Hitchin Town were denied their first win of the season as St Neots snatched a last gasp equaliser. The Canaries had twice taken the lead through Liam Brooks but the visitors fought back to claim their first point of the campaign.
Hitchin began the match in front of a very good crowd of 520 with a line-up that again had very few appearances at this level. James Goode replaced James Budden as the list of centre back absentees grew even longer, while Trey Charles started out wide instead of Jack Green.
Apart from one early shot off target from Scott Sinclair for the visitors, the Canaries set the pace from the start. Brooks kept the St Neots defenders occupied with his tireless running while Lucas Kirkpatrick pushed up to support him. Much of the early pace was also set by Charles whose pace and trickery made life difficult for Bradshaw.
Hitchin had a number of corners and came close from the second of these as the defence failed to clear but neither Will Wright nor Charles could turn it in.
They came even closer when Cotter delivered a superb cross that cleared the near post to find Kirkpatrick well placed but the midfielder’s header was placed wide.
Another corner, after good work on the left by Danny Clifton and Charlie Smith, saw St Neots half clear the ball to Ben Walster on the edge of the box. He nodded it back in and Brooks turned his man only for the defender to get a desperate toe to the ball to clear.
Wright was just wide with a long range free kick while Charles fired over after cutting inside to make space for a shot. The winger then turned provider with a low cross that unfortunately got stuck under Brooks’ feet.
The visitors finally relieved the pressure and had a shout for a penalty after Foy ran into the box and went down under a challenge. However the referee overruled the claims. Watson then tested Johnson after getting round Wright but the shot was at a nice height for the keeper.
It looked like the Canaries’ efforts in the first half might not yield a reward until Charles set off on one more run and weaved his way into the box. His shot was turned away for a corner but the trademark set piece paid dividends. Kirkpatrick played the ball to Brooks coming in at the near side of the area and his low shot beat keeper Emery for a deserved half time lead.
HALF TIME Hitchin 1 St Neots 0
The pattern of play continued after the break with Hitchin pushing forward. Jay Dowie’s long range shot was off target while Emery had more to do to smother a fierce low shot from Charles.
Callum Donnelly had to replace Kirkpatrick and nearly scored with his first touch as he nodded a Clifton cross goalwards only to find Emery. Bradshaw nearly extended the Canaries’ lead as he was rushed into a back header which Emery scrambled to save.
Horne, whose challenge had forced Kirkpatrick off, was himself replaced by Wiltshire and it was to be the substitute that changed the game on 65 minutes as he advanced from midfield. His shot from outside the area was low but not powerful. However it crept under Johnson to level the scores.
Hitchin showed character to bounce back straight away with a very well worked goal. Donnelly on the left steered the ball down the channel for Walster to advance and sweep in a low cross. Brooks again attacked the near post to turn the ball home on 67 minutes.
St Neots raised their tempo as they tried to get something from the game but Johnson had recovered his composure after the earlier goal and confidently cut out the visitors’ crosses. He also saved a shot from Sinclair and a free kick awarded after a rash challenge by substitute McCaffrey.
However, as the game went into the final minute of four that were added on, the Canaries conceded a free kick in the middle of the park and St Neots threw everyone forward. Hitchin had chances to clear as St Neots’ first effort bounced back from the crossbar. It fell nicely to Watson whose stooping header looped over Johnson to snatch a share of the points.
Despite the frustrating outcome, there was a lot to admire about Hitchin’s performance especially given that many of the players were starting only their first or second game for the Canaries. With senior players returning for Saturday’s match against Banbury, it will be interesting to see who Mark Burke can deliver the first 3-point haul of the season.
FINAL SCORE Hitchin 2 St Neots 2
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Walster, Dowie, Goode, Wright, Clifton, Kirkpatrick, Brooks, Smith, Charles
Subs – Bailey, McCaffrey (for Clifton), C Donnelly (for Kirkpatrick), B Donnelly, Syme
St Neots Town – Emery, Sincalir, Bradshaw, Horne, Wood, Parr, Foy, Clarke, Watson, Hyem, Williams
Subs – Wiltshire (for Horne), O’Malley (for Foy), McDevitt, Dean
Hitchin Town – Brooks (45, 67)
St Neots Town – Wiltshire (65), Watson (90+3)
Hitchin Town – Kirkpatrick, McCaffrey
St Neots Town – Horne
Sponsors MOTM – Liam Brooks
Attendance – 520