Hitchin Town were handed a defeat by National League South side Wealdstone which demonstrated the high quality at the next step of football’s “pyramid”.
After a tough first half, the Canaries did well to restore parity on the hour but their defence parted twice late in the game to give Wealdstone a victory that few would argue was not deserved.
Hitchin were missing a number of regulars due to work commitments, holidays and injury. Lewis Rolfe filled the back 3 berth vacated by Josh Bickerstaff, while Jack Green and Danny Clifton occupied midfield spots along with Lucas Kirkpatrick. Elliot Bailey played just behind Liam Brooks.
After the exciting 2-1 win against a young Arsenal XI on Wednesday evening, Hitchin encountered an experienced, powerful and pacy opposition at Top Field that only just missed out on their own play-offs last term. The squad contained plenty of Step 5 experience while Football League stalwarts David Hunt, Elliot Benyon, Danny Green and Ricky Wellard were in the starting eleven.
However it was Abobaker Eisa, a summer signing from Uxbridge, who caught the eye with his direct running at the Hitchin defence to add to an already impressive pre-season featuring goals against the U23 sides of Reading and Watford. The Stones had a goal ruled out in the first minute for offside, and an Eddie Oshodi header cleared for a corner before a curling Eisa shot forced keeper Michael Johnson into action.
On 17 minutes, it was Eisa who broke the deadlock. With Jay Dowie caught upfield after a Hitchin attack, the winger ran into space down the left. Dan Webb held him up but Eisa simply cut between the Canary skipper and Dowie to plant a shot past Johnson.
Wealdstone nearly doubled their lead as Johnson saved from Benyon and the powerful Mustafa Tiryaki headed wide. The home side struggled to break out of their own half although Brooks and Kirkpatrick tried their luck with long range shots. Brooks had Hitchin’s best first half opportunity when he broke the Wealdstone offside trap and tried to round the keeper only for Jonathan North to gratefully gather the ball with an outstretched hand.
Half time – Hitchin Town 0 Wealdstone 1
After the interval, Hitchin regrouped with Charlie Smith and Rolfe reinforcing midfield and James Budden joining the defence. Hitchin sensed their chance as Hunt also dropped back into the centre of the visitors’ defence. In a frantic six minutes the Canaries got back on level terms with Brooks’ powerful running creating problems. On 54 minutes, he got on the end of a Kirkpatrick pass to level with a finish to add to his midweek goal against Arsenal.
Wealdstone restored their lead four minutes later as Tiryaki headed home a free kick but Hitchin were undaunted, levelling on the hour as Brooks again broke free of the defence. This time he was hauled back for a penalty which Ben Walster calmly tucked away from the spot.
Danny Green and Eisa came close with free kicks for the visitors and they regained the lead on 73 minutes. Out of nowhere, Green was given space and let fly from some 30 yards, his powerful shot flying over Johnson.
Six minutes later Wealdstone had the game wrapped up as substitute Dan Fitchett was played in behind the Canary defence and had plenty of time to place his shot for 4-2.
Will Wright had the best chance to pull a goal back as his angled shot forced North into a scrambled save but, despite Hitchin pressure, there was no further score.
Full time – Hitchin Town 2 Wealdstone 4
Mark Burke admitted that the better side had won, “Wealdstone were a lot sharper than us with good movement. I was disappointed with some of our defensive play and we played in front of Wealdstone without really hurting them in the first half.” He had praise for Liam Brooks “He took his goal really well, made the penalty and held it up well for us” and newly signed defender James Budden “He slotted in well and didn’t look out of place. He’s a big lad but he can play as well.”
Ahead of the Herts Charity Cup tie against St Albans, Burke will await news on Jack Green who took a first half knock but the manager confirmed that Connor Roberts would be unavailable with a broken hand sustained last week.
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Dowie, Walster, Wright, Webb, Rolfe, Clifton (Budden), Kirkpatrick (McCaffrey), Bailey, Brooks (Charles), Jack Green (Smith)
Wealdstone – North, Oshodi (Crilly), Okimo, Hunt, Hill, Brown (Wiltshire), Wellard (Hippolyte-Patrick), Danny Green (Olafsen), Benyon, Tiryaki (Fitchett), Eisa (Anastasiou)
Hitchin Town – Brooks (54), Walster (60 pen)
Wealdstone – Eisa (17), Tiryaki (58), Green (73), Fitchett (79)
Attendance – 237