It’s always a bad sign when a team that hasn’t won all season and has just conceded 10 goals turns up to face opponents in need of a confidence-boosting home win.
Bashley, who spent the summer hinting they wanted to downsize and merge with a more junior side – not a good signal to the horse-loving folk of the New Forest – had recently shipped in 10 goals against rampant Hemel Hempstead, while Hitchin Town were keen to build on a 5-0 away win at another crisis club, AFC Totton.
On the evidence displayed this season, the relegatees-elect are already shaping up and Bashley almost have one hand on the wooden spoon. But the peloton that is the Southern League Premier is definitely on a race that is Tour De France in length and not a quick nip around a velodrome.
Surprisingly, despite being one of the sick men of Hampshire football, Bashley brought a very healthy following to Top Field. They had just installed a new coach in the days building up to the game and it was clear from Bashley’s tactics that he may have been watching 1970s Italian football for some pointers. Bashley parked their bus, let alone coach, behind the ball. The sort of tactics that don’t persuade crowds to go above the 300 mark.
Hitchin are a team with a fragile confidence level, so when it became obvious that they would have to play the patience game to win the points, they started to get a bit edgy. A few years earlier, Simon Martin would have had a hat-trick from the number of half-chances that came his way, and new signing Kim Forsythe looked a little unsure of himself as he tried to bed-in at Top Field. Bashley felt it was a tight game – on paper it was certainly tighter than their last trip to Hertfordshire, but if SKY had been present, the possession-ometer would surely have recorded Hitchin with 60% of the ball. Bashley’s first shot came 15 minutes from time.
It was interesting that Bashley’s last opponents, Bideford, told them a week earlier that they were the “best side to visit us”. That’s a little like the sort of patronization that comes with being beaten week-in, week-out. I remember Liverpool fans saying, after they’d walloped Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, “they’re not a bad side, that lot”. The scoreboard said 5-2 to the Reds.
No such goal-fest at Top Field. The game was settled by an 81st minute goal from skipper Callum Donnelly, a nice curling effort past a crowded area. Good for him, because if the scoreline had remained blank, his earlier frustration may have resulted in disciplinary action from the man in black. It was enough to settle the game.
A 1-0 win, then, for Hitchin and for Bashley, a long journey home to reflect on another defeat. After leaking to the tune of 10, losing by a single goal may have been seen as some sort of moral victory. “They’re not a bad side,” said one Hitchin fan, rejoicing at being 14th in the table. Played 15, points two would suggest otherwise.