Non-League Football

Through the turnstiles 2015-16: Hitchin hissed on

Histon 2 (350x272)Histon Football Club has seen better days. Their rise from Eastern Counties League Division One to the Conference in a decade was impressive, but two relegations, in 2011 and 2014 saw the club back at Step three. They also have some great memories of the FA Cup, beating Swindon Town and Leeds United in 2008-09. The club’s ascent was presided over by Gareth Baldwin, who was Chairman for 17 years. He left in 2009 due to “ill health and stress”, and since then, Histon’s fortunes have plummeted.

It is arguable that Histon’s upward trajectory only had a finite life. This was a club from a village of 4,500 people and just a few miles from Cambridge. It was always going to be tough to keep the sort of momentum going that Histon enjoyed.

Step three could be just about right. They have a very good stadium – the Glassworld is a neat, well equipped ground, but the fire has certainly gone out among the locals. Crowds at Histon struggle to get above 300 these days.

The 2015-16 season did not start well for Histon. They conceded 14 goals in their first four games, including seven at Slough. But they came alive with a 5-0 victory at Bideford before losing their derby game with Cambridge City. On September 12, the club’s FA Cup run came to an abrupt end at the first hurdle, a humbling 1-5 defeat at home to Aveley of the Ryman Division One North. A few days earlier, the club was broken into and thieves stole £3,000 worth of weights. Could things get any worse for Histon?

“We need to stick together and play with high tempo and energy”

Histon boss Brian Page, attempting to explain how Histon were heavily beaten by Aveley, played the usual manager-under-fire tune: “We need to stick together and play with high tempo and energy”. How often do you hear these words? It’s a game of cliché and jargon, after all. “We aim to start putting things right as of today and we need your support behind us.”

Hitchin arrived at the Glassworld keen to build on a good start to the season. “We desperately need a centre forward,” said one Canaries fan as I walked into the ground. I responded that Spain had won the World Cup and Euros without a recognised number 9. So far, it had worked for Mark Burke’s side, who sat in fifth place and had lost just twice in eight games, a very respectable opening period.

Hitchin were missing Alasan Ann, but the young players that had formed the backbone of their side for the past couple of seasons were there – Matt Lench, Sam Barker, Lewis Rolfe, Callum Donnelly (now the elder statesman) and Dan Webb. Robbie Burns, who had a brief spell away from the club, and the often impressive Jonny McNamara were also in their line-up.

The teams lined up:
Histon: Gerrar, Trotman, Tilney, Key, Rumens, McGowan, Freeman, Auger, Oyinsan, Ives, Nicholson
Hitchin: Horlock, Rolfe, Bickerstaff, Wright, Webb, Barker, McNamara, Donnelly, Kirkpatrick, Burns, Lench

For the first 45 minutes, Hitchin looked in control, sweeping the ball around the pitch and causing Histon problems with their pace. They scored after 27 minutes, when Matt Lench shot home after good work by Lucas Kirkpatrick and Burns. A good finish. Hitchin’s superiority deserved more than a goal, but they went in at the interval only 1-0 up. It often comes back to haunt you and frankly, after the break, Hitchin were woeful. Whatever was in the Histon tea seemed to work on the home side, for they looked a different unit completely.

More than one Hitchin fan suggested that the midweek FA Cup tie with Peterborough Sports – which Hitchin won 4-2 after extra time – may have had something to do with the Canaries’ leaden-footed performance from the 46th minute, but that was on Monday.

“Another square ball, for Christ’s sake”

Histon 1 (350x197)The nature of Histon’s equaliser set the narrative for the second period. Josh Bickerstaff’s 53rd minute back-pass didn’t just find the back of the net, but also appeared to roll through goalkeeper Charlie Hurlock’s legs. An unfortunate goal, but it seemed to knock something out of Hitchin in the final half hour.

Hitchin looked to be playing it too cautious, spraying the ball across the pitch rather than forward. “Another square ball, for Christ’s sake,” shouted one supporter, who apparently, was the father of a Hitchin player. “Forward…”.

Histon took the lead in the 64th minute when Luke Trotman ran past the Hitchin defence and sent a low cross in that Sam Ives met – a la Ian St. John, Wembley 1965 – to head past Horlock from close range. A cracking goal, but gaps were showing up in the visiting defence by now. Heads had dropped.

A third goal came from Nick Freeman after 70 minutes, a low drive from range that Horlock should perhaps have claimed. Another disaster followed in the 81st minute when Jonny McNamara gave the ball away on the edge of the area and Jordan Nicholson easily finished. And the rout was completed in the 84th minute when Nicholson scored again, shooting home with his left foot despite the presence of four Hitchin defenders.

And that was it. Histon announced that vehicles in the car park would be kept behind for five minutes to allow for pedestrians to get clear of the ground (the crowd was 318). Given most of the Hitchin support was desperate to get away from the stadium, this was only further punishment for the North Herts contingent.

Histon needed that win after their recent run, but for Hitchin, any aspirations of a play-off place were put into perspective. They do have genuine hopes of a decent FA Cup run – they are away at Kirkley & Pakefield on September 26 in the second qualifying round. A banana skin, perhaps, but they only need repeat their first half display at Histon to ensure they have a more frutiful afternoon than this one!

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