A breath-taking final three minutes ensured that the Canaries would take the three points and move into the top half of the league table after another close encounter with the Martyrs.
With suspensions to Lewis Rolfe and Lucas Kirkpatrick, Mark Burke played Charlie Smith alongside Jay Dowie as holding midfielders with Jack Green and Jonny McNamara wide and Eliott Bailey supporting Brett Donnelly. There were places on the bench for Callum Donnelly and Trey Charles returning from injury.
Having played some 300 minutes of football against Merthyr during 2017 and not been able to separate the sides, it was no surprise that the first half was evenly contested. Dan Webb and Ben Walster both saw efforts saved by Oliver Davies, while Dowie fired over the bar.
Curtis McDonald headed wide from a Stuart Fleetwood corner while Johnson had to save efforts from Eliot Richards and from the experienced Fleetwood.
Jonny McNamara, buoyed by his winner against Redditch, was a threat for Hitchin. His best effort was an angled volley as he ran on to a great pass from Brett Donnelly.
Donnelly missed the best chance of the first half having pounced on a mix-up between Merthyr keeper Oliver Davies and Kyle Patten only to chip over the bar from the edge of the area.
At the other end Johnson had to save from Stuart Fleetwood and the forward turned to fire wide in added time, but the sides could not be separated at the break.
Half time – Hitchin Town 0 Merthyr Town 0
The Martyrs had an early shout for a penalty in the second half as a Kyle Patten header from a Traylor corner bounced up in the area. However the referee did not see an infringement.
Having withstood Merthyr pressure after the break, the Canaries took the lead on 61 minutes. The visitors only half cleared a free kick from Hitchin’s right flank free kick and Bailey followed up to convert with a diving header.
Hitchin continued to press and Davies saved from substitute Connor Vincent – on for Donnelly – as well as from McNamara. However Merthyr clawed their way back into the game with another penalty shout being refused. They increased the pressure as lively substitute Mo Touray came on and he cut the ball back to Richards who sent his effort well over the bar.
The game looked like heading for a narrow win as Hitchin defended diligently. Cotter and Walster both worked hard to snuff out Merthyr threats while Webb cleared from Fleetwood, going down in the process with Richards being booked for suggesting that the skipper’s fall was theatrical.
That was until Copp went down very easily under a challenge in the 89th minute. However Johnson – who had denied the Martyrs in the penalty shootout in last season’s play offs – was equal to Copp’s effort and Webb cleared away the follow-up.
Hitchin then added insult to injury by breaking in numbers in the 91st minute with McNamara and Trey Charles combining to create a tap-in for Bailey.
This was a hard working and skilful team effort that showed that if a week is a long time in politics, it is just as long in football as two wins against teams higher in the table helped to erase the memory of Farnborough.
Full time – Hitchin Town 2 Merthyr Town 0
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Walster, Dowie, Webb, Bickerstaff, Green, Smith, B Donnelly, Bailey, McNamara; subs – Vincent (for B Donnelly), Charles (for Green), Brooks, C Donnelly, Syme
Merthyr Town – O Davies, A Davies, McDonald, Evans, Wright, R Patten, Jenkins, K Patten, Fleetwood, Richards, Traylor; subs – Touray (for R Patten), Tancock, Copp (for McDonald), Bowen, Morgan (for Traylor)
Hitchin Town – Bailey (61, 90+1)
Hitchin Town – Vincent
Merthyr Town – A Davies, Richards
Match sponsor’s MOTM – Elliot Bailey
Attendance – 433