and prevent them building up a real head of steam. It took until added time before the hosts were able to carve out any more clear cut chances to win the game, but the five added minutes were very much nail biting stuff for those of us who have seen points slip away late in so many games this season.
It seemed that the entire five minutes were spent in and around Ives penalty area. In the first added minute substitute Connor Vincent rose highest at the far post to get on the end of a cross from the left, but fortunately he was stretching and only managed to steer his header wide.
As the added minutes rolled agonisingly by Ives players were putting their bodies on the line and in one scramble in the fourth added minute three shot were blocked at close range with McGowan and De’ath to the fore before the ball was finally hacked away.
The final action of the game may hopefully be a big turning point for our luck and our season as McNamara fired in a low shot from just inside the packed penalty area that looked like it was heading for the bottom corner and more heartache when it struck his fellow Canary Green and bounced wide. Games can certainly be decided on such fine margins, but can we take the momentum from this stroke of fortune and the very hard earned point it gained to take us forward into our continued tough run of fixtures.
Tom McGowan grabbed the man of the match award, but he was only one of many who put in that 110% necessary to earn our much deserved reward from this fixture. I am pleased to say that the recipient could have been anyone of the Ives players out there on the night.
Final Score : Hitchin Town 2 St Ives Town 2
Goals : Hartley 12, Clark 66
Supporters man of the match : Tom McGowan
St Ives team : Goff, Smith, Longden, De’ath (capt), Chaffey, McGowan, Hilliard (Seymour-Shove 83), Clark, Kelly (Hall 49), Hartley (Ogbonna 78), Draycott
Unused substitutes : Jarrold, Nicholls
Attendance : 325
Match report by Nigel Howlett. Photo by Louise Thompson