With the future of Hitchin Town’s ground very much in doubt, you never know when your next visit might be your last to Top Field. That may sound a little dramatic, but the ongoing debate about the club’s Heath Robinson stadium appears to have hit a stalemate and suddenly, nervous supporters are starting to check out their Ordnance Survey maps to establish exactly where the proposed out-of-town site really is.
But one thing is quite clear these days in Fishponds Road, Hitchin have a decent team that is playing enterprising football. Supporters of any club have short memories and they live very much in the present [90 minutes], so you have to take things with a pinch of salt when you hear comments like, “the best football we’ve ever played” and “the finest team we’ve had in a decade”. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with either comment, but I would admit that this is the hardest working Hitchin team I have seen in 25 years.
Redditch United, who were only just behind Hitchin in the league table, didn’t present a stiff challenge to Mark Burke’s confident side. They had last won on August 25 at Hereford and had failed to win in five league and cup games, going out of the FA Cup at the hands of Evesham. Hitchin, however, had successfully beaten Daventry in the competition in a bad tempered contest that saw an ugly scuffle at the end of the game involving players and spectators. There was little chance of that happening against Redditch, though, as the midlands side brought along the proverbial one man and a dog to Top Field.
And precious few others came to see what was an entertaining 90 minutes. The crowd was just 262, quite pitiful for a Southern League Premier game between two aspirational line-ups. Hitchin’s form this season has been impressive, and they have a team that exudes the good things in the game, so it is not unreasonable to hope for at least another 100 on that figure.
Against Redditch Hitchin scored four good goals. The first, on 17 minutes, was a fine finish, but its creation was somewhat fortunate. Brett Donnelly, awaiting suspension after a sending off against Daventry, fouled a Redditch player but went unpunished. The ball rolled to his younger brother Callum and he swept it into the net with a low drive. 1-0.
Callum Donnelly had a productive game and looks to have slotted back into the team after his summer defection to Cambridge City. Like so many players who leave Hitchin with one eye on greener grass, he returned to Top Field where life is less demanding. It says a lot about the club that so many players return to Hitchin time and time again. Expectations are lower, perhaps more realistic, and the club always seems to give players more latitude than others.
It seems to work for people like the Donnellys, a family name that is indelibly linked to the club – grandfather Jim played for the Canaries in the late 1940s, father Ian appeared briefly as a player and as assistant manager and Brett, Luke and Callum Donnelly have all worn the yellow shirt in recent years.
Callum was involved again in one of the pivotal moments of the game, falling heavily after what the referee described as a two-footed tackle. It wasn’t but the diminutive Donnelly was pole-axed as if a sniper had been perched [precariously] in the Top Field floodlights. Max Loveridge was red-carded in an instant and had the benefit of an early shower while his team-mates had their half-time team talk.
There was another red card early in the second half as Ashley Sammons was sent off. Seconds later, Sam Barker, one of the Chesham trio that transformed the Hitchin side last season, fired in a superb goal to make it 2-0. In the 60th minute, Jonny McNamara, a ginger-haired will o’ the wisp, made it three when he cleverly jinked the ball over Bradley Catlow, the Redditch keeper.
McNamara added a fourth when he slid the ball into the net following a slide-rule pass from Charlie Smith. Unfortunately, he decided to taunt a Redditch player and earned himself a yellow card. That didn’t stop McNamara getting the man of the match bottle of fizzy wine. He actually doesn’t look old enough to drink alcohol, but it will keep.
Hitchin, then, find themselves in third place, not a level they’ve been used to since joining the Southern League in 2004. They’ve lost just twice in 10 games. If Hitchin fans were singers, they might just be chanting, “and now you’re gonna believe us”. The FA Cup and Wingate & Finchley beckons.