Monday, 2 May 2011

High Tension at HT FC

The official crowd size at the game v Arlesey was over 1500

Hopperational details
Top Field, Hitchin
Southern League Division One (Central) – Step 4
Final league game, play-off semi-final and final
Dates & Results
Monday 25 April -  Hitchin Town 0 Arlesey Town 1
Thursday 28 April – Hitchin Town 4 Slough Town 1
Monday 2 May – Hitchin Town 2 Daventry Town 0
I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Top Field (shocking, eh?) so no addition to the lifetime list.
These matches in one sentence each
Arlesey Town came through a controversial end to the season and deservedly won a match and the title before poor behaviour by certain players left a bad taste for spectators after the final whistle.
Hitchin Town recovered in the semi-final and despatched Slough Town with a convincing display of attacking football in the second half.
Hitchin Town scored two excellent goals against Daventry Town but needed some help from the woodwork in defence in keeping a clean sheet which ensured a relatively calm and untroubled promotion win against gallant opponents.
So what?
Arlesey and Hitchin Town will play their football in the step 3 Southern Premier League next season.
The drama unfolds
A lot has been written both locally and nationally about the Hitchin v Arlesey game, so I will be brief.  For readers outside Herts & Beds, these two clubs have a rivalry that now borders on the unhealthy.  In recent seasons the drift of players has been towards Bedfordshire, and allegedly budget-driven.  Even I recognised five ex-Hitchin names on the Arlesey teamsheet.

The first clip sets the scene.

The game started well for Hitchin.  They took the game to the visitors, whose goalkeeper Richard Hayward needed lengthy treatment after colliding with the post.  The game, in a swirling breeze, gradually turned into a stop-start affair with a few yellow cards shown too.  Nevertheless, the score of 0-0 at half-time felt comfortable enough – Hitchin were the more threatening and of course, a point would give them the title.

Arlesey upped their game in the second half, and Hitchin could not respond.  The goal came in the 70th minute from Stuart Sinclair and was no surprise, as after the break the game had been played largely in Hitchin’s half.  0-1  After the goal, Hitchin resorted more to crossing from deep, and Derek Brown and Ryan Frater put in colossal performances at centre-back.  Hayward sealed the win by touching a shot on to the post and that was as close as Hitchin came in front of a quietly-resigned crowd of 1500.  Final score 0-1

The second clip shows a disallowed goal for Hitchin from the second half.

On the whistle, I saw David Deeney’s disgraceful run towards and posturing in front of the Hitchin supporters.  I did not see the alleged insults by Arlesey players towards Hitchin and league officials.  Let’s try to summarise objectively:
  • Did Arlesey deserve their points deduction? Probably, yes.
  • Did Arlesey’s management believe that Hitchin officials had caused the charges to be brought?  Probably not.
  • Had Arlesey’s players been led to believe that Hitchin officials had been involved in deciding the points deduction? Possibly.
  • Did Arlesey deserve to win this particular game, and therefore the title?  Yes.
  • Do any of the circumstances excuse David Deeney for his actions?  No.
  • Have Arlesey’s management apologised for the behaviour of their players? Yes.
  • Has the Southern League explained why its committee unanimously agreed to Arlesey’s request to delay the announcement of the decision until after the penultimate round of league games? Not yet.
Slough Town arrived a few days later for the playoff semi-final.  Hitchin again started well with some neat attacking football but after 32 minutes they seemed to be caught out by a long throw from the left by Sean Sonner.  It sailed to the far post where ‘keeper Martyn Bennett could only flap at it.  When the ball came back in, Danny Burnell was in the right place.  0-1

The controversial equaliser came before half-time.  Callum Donnelly pushed the ball past Danny Murphy in the area and ran at him – the overhit ball was heading out of play.  The referee’s assistant deemed that Murphy had put out his arm and therefore fouled the attacker.  Here is what happened when John Frendo put the ball on the spot.

Unlucky for keeper Rob Bullivant.  1-1 at half-time  Hitchin came flying out of the blocks in the second half.  Nevertheless there was an element of good fortune initially about the second goal after 53 minutes as a quick throw out from Bullivant was lost in midfield.  Zak Burke made space and the finish from about 25-30m was superb.  2-1  Only 7 minutes later John Frendo was on hand to volley home his second of the evening from Burke’s assist.  3-1  Even with the two-goal margin the home side kept counter-attacking and they added a fourth in the 83rd minute through substitute Jamie Arlick.  Not much went right for Slough in a reversal of last year’s result from the same stage, but this was a handsome win.  Final score 4-1

The first real chance of the playoff final fell to Daventry Town after 12 minutes on another bright but breezy afternoon at Top Field.  The immediate reaction of the Daventry Town players was hands-to-the-head, feeling that they had been unlucky with the bounce of the ball, and we were to see such gestures many times more during this match.  The near-miss seemed to spark Hitchin into action, and they played their best on-the-ground approach football in the latter stages of the first half, with the advantage of the wind.  It was important that they should get a first-half lead, and Ieuan Lewis set up Frendo for a great finish after 39 minutes.  The clip is from the first-half, before the goal.  1-0 at half-time

Zak Burke was replaced by Jamie Arlick early in the second half, and Hitchin lived dangerously on several occasions.  However, they still looked dangerous going forward with the ball at feet and when Lewis was fouled on the left wing, Dean Gilbert found space from the resulting free-kick to plant a near-post header low into the net for a two-goal margin.  2-0

Gilbert rises to meet the ball for the crucial second goal
 When Daventry Town hit the bar and the post within seconds of each other after 68 minutes, you felt that this was going to be Hitchin’s day.  One save from Martyn Bennett was astonishing (he would not have realised the whistle was about to be blown for an infringement).  In the end, the home side were able to see out the last 15 minutes or so in relative comfort, and even had a chance or two on the break.  Final score 2-0

A snippet from the programme – a joint publication for the three games
“David Deeney (Arlesey Town) was a popular figure at Hitchin…”
Given that this was written before the game, this must be The Best Prophetic Use of The Past Imperfect Tense in 2010-11.
What I learned over the three matches
That the name David Deeney and the word “sportsmanship” should never be used in the same sentence again unless the words “no trace of” and “in his mentality” are also present.  Like many in Hitchin, I will be looking to see what action Arlesey take once the dust has settled.
What Next?
Hopefully a Tuesday evening hop, but venue will depend on travel and traffic.

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