Hitchin Town and Arsenal’s U18 side both contributed to a very entertaining game at Top Field with the Canaries clinching a confidence-boosting win in front of 604 fans.
Arsenal’s team included a number of the players that had appeared in last year’s “Floodlight Inauguration” match with a mix players who had appeared at the U23 level last term and first year scholars.
Mark Burke set Hitchin out with a back three of Webb, Wright and Bickerstaff, with Dowie and Walster as wing backs. Green, Kirkpatrick and Rolfe occupied midfield with Brooks tucked in behind Vincent up front.
The young visitors had the upper hand in the early minutes with Balogun and Tormey firing wide while Osei-Tutu and Eyoma posed a threat on the flanks supported by Moore and Bola who were keen to raid forward.
However Hitchin also looked to push forward with Dowie in particular threatening down the right and supplying a cross which Vincent headed just wide. The striker set up Hitchin’s best chance in the early stages when he attacked on the left and cut back for Brooks to shoot. His effort was cleared off the line by Medley and Green was bundled off the ball before he could return the rebound goalwards.
As the game went from end to end, Johnson was alert to a ball over the defence, leaving his area to clear before Eyoma could do any damage.
Hitchin made their mark on the game on the half hour as Brooks beat the offside trap to latch onto a through ball. He kept his head and ran clear of the defence before slotting the ball under Keto.
Vincent nearly doubled the lead with a shot that Keto had to palm away for a corner but Arsenal struck back on 42 minutes. Gilmour found Osei-Tutu in the clear on the right and he made space for an angled shot that beat Johnson.
However the first period had a final twist as Hitchin won a corner on 44 minutes. From Kirkpatrick’s delivery, Webb rose to get good contact and head the ball into the far corner of the goal to restore the Canaries’ lead.
Half Time – Hitchin Town 2 Arsenal XI 1
Arsenal again came out assertively at the start of the second half as Roberts and Kirkpatrick both had to make timely interventions in their penalty area. Arsenal then had a golden chance to level the scores as a ball from the left ran across the area. It reached Osei-Tutu who was well placed no more than six yards out. However his shot was thwarted by a splendid point blank save by Johnson.
Both sides made the regular procession of substitutes during the half – the Canaries switching to a back four. McEneff fired wide for Arsenal straight after his arrival and Clifton forced a save from substitute keeper Virginia at the other end. Johnson tipped away a Gilmour effort before the keeper had to leave the pitch feeling unwell. His replacement Bennett gathered a looping Arsenal header under his crossbar.
Hitchin’s fluency was disrupted by the changes but Bailey forced a save from Virginia after a run and shot, while Luke Brown almost got in a shot after showing good chest control to bring the ball down.
Arsenal were however looking more likely to score with Olayinka looking dangerous on the left and Amaechi and Harrison on the right. Bennett got down well to save from Olayinka who had cut in from the flank, while Kieran Barnes covered well to clear from McEneff after Bennett had committed himself.
Carbon’s curing shot was the final effort from Hitchin but Virginia again collected before Mr Knox called time. While the game did not have the historic significance of last year’s “floodlight friendly” it was an enjoyable spectacle and both sides will have learned from the match ahead of their respective league campaigns.
Final score – Hitchin Town 2 Arsenal XI 1
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Dowie, Walster, Wright, Webb, Bickerstaff, Rolfe, Kirkpatrick, Vincent, Brooks, Green;
subs – Callum Donnelly (for Brooks), Bennett (for Johnson), Roberts (for Webb), Charles (for Walster), Smith (for Kirkpatrick), Clifton (for Rolfe), Bailey (for Vincent)), Carbon (for Green), Budden (for Bickerstaff), Brown (for Dowie), Barnes (for Wright)
Arsenal XI – Keto, Moore, Bola, Gilmour, Oluwu, Medley, Osei-Tutu, Dragomir, Balogun, Tormey, Eyoma;
Subs – Ballard (for Gilmour), Virginia (for Keto), Burton (for Dragomir), Benson (for Oluwu), Omole (for Medley), Thompson (for Moore), Amaechi, McEneff (for Tormey), Clarke (for Bola), Olayinka (for Balogun)
Hitchin Town – Brooks (30), Webb (44)
Arsenal XI – Osei-Tutu (42)
Attendance – 604