Non-League Football

Citizen Kane…back for good?

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.

www.gameofthepeople.com

4 replies »

  1. I make no apologies for saying I simply do not understand why Kane Smith is being given what is the equivalent of false hope every time he goes for trials with one of these so called professional clubs. Kane is an exemplary player and an exemplary human being with a very modest head on him never allowing these opportunities to go to his head. But HTFC vowed in print at the end of last season that they would “protect” Kane and needed to see a firm promise in place before allowing him any further trials, following the interest shown at that time from West Brom, Crystal Palace and I believe Bristol Rovers. Now Coventry. It is a contradiction on the part of HTFC to say one thing in print and continue to practice the complete opposite. This is one of many reasons why I have no affinity to any League Club. The way they appear to operate, in my opinion, with talented youngsters trying to establish themselves at a higher level is simply not on. Extremely glad Kane is still with HTFC for the time being.

  2. I wonder if much of it Jackie is teams wanting instant first team players rather than be willing to invest that little bit in what it might take to make them a first team player. Kane can defend, he can attack, his football brain is light years ahead of all but one other at Hitchin Town, and he is fit. Wonder if some of it is to do with physicality? As we have seen, Academy and Development football is not the most physical and how many from clubs’ Academy and Development teams make it all the way through to the first team?

    Investment in young hopefuls is indeed seriously lacking. Managers want the finished article. If it’s not there they go and buy it, if necessary from abroad.

    Agree that Kane being back at Hitchin made such a difference yesterday. But I want the lad to get the break he deserves.

  3. I would agree with a lot of what you say there Chris. Physicality most certainly does play a big part in this respect and sadly Managers from the higher paid clubs are looking for the instant finished article. I just feel for any player and their parents to have their hopes constantly dashed. I know as a parent that I would feel exactly the same if any of my grown up youngsters were treated in a similar fashion. I too, like you Chris, would genuinely love to see Kane getting the break as you say “he deserves”. He gives every single game a million per cent commitment and the fans said it all in terms of how highly he is respected at the club last season at the awards ceremony. But this constant unsettling him not knowing where he is going to be placed for a period of time cannot surely be good for him. In the meantime like everyone else I am absolutely delighted that Kane is back with us……………………for the time being. He’s a great lad.

  4. And I think he knows that the best thing he can do is…..continue to play well and keep himself noticed, We’ll keep out fingers crossed for him. He is a level-headed lad and he does have the support of his team mates at Hitchin. Working with Brett helps him a lot I am sure.

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