A first half performance by the Canaries was capped by four goals and meant this match was effectively over by half time. While Dunstable had battled valiantly in the reverse fixture at Top Field, this match reflected why they are struggling to avoid the drop into Step 4 football.
The Canaries started with the returning Matt Spring in midfield and Kevin Byrne at right back, replacing the departed Kavan Cotter. Robbie Burns played as the deep-lying striker with support from Jonny McNamara and Trey Charles on the flanks.
A foul on Charles indeed led to the first Hitchin goal. Spring’s free kick saw Dan Webb head goalwards but Dunstable’s loanee keeper Nathan Harness tipped away well for a corner. However Harness, just arrived from Stevenage, dealt less convincingly with Lucas Kirkpatrick’s resultant corner. The ball instead found Josh Bickerstaff in the centre of goal and he nodded home on two minutes.
With Spring in the engine room, Hitchin’s play looked purposeful and Dunstable were unable to settle. The former Luton and Leeds man’s next free kick was nodded back at the far post by McNamara to Charles, whose looping header was cleared off the line. Webb headed wide after a Lewis Rolfe free kick had caused chaos in the home area while McNamara then slotted home only to be flagged offside.
Dunstable had very little chance to get on the front foot. Byrne made a fine last gasp tackle to prevent Ethan Lamptey breaking through, while Lamptey and Ryan Young tried to link up but their end ball was lacking.
A second goal arrived on 23 minutes and fell for McNamara. Harness punched a cross clear before Bickerstaff could make contact. However the ball fell to McNamara on the corner of the box and his low shot doubled the lead.
Ten minutes later, McNamara doubled his tally. Kirkpatrick played a long ball for Charles on the right. He advanced on goal before unselfishly squaring across the six yard line for McNamara to steer home his second.
Three became four when Ogden was penalised for handling in the box, and Kirkpatrick slammed his penalty straight down the middle.
It was too much for Dunstable boss Tony McCool who made two substitutions before the interval but it made little immediate difference as Burns was found in space on the edge of the Dunstable area. Fortunately, Harness was able to tip the shot wide to keep the score down.
The hosts had more of the play at the start of the second half, with Gideon Okita pushing forward, and Andrew Osei-Bonsu trying to find Charlie Black with a deep cross but they could not properly test Michael Johnson in the Canaries’ goal.
Instead, McNamara had chances to secure his hat trick. He was put through by Spring only for Lanre Ladipo to make a great tackle, and then Harness was forced into another fingertip save from a fierce shot.
Elliot Bailey nearly made an impact from the bench as he headed wide after neat play down the left wing by Spring and McNamara. The substitute then turned provider as he cut in from the right only for Charles and Spring to both pass the ball on rather than strike.
Mark Burke rang the changes with Connor Vincent and Brett Donnelly coming on, only to be hampered by an injury to Bailey which saw him taken off as a precaution and leaving the Canaries to see out time with ten men. Osei-Bonsu drew one save out of the ever alert Johnson but it was a reflection on the hosts that Hitchin were able to see the game out comfortably and still threaten the Dunstable goal. Vincent shot wide and then got under a diving header as he latched onto a Bickerstaff cross.
The three points saw the Canaries up to eleventh in the league table while, as the first in a series of auditions for the BigFreeBet Cup Final at Top Field on 4 April, it will have given Mark Burke a valuable guide. Hitchin travel to Stratford Town on Tuesday night before they return to Top Field for the visit of Tiverton Town on Saturday 31 March, a date which is also the annual Women At The Game event at which all female fans receive free admission to the match as well as a pre-match reception in the Canary Club.
Dunstable Town – Harness, Ladipo, Okito, Ward, Trif, Ogden, Young, Osei-Bonsu, A Amu, Lamptey, Mullings; subs – Collins (for ), Ward, E Amu, Kehinde (for Lamptey), Black (for Mullings)
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Byrne, Walster, Rolfe, Webb, Bickerstaff, Kirkpatrick, Spring, McNamara, Burns, Charles; subs – Vincent (for McNamara), Donnelly (for Charles), Bailey (for Kirkpatrick), Logan, Syme
Hitchin Town – Bickerstaff (2), McNamara (23, 33), Kirkpatrick (39 pen)
Dunstable Town – Osei-Bonsu
Hitchin Town – Kirkpatrick
Attendance – 273