In the past there have been the Busby Babes but at Merthyr we saw the Burke Babes produce an heroic performance to earn a valuable point. Hitchin were shorn of a number of experienced players including the absence of no less than four central defenders. It meant the average age of the starting eleven was 21.54 years while when the substitutes were included this dropped to 21.37 years. At 25 Jay Dowie was the oldest player as Hitchin fielded one of their youngest teams in their history.
Hitchin set up with a 4-1-4-1 system with James Budden and Will Wright the centre backs with Kavan Cotter and Ben Walster the full backs. In front of the back four was Danny Clifton with Jack Green and Charlie Smith playing wide with Dowie and Lucas Kirkpatrick in the middle. Liam Brooks was on his own up front.
With players not familiar with each other the first 45 minutes were always going to be testing and at times Hitchin were under severe pressure. But throughout the game every player worked his socks off and the tenacity and determination shown meant the draw was well deserved.
Clifton shot over the bar in the first minute before Michael Johnson, who had been so impressive here in the play- off semi- final, produced a brilliant save to thwart Kyle Copp after 7 minutes. Again Johnson was immaculate throughout the game. Hitchin had shots from Kirkpatrick and Smith go wide before Green produced an excellent cross that Brooks just failed to reach.
Merthyr then got on top and Clifton made a vital block before Hitchin had a massive stroke of good fortune when Stuart Fleetwood’s shot hit the inside of the post, rolled along the line and somehow did not cross the line. Johnson then made another good save from Corey Jenkins to see Hitchin through to half time.
HALF TIME – Merthyr Town 0 Hitchin Town 0
Early in the second half 18 year old James Goode replaced Budden. Merthyr were not as dangerous in the second half and Hitchin did come close to scoring. Walster had a free kick saved while Smith shot narrowly wide. Walster then put in a dangerous cross that went right across the penalty area with nobody getting a touch.
Again Hitchin defended really well with Wright getting more dominant as the game went on. The midfield never let up while Brooks ran himself to a standstill and never has a point been more deserved from such an inexperienced team. The players who came in certainly gave a message to the manager that they will not easily be replaced when the senior players return. Merthyr is a difficult ground to get any reward and since installing their plastic pitch they have an outstanding home record so this point is even more noteworthy.
On Monday against St Neots much the same squad will be needed as most of the absentees will not be available until Saturday. However on this evidence the Hitchin supporters can expect i00% commitment and determination.
FULL TIME – Merthyr Town 0 Hitchin Town 0
Merthyr – O Davies, A Davies, Pring, Patten, Wright, Tancock, Jenkins, Richards, Fleetwood, Copp, Traylor; Subs – Watkins, Harris, Evans for Copp 63, Bowen for Patten 63, Morgan for Jenkins 75
Hitchin – Johnson, Cotter, Walster (captain), Dowie, Budden, Wright, Clifton, Kirkpatrick, Brooks, Green, Smith; Subs – McCaffrey, Bailey for Brooks 86, Charles for Smith 83, Goode for Budden 57, Syme
Merthyr – Bowen
Hitchin – Dowie and Green
Attendance – 439 (20 from Hitchin)