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Hitchin Town 1 Merthyr Tydfil 3

Saturday, April 19 2008

It's not often that a defeat is greeted with ecstatic scenes of celebration, but those that followed the Canaries' 1-3 setback against Merthyr Tydfil were enjoyed every bit as much as if a trophy had been lifted by Darran Hay's players.

In the thick of it was Hay and his management team, who pulled off one of the great escapes in the club's history. Although Hay would have liked to have ended the home programme with a win, the events at Bedford and Bromsgrove, in which both teams lost, meant Hitchin's 47 points were enough to beat the drop. How they enjoyed the occasion - perhaps recalling darker days when the Canaries looked to have fallen off their perches!

This game was a timely reminder, however, that Hay has some summer work to do to find the little extra that could turn his team into promotion candidates next season. Hitchin came up against a stocky forward called Craig Steins, built like an ox but possessing superior ball control. He scored twice to ruin the script for Hay's team, but there was still plenty to enthuse about in Hitchin's performance.

Steins gave Merthyr a 26th minute lead with a superb volley from outside the area. Four minutes later, Hitchin's Paul Barnes levelled the scores, rounding goalkeeper Ashley Morris after David Deeney had burst forward and slipped the ball inside. After the goal, Hitchin almost took the lead when Mark Smith struck the top of the crossbar with a free kick. But a minute from the interval, Shaun Dawe hit a long range free kick past goalkeeper Martin Bennett to restore the visitors' lead.

Hitchin pushed forward with gusto in the second half, Paul Barnes hitting the post with a header, Mark Barnes seeing his shot pushed over by Morris following a tenacious run by the Canaries forward. Ieuan Lewis also went close with a volley that sailed wide.

Inevitably, with Hitchin constantly pressing, they got caught on the break. A long ball came out of defence and Steins ran on to roll the ball past Bennett. This finished Hitchin to some extent and only a late volley by Mark Ducket troubled the Merthyr defence.

It mattered not, for when the final whistle went, news filtered through that Bedford and Bromsgrove were down sparked off scenes of emotion and relief. The club may consider putting on a version of that old west end show, "Daisy Pulls it Off" ! 

Hitchin: Bennett, Deeney, Pepper, Williams, Gilbert (Gregson h/t), Smith, Lewis, Stevenson (Davies 80), P.Barnes, M.Barnes (Fehmi 75), Ducket

Merthyr: Morris, Williams, Glassey (M.Griffiths 55), Thomas, D.Griffiths, Hartshorn, Harris, Clarke, Jones, Steins, Saw

Attendance: 501

Referee: A.Mason

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