IT MIGHT not have been a classic, but Hitchin Town’s narrow win against Cambridge City was a reminder of the well-worn old wives tale that title-chasing teams don’t always play well as they continue to accrue vital points.
“We are getting the results, but we are not yet firing on all cylinders,” said Canaries manager Mark Burke. “I know we have more in the tank to come.”
But the 1-0 win, secured in the fifth minute of added time by a sublime finish from Callum Donnelly, made it nine games unbeaten in the Southern League for Burke’s team. “It’s a good run and we are in contention, but we have to remember we’ve played a few more games than our rivals. Still, we’ve got points on the board, which I always like.”
The only black mark for Hitchin at the moment is the team’s form in cup competitions, with recent exits in the FA Cup and league cup at the hands of Faversham and Royston respectively.
Hitchin narrowly missed out on promotion last season and anyone who doubted they could repeat what was a memorable season have been proved wrong, despite the lack of cup success. They still have the chance to light up the season in the FA Trophy in which they travel to Hayes & Yeading on October 29.
The only bright thing on display at Top Field was the floodlights, which are indeed a big improvement. For years, Hitchin fumbled around in the relative murkiness of the old ground before opting for new lamps for old. They do resemble props from a sci-fi film, somewhat out of keeping with the subbuteo stands beneath them, but they are really quite superb.
These lights will be blessed on November 10 when an Arsenal team, likely to comprise fringemen, given that the Gunners squad will be dispersed all over Europe on international duty, will play a friendly to mark the installation of Hitchin’s new illuminations.
There is a nice touch of symmetry about the game. When the Canaries first installed their lights in 1962, Arsenal provided the opposition, then managed by former England skipper Billy Wright. The London side won 2-1, but Hitchin were adamant that “the lights are of the latest design”. That was 54 years ago but the new floodlights are clearly in that same category.
Manager Burke says the occasion will be a “celebration of the step we have taken in bringing our lights up to date” and that his team will enjoy the opportunity to play against players from a top Premier League club. “There will be some quality on display – it is Arsenal, after all.”
There wasn’t a lot of that against Cambridge City, although Hitchin just about edged the contest. The game struggled to raise itself above the mediocre in the first period, the best chance falling to Robbie Burns, who met a Kane Smith cross with a textbook header but saw his effort plucked out of the air.
It looked like it would end goalless when Hitchin snatched victory just as the early leavers were heading for Fishponds Road. Callum Donnelly, who had been paying penance on the bench for his latest suspension, met a long clearance out of defence by Canaries goalkeeper Michael Johnson, ran-on and lifted the ball over Enol Ordonez. The whistle went as soon as the ball was returned for the restart.
Not the best 95 minutes of the season, by any means, but when you’re chasing end-of-season glory, any result will do. Great lights, though.