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Saffron Walden 1 (2) Hitchin Town 1 (4)

Wednesday, September 20 2006

Hitchin threw in their “Get out of jail free” card at Saffron Walden and thanked their lucky stars as they overcame a truly tricky hurdle in the FA Cup.

The Canaries were reprieved with five seconds left on the clock as the home side missed a penalty that would have won the game and caused a major upset. Then, in the penalty shoot-out, Hitchin kept their nerve and went through by 4-2 after a 1-1 draw.

Manager Darren Salton shuffled his pack and changed almost 50% of his starting line-up. He brought in young goalkeeper Stephen Graham, Ryan Frater, Scott Cretton, Gavin Jaggard and Glen Lamacraft. The gamble paid off, but only just!

The first half echoed the Top Field meeting. Ben Riches shot wide for Saffron Walden and Carl Williams went close for Hitchin. A free kick from Mark Ducket sailed over the bar, but the best chance fell to the home side, who saw a Kevin Vallis free kick pushed for a corner by Graham.

Hitchin opened the scoring after 51 minutes. Chris Dillon was upended in the area and a penalty was awarded, despite protests from the Saffron Walden players. Dillon fired straight down the middle to score.

It was from the penalty spot that Saffron Walden equalised with a quarter of an hour to go. Ryan Frater, who had a good game at the back, handballed and from the kick, Vallis made no mistake. This had an unsettling effect on the Hitchin side.

There was another blow three minutes from time when Lamacraft was red-carded after colliding with goalkeeper Jason Harvey. For a while, Hitchin were hanging on for dear life.

In extra time, Saffron Walden had the upper hand, with Ben Riches and Scott Chadwick both having chances to put their side ahead. Hitchin’s best chance fell to Daniel French who went on a long run before shooting over the bar.

There was high drama in the 120th minute, however, when Graham brought down Chadwick and a penalty was awarded. Vallis lost his composure and shot wide and with that, Saffron Walden’s confidence evaporated. In the penalty shoot-out, the imposing frame of Graham saved their first two kicks, while Dillon and Ducket both converted their chances. Although Saffron Walden scored their next two, Hitchin maintained their 100% record with successful kicks by David Deeney and Carl Williams, the latter securing the tie by 4-2.

Elated Hitchin may have been, but nobody was under any illusion: Saffron Walden won the plaudits over the two games. Hitchin will never be as fortunate as they were in the final minute of the tie.

Saffron Walden: Harvey, Clark, Strong, A.Riches, Godden, Butchart, Green (Barker 65), Vallis, B.Riches (Richardson 107)

Hitchin: Graham, Cretton, Ducket, Frater, Folds, Deeney, Williams, Lamacraft, Dillon, Jaggard (Mills 83 – Pugh 101), French

Referee: R.Jaye

Attendance: 517

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