Sunday, 23 January 2011

Points Taken Away from Adders

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 23 January 2011 at Sheepy Road, Atherstone
Atherstone Town 1  Hitchin Town 3
Southern League D1 Central (Step 4)
Venue #367 after a hopping break of 11 days caused by an Ofsted inspection at my new place of work.  I rolled a 6 on a pentagonal trapezohedron to choose this from ten interesting fixtures.  I live in Hitchin so this is a rare chance for me to get off the fence of neutrality.
This match in one sentence
A straightforward win after an early fright for the league leaders, with more than a hint of slapstick because of the underfoot conditions.
This match summed up in the style of: an Ofsthop report
(The only reasonable choice for me this week – for my overseas readers, Ofsted is the government agency that inspects schools and childcare, so it seems only reasonable that I should invent Ofsthop for groundhoppers.)

Overall effectiveness: how good was the game? 3 (satisfactory)
Hitchin Town’s capacity for sustained improvement: 2 (good)

Main findings:
Hitchin Town is a good club.  This represents a continuation of the level of attainment from last season.  Written comments in the press and through fans’ forums confirm that observers are satisfied with recent progress.  Attendance is well above average.

What does the club need to do to improve further?
Ensure that automatic promotion is achieved this season at the expense of local rivals Arlesey Town.

Outcomes for individuals and groups
Three of the top five goalscoring individuals in the division are from the club.  This is because of an attacking style of play and a creative midfield team leading to a succession of chances that are finished well.  The defence, including the goalkeeper, is competent and has usually been effective enough to play its part in a number of handsome victories.

How effective is the provision?
Effective action was taken to secure the appointment of replacements for leavers at the end of last season, both in the playing and non-playing staff.  The teamwork is excellent and the level of banter both from players and spectators is good.  Players seem aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and there was no evidence of hangovers or excessive pie-eating during the inspection.

How effective are leadership and management?
The manager (Mr C Williams) has many years of service at the club although his promotion to the headship is recent.  His deputy (Mr M Burke) is similarly experienced and committed.  They make good use of opportunities to advise players on matters of positioning in language that they can understand.  Mr I Lewis will be further motivated by their thoughts on what will happen to him if he misses another gilt-edged heading opportunity.

Views of supporters
The club has met the needs of supporters by regularly banging in more goals than the opposition.  It is generally agreed that the club is better placed than at the same time last season, when a close race with Bury Town ended in disappointment.  Supporters, whilst enjoying the novelty of travel to new places in step 4, are now anxious to return to step 3 and a return to the Southern (or even Isthmian) Premier League.
So what?
Hitchin are 20 points clear of the team in third, and local rivals Arlesey are 13 points behind in second, but with two games in hand.  In some ways this was a meaningless fixture for Atherstone, who are voluntarily dropping to step 5 next season for financial reasons.  At the moment they sit just below mid-table.
The drama unfolds
Hitchin hit the sidenetting in the first minute and Ieuan Lewis missed what looked like an easy header.  However, Atherstone took the lead on 10 minutes with a neat finish from Simeon Smith, while defenders appealed for offside.  All I can say it that it must have been close.  0-1.

Hitchin’s keeper Martin Bennett then had to save well from Smith again before the equaliser.  Hitchin had already had a goal disallowed for offside before Zak Burke hit the back of the net after 25 minutes after good work by strike partner John Frendo.  1-1.

After 31 minutes, Howell’s neat through ball allowed man-of-the-match Burke in for a cool finish, and the rest of the half (as shown in the first two clips) comprised Hitchin attacks in the mud and sawdust.  1-2 at half-time.

After 55 minutes, with Atherstone under increasing pressure, a deft chip by Mark Smith allowed Louis Lee to crash a short-range volley into the top of the net.  Although Bennett was needed to make one more decent save, Hitchin came closest to scoring a fourth – Callum Donnelly hit the bar, for example – but they were probably guilty of over-elaborating in search of the hat-trick goal for Burke.  They played the last 15 minutes at training ground pace and were never seriously extended once they had the lead.  Final score 1-3.

The third and fourth clips, from later in the game, also capture the spectator telephone traffic between Atherstone and spies at Arlesey (who went behind to Barton Rovers before coming back for a win) and some banter with Atherstone’s giant goalkeeper, Courtney Belford.

Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Atherstone
Find eleven overpaid Premier League prima donnas and invite them to a game of “historic significance” in the town on Shrove Tuesday.  Technically, you would not be lying to them.  Just before kick-off (well, actually, the heavy leather ball is thrown down from a window on to the High Street) explain to them that they are up against hundreds of locals, there are no rules or goals (other than they cannot kill an opponent) and it’s quite understandable that traffic has been diverted and all the shop windows boarded up.

A snippet from the programme
Simeon Smith, at 27, is the elder statesman in the Atherstone side in the present circumstances, with the rest of the team lining up in the 19-21 range.  The programme says that he is, “fans favourite and top scorer.  The talisman striker is a handful for any defence.  Works tirelessly for the team on the pitch and is a great character in the dressing room and around the club.  Has had plenty of interest from other clubs but continues to stay loyal to the Adders’ cause.”
What next?
Hopefully back to normal routine and a midweek hop on Tuesday.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason, I love this ground. I made Two visits here in 1993 and again in 1995. At the earlier visit, I stood next to 'Paul Broadhurst' the local golfing legend.