Battling Gosport Borough went close to claiming a point against a Hitchin side with one eye on Monday’s league cup semi-final. A late break saw substitute Joel Jackson’s shot bounce down off the bar. There was still time for Dan Webb to clear off the line to deny the bottom of the table visitors.
Along with the long term absences, Webb, Brett Donnelly and Jonny McNamara sat on the bench with Lewis Rolfe returning to central defence, Kavan Cotter in midfield again and Robbie Burns supporting Connor Vincent with Trey Charles joining the attack.
Both sides generated initial pressure with a Patrick Suraci free kick winning a corner from which Johnson saved a Craig McAllister effort, while Charles caused problems at the other end with a low cross. It was Hitchin got off to the ideal start on nine minutes. Charles’ shot was blocked but fell to Burns. Despite Gosport’s appeals for offside, he kept his cool to slot home.
Gosport were not deterred and bounced back four minutes later, as McAllister slid in at the far post to meet a Suraci cross from the left.
That setback did not stop Hitchin, as the home side had most of the possession. Josh Bickerstaff was unlucky with two efforts from set pieces and Burns had another shot saved by Patrick O’Flaherty. Hugo Logan was alert to dispossess Zak Sharp and force a corner but the Boro skipper redeemed himself to clear that off the line. At the other end, Johnson saved from Ryan Pennery at the second attempt.
Just after the half hour, Hitchin had a shout for a penalty as Vincent released Burns in the box. He went down under a challenge but the referee was not swayed. The referee also penalised Charles for a challenge on O’Flaherty when it looked like the forward had run into good position to latch on to a through ball.
Half Time – Hitchin Town 1 Gosport Borough 1
Pennery again tested Johnson as the keeper advanced beyond his area but fortunately Bickerstaff was on hand on the goal line. Burns nearly caught out O’Flaherty with a snapshot hitting the crossbar, before the same player shot just wide on the turn. After a knock Bickerstaff was replaced by Webb just after the hour.
Gosport had their moments with McAllister nodding wide from another dangerous Suraci free kick but at this stage Hitchin continued to pose the greater threat. Neither Burns nor Donnelly – on for Vincent – could apply a decisive touch to a Charles cross and, when the latter tried his own luck, O’Flaherty hastily palmed the shot away.
The decisive goal came in the 80th minute as Lucas Kirkpatrick received a Ben Walster throw and cut in from the left, He unleashed a low shot from a tight angle which went in off the far post to restore the lead.
As the game entered its final phase, Hitchin released their grip and were nearly made to pay for that. Suraci fired over after jinking his way into a shooting position. In injury time, Gosport again imposed themselves and Johnson gathered a Sanders header from a free kick before Jackson’s costly miss.
Despite the late alarms, Hitchin hung on to claim their first league win of 2018 while Gosport were unable to make ground on their relegation rivals Dunstable Town. The win was welcome and hard fought. It now remains to see who impressed Mark Burke enough to make the side against Hayes and Yeading on Monday evening.
Full Time – Hitchin Town 2 Gosport Borough 1
Hitchin Town – Johnson, James, Walster, Cotter, Rolfe, Bickerstaff, Kirkpatrick, Logan, Vincent, Burns, Charles; subs – Donnelly (for Vincent), McNamara (for Burns), Webb (for Bickerstaff), Byrne, Tshikala
Gosport Borough – O’Flaherty, Sharp, Medway, Smith, Sanders, Warren, Bombalenga, Lea, McAllister, Pennery, Suraci; subs – Dennett, Jackson (for McAllister), Breed, Brooks (for Sharp), Wakely
Hitchin Town – Burns (9), Kirkpatrick (80)
Gosport Borough – McAllister (14)
Hitchin Town – Rolfe
Gosport Borough – Medway
Sponsor’s Man of the Match – Robbie Burns
Attendance – 457