City will feel this was a good away point gained as they held the
high-flying canaries of Hitchin in an open and entertaining 2-2
draw that could have seen either side snatch all the points amid
some desperate last ditch defending on a difficult sticky pitch.
The Gloucester side may have lacked a little of the strength and
composure that saw them to victory
at King's Lynn in the week, but this was a City side that retained
much of that zest and commitment to gain a valuable and hard earned
point. The unlikely hero in front of goal was the rejuvenatedAlex
Sykes who is at last convincing the City fans of his talent
and is enjoying his football to such an extent he even popped up
at the far post to score the crucial second with his head.
Again City looked like they were set-up primarily to frustrate
Hitchin and then harry them on the break. It all seemed to go well
in the opening minutes with early Hitchin crosses being hoofed away
and Sykes finding his range with a dangerously dipping 30 yard effort
from a free kick. However things then went horribly awry as Ollie
Barnes sloppily surrendered possession and Carl Williams broke
quickly down our left and delivered a deep cross to the far post
where Chris Dillon was able to bundle the ball in from close range
despite the desperate close attentions of the recovering Barnes.
With City a goal behind early on it was always going to be interesting
to see how the City tactics would change to respond. Despite the
lone man up front this is a fluid formation that seems to suit many
of our attack minded midfielders and City were quickly picking up
far more of the ball and stretching a Hitchin side that didn't seem
anywhere near as clever under pressure. City pulled level courtesy
of a good Welsh header from a long ball that fell neatly into the
path of Jamie Reid as he ran in from the right flank. Reid did well
to scamper clear of the defence and tricked his way past the floundering
keeper, but having done the tricky bit so well he then fluffed his
shot and planted it onto the post. He must have been the happiest
player on the pitch as Alex Sykes
anticipated well and was in support to run in and reached the rebound
first, putting the ball into the empty goal from close range.
Things were to get better for City as they exerted real pressure
and the Canaries began to squeak. A good move between Mustoe and
Noakes led to a Sykes cross that was only half cleared and Reid
went close with a fierce drive from the edge of the box. However
City were rocked when centre-forward Jason
Welsh was felled after a clash of heads with Hitchin defender
Stuart Hammonds. The Non-League Paper's columnist emerged
with a bandaged head wound but Welsh was carried off on a stretcher.
After initial concerns post-match reports are a little more positive
and it seems that Welsh should be available again in around a week
after having stitches to a cut on the head.
Jimmy Cox came off the bench to act as the new forward focus for
the City attack, and adapted very well to the role showing hopeful
signs of his improving form and fitness with a performance that
was peppered with some good runs and sharp movement that caused
the Hitchin defence real problems. A good Cox run from a Mustoe
pass saw Tom Webb have a chance to send a cross shot high and wide,
but although there were further good crosses from Reid and Mustoe
neither found anyone in the box to make the crucial finish. However
you could sense a City goal was due and it came when someone finally
gambled on getting to the far post. It was another smart cross from
Reid on the right and it was met by Alex
Sykes who was slightly underneath the header but got it just
right to loop the ball over the keeper but under the bar. Judging
by his reaction it may just be the first header Syko's ever scored.
Hitchin came at City far more in the second half but although we
were sometimes living on our nerves we defended with at least some
pride. we showed some spirit not to collapse after the disappointment
of the Hitchin equaliser that saw Dillon again on target from close
range as he diverted in a low shot from Josh Sozzo. We could have
edged back into the lead as City picked up a free kick after Jimmy
Cox's run down the middle led him being sandwiched by home skipper
Liam Folds who was booked for a pretty cynical block. He almost
paid the price too as Sykes nearly sealed a hatrick with a dipping
drive that slammed back off the Hitchin cross bar. Reid was first
to the rebound and nearly netted the rebound but his shot was into
a crowded goalmouth and seemed to hit Jimmy Cox on the back.
City's later efforts were more limited with an Ollie Barnes our
best effort. However the City support was happy enough to see the
team ride out the last 20 minutes as our defending was required
to be more desperate on a very heavy, boggy and draining pitch.
Neil Mustoe made a fine block
in the penalty box while Matt Bath made a great diving save to keep
out a Deeney short from distance. Chris Thompson made another good
block at the far post to clear from nearly the goal line as were
starting to look a little uneasy. Only luck prevented any attackers
getting a finishing touch to a low drilled cross that whistled along
the face of the City goal, but a sharp-eyed linesman was to be thanked
for ruling out what Hitchin thought was another late winner for
T-Ender Match Snaps
After Tuesday's success there was little pressure on Tim Harris
to change the side and the only change was enforced, with Tom
Hamblin missing Shabir Khan
came into the defence.
"Accept Bank Holidays" -sign on the Hitchin perimeter
You can only imagine there is a sustained campaign intolerant
of public holidays somewhere in North Hertfordshire.
The general system
did well to survive the loss of Jason Welsh and the midfield did
well to support Cox as a lone striker lacking in the same height
and strength, but the loss of Khan with a groin problem left us
a defender short and although Thommo filled in well we did get put
under a lot more pressure in the second half as Hitchin forced us
to again defend deeper than would be comfortable.
Sykes' brace puts him level with Aaron Wilson, Jody Bevan and
Jason Welsh on five goals for the season, but despite being our
joint second top scorer he has yet to score at home for City. His
only Meadow Park goal was a screamer for Bath City in front of the
T-End last February.
It would have been easy to dismiss that
midweek win at King's Lynn as a one-off but again City showed
a lot more passion and spirit to get a highly credible point at
Hitchin. The home side's title hopes may be easy to scoff at but
they are a very sharp side with lots of forward power and while
we perhaps lacked a little of the defensive discipline that was
so impressive on Tuesday night we did limit their opportunities
until it got a bit ragged in the last 20 minutes. The new shape
also seems to have freed many of our midfielders with Webb and
Reid benefiting and Alex Sykes looking like a different player,
certainly deserving of today's goals. The interesting part will
come when we try and translate this system into a home game -
will teams attack to enable us to find gaps on the break and if
we revert to a more attacking shape can we still retain our new
found strength. We may well find out on Boxing Day.
With several of the front runners still in Trophy action the
SLP focus was on the other end of the table where two struggling
teams had very different days. Halesowen beat bottom side Corby
Town 1-0 and it was the final straw for the Corby directors who
sacked manager Rob Dunion as a result. But Cheshunt look like
performing another escape act with a hatrick from recently returned
record signing Darrell Cox earned them an impressive 3-0 win over
Chippenham. Banbury United's incredible away record came to an
emphatic stop with Team Bath the unlikely spoilers with a 3-0
win at Twerton Park, while Cirencester continued Maidenhead's
problems with a single goal enough to send the Magpies back down
the M4 pointless.
Few SLP clubs did well in the Trophy although Mangotsfield will
have been delighted to continue King's Lynn's problems with a
Rob Claridge goal dumping the FA Cup heroes from the FA trophy.
Merthyr will want to forget all about a visit to Conference side
Stevenage that saw their normally resolute defence savaged to
lose by an embarrassing 7-0 scoreline. Bath did better at Farnborough
but must replay in the week after a 1-1 draw.