Photo by Peter Else

Photo by Peter Else

FOOTBALL LEAGUE scouts were queuing up for a glimpse of Kane Smith, Hitchin’s talented wing-back/full back last season. Most people expected that the talented youngster would be snapped up in the summer, but he’s back at Top Field after Coventry City failed to take up an option on him.

Smith is Hitchin’s prize asset and some over-zealous pundits were predicting a big fee coming Hitchin’s way. West Bromwich Albion, Bristol City and Ipswich were all interested at some point – I spoke to a scout from Wolves at Slough last season who was taking a look at him. But the big move hasn’t materialised yet.

Is Smith worth a punt? I think so – he has pace, tenacity and the ability to get past his man and send in dangerous crosses. He has to be worth £20,000 of anyone’s money, one would imagine.

For the time being, Smith is plying his trade with Hitchin, and after a shaky start to the season, that can’t be a bad thing for Mark Burke’s team. Hitchin lost two of their best players in the summer, and it showed – Jonny McNamara defected to Hemel Hempstead and goalkeeper Charlie Horlock signed for Eastbourne.

Hitchin won just one of their first five games and straight away, the purveyors of doom and gloom at Top Field started to ask questions. A lot of Hitchin’s attacking impetus over the past year or so came from the dashes of McNamara and Smith, while Horlock emerged as an outstanding keeper. When any Hitchin side is successful, the usual next step is that the best players get snapped-up by other clubs. It has happened this way for decades and the momentum of 2015-16 meant that other clubs started to pay attention to what was going on in North Hertfordshire. It was no surprise when McNamara departed and Smith was being courted for some months. Like many Hitchin managers in the past, Mark Burke had to regroup following the loss of key men.

When Banbury United arrived at Top Field, Hitchin fans were looking forward to seeing Smith start a game for the first time this season. He had appeared briefly at Stratford Town a week earlier – a 3-2 defeat in Shakespeare country. Hitchin’s new goalkeeper Zac Barrett was still sidelined, allowing Michael Johnson to continue between the sticks and Burke also started with Brett Donnelly up front.

Banbury were promoted to the Premier last season and had started the campaign well but had lost their last two games. Life was starting to get more difficult for the Puritans. You sensed that Hitchin were eager to get a good result after four games had passed since their opening day drama against Cinderford.

The fans didn’t have to wait long for some relief. Following a corner, the ball pinged around the area and Brett Donnelly applied the finishing touch.

Hitchin’s confidence grew and before too long it was 2-0, Brett Donnelly’s shot parried by the goalkeeper and Matt Lench followed up to score. “Hitchin are very technical and it’s causing problems for Banbury,” said the radio commentators from Oxfordshire, and you couldn’t really disagree.

Banbury did have a resurgence and their tall centre forward Ricky Johnson’s aerial power did cause some trouble. Generally, though, Hitchin’s neat passing and energy was too much for the visitors. With four minutes remaining, Kane Smith showed again what Football League clubs are missing, a beautiful cross into the centre and Robbie Burns dived headlong to score a quite spectacular goal.

Banbury pulled one back in the 90th minute, Leam Howards working his way through and touching the ball past Johnson. Final score 3-1, which was just about a fair reflection.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we played a lot better today,” said Hitchin manager Mark Burke. “We’ve got a few things to sort out in defence, but scoring goals is clearly not a problem for us.”

Knowing Mark Burke as I do, he’s not one to single out individuals, but I couldn’t help feeling that the return of Kane Smith had much to do with Hitchin’s comfortable afternoon. Perhaps somebody will take another look at him soon.