Hitchin Town progressed to the second round of the BigFreeBet.Com Cup as Elliot Bailey staked his claim for a regular place in the starting line up. He grabbed a hat trick, while Connor Vincent added to his tally having scored on Saturday.
The Canaries introduced Toby Syme at left back, brought back Kieron McCaffrey and Charlie Smith in central midfield while Bailey, Vincent and Trey Charles played ahead of them.
Stortford, who had not played for almost two weeks, gave Hitchin’s new defender a tough time and, having already gone close, scored from that flank in the 5th minute. Alofabi Akwyemi cut the ball back for Christian Owusu to turn and fire home from close range.
Stortford’s front men continued to pose problems, supported by the midfield promptings of Sam Hatton, who curled a freekick just past the post. Akwyemi had another shot just past the post as did full back George Casey.
The Blues defence blocked an effort from Jay Dowie and keeper Tyler McCarthy saved from Vincent. However Hitchin fought their way into the game, drawing level on 42 minutes when Elliot Bailey got his head to a McCaffrey corner.
There was time before the break for Casey to bring down Bailey, earning a yellow card. Kavan Cotter’s free kick brought a good diving save from the Blues’ keeper.
Two minutes after the break, Bailey gave Hitchin the lead for the first time as he burst between two defenders and coolly beat McCarthy.
The Canaries’ lead lasted just two more minutes as Akwyemi found space to get his head to a Hatton free kick.
The game became an entertaining end-to-end contest but Hitchin were the more threatening, with Charles’ pacy running on the right wing starting to create problems. Both he and Cotter went close while a Charlie Smith effort was less accurate. For the Blues, Owusu and Akwyemi combined well only for the former to fire wide before Akwyemi forced Michael Johnson into a fine save with his feet.
The Canaries finally broke the deadlock in the 81st minute. McCaffrey – who had a good game at the heart of the midfield along with Smith – played a perfect though ball to Vincent. The striker took a touch before despatching the ball past McCarthy.
Casey had a chance to level for Stortford as he closed in on goal but sent his shot wide of the far post. Hitchin then wrapped up the game in the final minute. Charles got to the touchline and cut the ball back for Bailey to tap in and complete his hat trick.
There was still time for Stortford’s night to go from bad to worse as substitute Jason Williams was yellow carded just before the whistle. He was then sufficiently incensed to earn a straight red card after the final whistle for haranguing the officials.
This was an encouraging performance and will give Mark Burke some good selection problems ahead of Saturday’s match against Stratford Town.
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Syme, Dowie, Webb, Bickerstaff, McCaffrey, Smith, Vincent, Bailey, Charles; subs – McNamara, Kirkpatrick, Walster, Rolfe, Green (for Vincent)
Bishops Stortford – McCarthy, Casey, Tumwa, Hughes, Rogers, Robinson, Hyde-Skerrett, Hatton, Akwyemi, Owusu, Foxley; subs – Richefond (for Hyde-Skerrett), Williams (for Owusu), Thomas, Westcott
Hitchin Town – Bailey (42, 47, 90), Vincent (81)
Bishops Stortford – Owusu (5), Akwyemi (49)
Bishops Stortford – Casey, Williams
Bishops Stortford – Williams
Attendance – 138