Hitchin Town ran out comfortable winners against a Stratford Town side that were looking to bounce back from their late late midweek defeat in the FA Cup. The bumper Non League Day crowd of 755 saw the Canaries score two goals in each half to move up to 13th in the league table.
Hitchin lined up with nine of the starting XI from Gosport, having shuffled the pack for the midweek cup game, with Charlie Smith and Elliot Bailey replacing Jay Dowie and Callum Donnelly.
In the early stage the visitors threatened with Jaz Luckie and Ben Stephens looking lively in attack. However Hitchin’s defence was solid and the Canaries had the first clear chance as Louis Connor saved from Brett Donnelly, who got on the end of a Jonny McNamara cross.
Donnelly then forced a save from Louis Connor after getting on the end of a cross from Jack Green, before Green himself mishit a chance. Stratford were unable to fashion many chances but Michael Johnson had to be alert to prevent Luckie converting a ball from Stephens.
However Donnelly was not to be denied and opened the scoring on 18 minutes. A free kick reached Charlie Smith beyond the far post and his return allowed the striker to head home from close range.
Stratford nearly got back into the game when Evans dispossessed Ben Walster but Josh Bickerstaff was on hand to clear the danger.
On 33 minutes, Hitchin doubled the lead as Donnelly scored one of his most impressive goals. The ball was flicked on by Green but Donnelly still had twist and turn past two defenders before shooting firmly past Connor.
The Canaries were nearly gifted a third as Loyiso Recci headed dangerously close to his own goal but they nevertheless finished the half in control.
Half time – Hitchin Town 2 Stratford Town 0
Donnelly nearly grabbed the match ball just after the break, although there was a strong shout for offside. His shot was tipped onto the crossbar by Connor and bounced down on the wrong side of the line for Hitchin.
Hitchin continued to push for a third goal and Jack Green was inches away from connecting with a McNamara cross from the right. Connor Vincent – who had replaced Donnelly up front – flicked on for Bailey to go close.
For the visitors, Luckie nearly took advantage of a slip by Kavan Cotter but he overhit the ball and Johnson gathered safely. However Hitchin’s substitutes soon put the game completely out of reach.
Trey Charles had replaced Jonny McNamara and his pace caused serious problems for the left side of Stratford’s defence. On 78 minutes he raced from the halfway line to the goal line and cut the ball back. Connor Vincent went in with the keeper and a defender and bundled the ball home.
Michael Johnson continued to snuff out any remaining threats from Stratford, saving at the feet of Justin Marsden, but Hitchin looked the more likely to score. Lewis Rolfe, who had come on for Green, found himself free in the Stratford area but could not get a shot away while under pressure from the recovering defender. There was a shout for a penalty but nothing was given.
Stratford’s miserable afternoon was complete on 87 minutes as another searing run down the right by Charles ended with a shot that was spilled by Connor – who was pressured by Vincent – and the winger followed up to convert.
The win extended Hitchin’s unbeaten run to six games. Hopefully the performance will encourage those visiting Top Field for the first time, as a result of Non League Day, to pay a return visit.
Full time – Hitchin Town 4 Stratford Town 0
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Walster, Kirkpatrick, Webb, Bickerstaff, Green, Smith, Donnelly, Bailey, McNamara; subs – Vincent (Donnelly), Bennett, Charles (McNamara), Rolfe (Green), McCaffrey
Stratford Town – Connor, Evans, Hancocks, Gallighan, Recci, Francis, Marsden, Fry, Luckie, Grocott, Stephens; subs – Summerfield, Taylor (Fry), Bako (Stephens), Ahenhorah, Thomas
Hitchin Town – Donnelly (18, 33), Vincent (78), Charles (87)
Stratford Town – Hancocks
Attendance – 755
Sponsor’s MOTM – Brett Donnelly