In recent games we have had to deal with a depleted squad through injury and availability and that is on top of the usual key challenges we have to face. So being faced with opposition in good form and sitting well in the table should have meant this would be a daunting task. But fear is something we don’t have now and knowing Hitchin, can benefit from sending match scouts to our games it proved they indeed take the task seriously and also meant that those circumstances meant we had nothing to lose.
Nick Hayes was due back following his England training and with 3 Centre Backs out we felt we had nothing to lose in fielding some fresh faces that have impressed in training. Nik came in at centre half, Stefan into centre midfield and Eldon came into no10 role.
Eldon Maquemba is a player of great experience and genuine professional pedigree. He happens to be living in Houghton Regis and had jogged to our stadium, paid to get into a game, so that he could approach us. He came to training and looked terrific and showed the much needed experience we are desperate for to help guide the young lads. He was available for this game and I needed to pick him up.
Our volunteer kit man has also been on the unavailable list, so it meant I had a car full of kit and equipment as well as players. It did make me laugh when Eldon sat with kit and drinks bottles on his lap and said in a respectful manner “Tony, can I ask you a question? Is this the normal way you travel to away games? It is perhaps not the best preparation” I told him I would much rather the use of the lovely team bus our neighbours at Luton Town have, and most others take for granted. That would be really helpful. But the club will not spend money we don’t have, so that also includes logistics.
However somehow these challenges that we have, might of somehow galvanised our squad and the clubs committee and fans as a whole and it’s this togetherness that enables us to be anywhere near competitive in this league.
This was very well acknowledged in Mark Burke’s program notes, where he credits our ability to compete in games due to good coaching, organisation and players willing to work hard. Intelligent appreciation from a proper football man with vast experience in this league. Someone I respect greatly.
We did well overall in the first half and had to defend well and be well organised as Hitchin of course wanted to put us to bed quickly. We mostly reduced them to shots from distance and we showed what a fantastic counter attack team we are with pace and skill going forward. The pace and transitions in this league can catch you out when you have not been playing regularly and two of the new signings showed some signs of fatigue, but they had worked very hard and they will get better and better. The centre back pulled his hamstring before the half and forced us into an early change and utility man Daniel Trif came on and was superb as always. This lad epitomises the attitude of our players. If I asked him to balance on the cross bar I am sure he would do it.
We made another change at half time and we of course spoke about the expectation from Hitchin who will be fired up and for sure will be getting a roasting from their manager. We started the second half at the tempo we discussed and got on the front foot but in that scenario their keeper was able to clear quickly and we found ourselves isolated 1v1 and their lad chopped inside and finished.
That was of course a huge blow. But we didn’t crumble and got ourselves back onto an even footing in the game and we felt strongly that with 15 to go we had the ability on the bench to find that killer pass into our wingers, we know can out run opposition. Johnny Barnett came in and the plan very nearly came off as we also won several dangerous free kicks. Two massive chances that half with a header from Peter and he was involved with Andrew superbly down the right that had Eldon sliding in on an empty net like Gazza in the Golden Goal against Germany in Euro 96, except Eldon did get a slight touch but it whizzed past the post.
One thing for sure again, that is another team that will be delighted to come away with 3 points and know that we will be bang in games and as our players return from injury now, suspensions over, some luck to even out, my word we are bang ready to take advantage and points will come.
Keep the faith… it’s coming. The story is now entering a new chapter and the winning will feel so much sweeter on the back of what we have been through.