After three successive defeats Hitchin really needed a good result more than a performance and with this 2-1 victory they achieved their aim and while not all the problems have been solved overnight the players put in a really good shift and displayed the determination and fight that was a feature of last season. Manager Mark Burke had asked for the team to tighten up and make it more difficult for the opposition to play and there was a definite improvement here as Hitchin worked hard to close down and challenge the Stortford players. Even more encouraging was the fact that when Stortford had a spell on top near the end Hitchin dug in and showed their old resilience before going on to score the winning goal.
The team again set out with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Kavan Cotter who has joined for a further month on loan from Luton went in at right back with Lewis Rolfe moving to the centre of defence alongside Dan Webb with Josh Bickerstaff at left back. Lucas Kirkpatrick returned to the midfield with Jay Dowie rested while Elliot Bailey played up front. From the start Hitchin seemed determined to banish the memory of the last 20 minutes at Slough and took the lead after just six minutes.
It was perhaps a fortuitous goal but plenty of bad luck has been in evidence this season so perhaps a change of luck was overdue. Lucas Kirkpatrick took a corner on the right and the ball came back to him. He sent in what appeared to be a cross that curled over goalkeeper Tyler McCarthy in to the top corner of the net. Hitchin were the dominant side throughout the first half and dealt comfortably with the Stortford threat. Jonny McNamara shot wide after good work by Bailey while Jack Green headed wide from a Callum Donnelly cross. McNamara and Bailey had further chances before half time and Hitchin probably deserved to be more than one goal in front.
Green was replaced for the second half as he was feeling unwell with Trey Charles the replacement and he did cause problems for the Stortford defence. McNamara had two further shots on target as the second half started with Hitchin still in the ascendancy. But the introduction of three substitutes saw Stortford throw caution to the wind as they played a more attacking formation. Hitchin were forced to defend and it was no surprise when the equaliser came with Jason Williams heading in a Dipo Akinyemi cross after 73 minutes.
This was the stage of the game that Hitchin stood firm and worked hard to repel the Stortford attacks. Gradually they regained the initiative and Charles had a shot cleared off the line while Kirkpatrick shot over the bar. However extra time was looming large before in the first minute of injury time McNamara produced a clinical finish after Webb had headed in to his path. But the game was not over as a further four minutes of injury time were played. Hitchin showed the desire needed to hold on and the last kick of the game saw Michael Johnson produce a brilliant save from Tyrique Hyde-Skerritt with the referee immediately blowing his whistle.
So Hitchin now have a cup final to look forward to with Hemel Hempstead or Royston the opponents. Burke was keen to give credit to the players and supporters. He said “The players really dug in and this has been lacking in recent performances. I hope we can use this as a platform to move forward. Even though we have had a tough time it was great to see so many supporters backing the team. I have said how it was important we all stick together and I would like to thank our loyal followers for doing just that.”
Bishops Stortford – McCarthy, Casey, Tumwa, Richefond, M Ekpiteta, Rogers, Hyde-Skerritt, Thomas, Owusu, Westcott, C Ekpiteta; Subs – Williams for Thomas 64, Robinson, Akinyemi for Owusu 70, Foxley for C Ekpiteta 62, Hughes
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Bickerstaff, Smith, Webb, Rolfe, Kirkpatrick, C Donnelly, Bailey, Green, McNamara; Subs – Dowie for McNamara 90+4, McCaffrey for C Donnelly 63, Charles for Green H-T, Walster, Syme
Bishops Stortford – Williams 73
Hitchin Town – Kirkpatrick 6, McNamara 90+1
Bishops Stortford – Richefond
Hitchin Town – Kirkpatrick
Attendance – 142 (approx 50 from Hitchin)