Match report

Tiverton Town 3 - 1 Hitchin Town

   Saturday 21/02/2009   Southern League Premier Division
Alan Reidy

A thought occurred to me whilst in preparation to write this match report, and it questioned my own integrity, my own honesty, and my own ability to convey a game of football through the written word without undue bias. That thought, which – let's be honest – didn't stop me in my tracks for too long, was whether or not admitting the referee was wrong in your own favour gave rise to a more impartial take on proceedings. After all, it is very well that I can say that Saturday's officials didn't know their offsides from their elbows but that does little to appease the Hitchin Townsfolk who would have chosen a far stronger combination of opposites when attempting to describe Mr. Grenfell from Penzance and his merry wing commanders. So alas, after three-quarters of a paragraph of soul-searching I defer to 'business-as-usual', and if you disagree with my take then both Tivvy and Hitchin have messageboards where you can lambast 'til your heart's content.

The initial excitement surrounding the game between Tiverton Town and Hitchin Town was contrasted at either extremity of the nation – on the west side Tiverton were able to choose from a fully fit squad for the first time since time immemorial, although Danny O'Brien wasn't in the frame having been farmed out to Bideford in search of match fitness, joining Tom Knighton on the "Absent-with-Leave" list. Over to the east Hitchin were in a phase of rebuilding, perhaps for the third or fourth time in the past couple of seasons, and second-guessing the team they would put out would be akin to predicting the lucky six lotto numbers three weeks on the bounce.

Tivvy took the safe road; Mike Booth returned from suspension and took over Arran Pugh's midfield slot, but otherwise the Yellows were unchanged from the side that scarped past Bashley a week earlier. Hitchin surprised the majority by only making two changes from Tuesday evening's fine draw against Corby Town – Ieuan Lewis returned from injury while Des Boateng was promoted from the bench, Tom Davis and Chris Doyle stepping aside. And the marginal advantage in continuity may have been considered one of the defining factors of a lively opening period as the home side showed far more adventure and intent when in possession, all the while looking solid defensively. As early as the third minute Tivvy earned the first corner of the game when Bobby Hopkinson and Paul Jarvis combined to release Jamie Mudge, only for the striker to ram his cross into the legs of the guarding Boateng.

Hopkinson's kick from the flag amounted to nothing but Tiverton were not disheartened and continued to control the tempo of the game. When the Canaries from Hertfordshire did gain time they had little space, and when there was space there was seldom much time. Mark Barnes, curiously thrown out wide on the right tried his heart out but Paul Jarvis and Tom Gardner combined to match his number, while poor Jeff Hammond up front was fighting like a mouse against the giants of men that were Nathan Rudge and Matt Villis. Elsewhere, Mark E'Beyer was trying to play the captain's innings, trying to pull strings, but he showed his tendency to drift infield, and with that tendency went any threat he may have offered.

After twelve minutes of little other than probing and feeling out it was Tivvy that finally made a breakthrough; a route one concept carried out with such meticulous accuracy and timing that it appeared to be full of quality. Villis chipped a free kick from just inside his own half forward with Phil Walsh the target. Level one was passed as the forty yard pass hit the mark; and level two was easy as Walsh rose and flicked a header backwards, into the penalty area. Level three should have involved Mudge racing onto the flick, but for reasons undetermined Mudge was elsewhere and Booth was the active player, stealing in behind the last line of the Hitchin defence. One glance, one touch to lift the ball over the hapless Luke Woods in the Hitchin goal, and one-nil to Tiverton, just like that.

The seconds hand barely had time for a full rotation after the restart before Walsh could have doubled the Tiverton advantage. Mudge and Booth, both together at the heart of everything good that came from the Yellows in the first half once again combined, and the latter cut back a low cross from the right that arrived at Walsh's feet sooner that he might have expected. The result was a hurried shot that pulled wide of Woods' right post, but the promise of a real attacking Tivvy threat had already won over the crowd. On they pushed, and Jamie soon drifted the breadth of the baize to tantalise Dean Smith and inswing a cross into the area that Walsh headed a couple of yards wide of the mark.

Hitchin's first meaningful venture into the territory otherwise known as the Swimming Pool End caused some commotion as E'Beyer's corner was only half cleared to the edge of the area. A quick bit of ping and pong later and Ollie Thorne eventually sidefooted a straight ball high towards the goalmouth. Hammond defied the laws of physics and gravity to get to the high ball ahead of Rudge, but with his back perfectly to goal there was little he could do other than flick it off his cranium and hope for the best. His best was to take the pace off the ball and send it comfortably into the waiting hands of Steve Book.

Boateng had a half chance after picking up on a throw-in on the right but his poked shot went harmlessly wide, and the same player rasped a drive a couple of yards over the crossbar after he had nicked the ball off Rudge, caught in the act of trying to walk the ball out of defence rather that sending it to the heavens. And that was about as good as it got for Hitchin in the first half, and the closing twenty minutes of the period belonged to Tivvy. Hitchin had been allowed their ten minutes and made little from it; now it was back to the other end of the pitch.

Mudge scooped a shot well over the top having been the only one awake as Hopkinson took a quick free kick, but the very next attacking move of the game saw Tiverton double their advantage, deservedly so on the balance of play. Adam Faux had drifted across from his wide berth on the right and found the angles to send Jarvis away alongside the clubhouse. A couple of touches and a quick sprint later and Jarvis lashed in a cross so perfect it deserved a striker of Arian quality on the other end. Walsh obliged, leaving Jon Munday for dead in the aerial exchange and powering a header into the top corner of the net.

Tiverton led two to nothing, but Jarvis was caught in the art of delivery, or perhaps the art of legging it down the wing, the poor chap's hamstring passed out in sympathy. He would struggle on for a while as the knowledgeable Mark Saunders begged the bench to take him off, and eventually the wish was granted with Alex Faux providing a tailor-made deputy. What happened then is between manager and player, but suffices to say that manager was less than happy with player declaring himself fit, and then breaking down a little over a third into the match. Martyn Rogers stated his case to his charge in full view of all, carefully keeping his voice reasonably low, and ventriloquising when necessary. Rogers is stubborn and Jarvis is courteous; this isn't anything to get ruffled about.

The first half was drawing to a close. Tiverton had been well on top for the majority, never looked like conceding, and led by two goals. The last thing Hitchin needed if they had any realistic hopes of forcing their way back into contention was a dubious award of a penalty against them. And frankly it wasn't coming; that is until Hopkinson burst into the area and hit the deck while shielding the ball from the attentions of Munday. Out went the ball, over the line for a goal kick… or not! From nowhere the referee curiously awarded Tiverton a penalty and Mudge was in no sympathetic mood as he belted the ball to Woods' right, high enough that the Hitchin custodian was short of reach if not short of willing.

The embryonic stages of the second half saw the visitors rejuvenated after their half time cup of whatever they drink, and the synergy that existed in the Tiverton team rapidly deserted. There was symmetry though, with the Faux's of Alex and Adam now occupying the flanks, and neither afforded the opportunity to maraud forward with the freedom that Jarvis had found. Indeed it was Hitchin that began to make an increasing impression, and Walsh dropped deep to punt away from the goalmouth after Book had fumbled Jon Stevenson's free kick. That was when the second half was just two minutes old, and a few rotations later we had a game on our hands. Villis failed to clear when he had enough time, and the busy Hammond nipped in like a vulture to rob the Town defender and hit the by-line before pulling back a cross. That cross fell invitingly and delightingly to Iuean Lewis who was left with the relatively easy task of side-footing the ball into an empty net from six yards.

Ollie Thorne nodded a deep E'Beyer free kick softly wide and Hitchin's tactics took a turn for the more direct, and the ineffectual Barnes, who had moved to a more advance position at the start of the second half was replaced by Russell Bull just twelve minutes after the restart. Moments later a brace of openings for the Canaries both failed to bear fruit, and strangely they both arrived in a similar manner. Mark Saunders headed half clear after fifty-nine minutes, and the loose ball was collected by Hammond who then performed a double pirouette with tuck and pike before shanking one over. Barely sixty seconds later Saunders again failed to get full purchase on a headed clearance, and this time E'Beyer dragged a low attempt too far to the side.

Almost out of the blue, although one must expect such things when a team has their collective tail up, Tom Pepper made a burst from defence that Laurent Blanc in his prime would have been proud of. Unfortunately for Pepper he was met by the industrial yet decisive tackles of Tom Gardner from his right and Adam Fax from his left, and the danger was snuffed out. And the danger was further dampened two minutes later when Bull, who had been on the pitch for less than ten minutes, threw himself into a needless challenge with Nathan Rudge. The Tiverton captain was always going to be first to the ball, Bull, perhaps frustrated at the situation, launched in with studs showing. Whether we like it or not, according to the rule book that one was a red card. It is a shame as we had enjoyed a competitive game played in good spirit, and Bull's one moment deprived the supporters of four percent of their money's worth!

On the other hand, while Bull walked knowingly and sheepishly from the field of play, the remaining green shirted Hitchin players galvanised and forged their best chance of the game besides the goal, only to witness Book roll back the years (and the generations) to pull off an awe-inspiring double save from Boateng. The Canaries midfielder will probably think he should have scored at the first attempt but Book did well to spread his arms. The rebound was in anyone's court – Boateng was there first but Book scrambled up and to his left to cover the angle at the near post and somehow bat the ball behind for a corner kick.

Gradually, slowly but surely, the numbers game came into effect. Hitchin had tried gallantly and valiantly to reverse a deficit, but the more they pressed with a man down the more Tiverton were able to exploit the space left behind, and the Yellows should have sealed the victory in the closing stages. Hopkinson and Saunders played a swift one-two with the former setting Walsh on his way to belt a shot that Woods palmed off to his left. A similarly swift move a few minutes later saw Woods in action yet again this time saving with his legs from Walsh, but in the build up Hopkinson had be sliced to ground by Thorne, earning the Hitchin defender a yellow card that most people missed.

A third counter once again was not converted but went to indicate the threat Tivvy can offer; Mudge backflipped a pass to Hopkinson, made into space and received a return pass but could only chip the ball over the advancing Woods and agonisingly wide of the far post. There was time for one final counter while Hitchin poured personnel forward, and as Hopkinson forced his way towards the corner looking for the snack bar Thorne once again came in with a mistimed tackle. Two yellows in this game equal a red, a dismissal that Thorne took acceptingly and in the spirit in which the game had been played. It wasn't a game of two red cards, of that there is no doubt. It also wasn't a game of a penalty, but it was a game that Tiverton deserved to win by a couple of goals, so despite the apparent favouritism shown by the officials from that crazy Celtic land they call Kernow I don't truly believe many will have issues with the result. The match officials on the other hand… well, we all have problems with them, always!


Tiverton Town: Steve Book; Adam Faux, Paul Jarvis (Alex Faux 43), Matt Villis, Nathan Rudge, Tom Gardner, Mike Booth, Bobby Hopkinson, Phil Walsh (Paul Wyatt 84), Mark Saunders (Glenn Gould 86), Jamie Mudge
Goals: Booth 12, Walsh 33, Mudge 45
Booked: Booth76
Sent off: None

Hitchin Town: Luke Woods; Tom Pepper (Paul Marks 80), Dean Smith, Jonathan Munday, Ollie Thorne, Des Boateng, Ieuan Lewis, Mark E'Beyer, Jeff Hammond, Mark Barnes (Russell Bull 57), Jonathan Stevenson
Goals: Lewis 53
Booked: Thorne 83, 90
Sent off: Bull 66, Thorne 90

Attendance: 375


This report ©2009 Alan Reidy






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