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Rugby Town 4 Hitchin Town 3

Saturday, January 17 2009

Crestfallen, devastated, "sick as parrots" and "choked". These were some of the superlatives being heard after the Canaries threw away a three-goal lead and were defeated at Butlin by Rugby Town.

Mark E'Beyer at RugbyThe inquests may well have gone on long into the night, but there were many questions asked by Hitchin fans over player absentees, notably new signing Joel Mason who failed to turn up for what would have been his league debut for the club. Manager Darran Hay was also shorn of his star striker Paul Barnes, leaving him without a first choice front-man for a vital six-pointer. Hay was even tempted to field himself - such was his frustration.

Hay improvised and pushed Scott Balderson up front as the sole striker. For 20 minutes, Hitchin were in the driving seat, thanks to a 100% success rate on their attempts on goal. If Hitchin fans were staggered by a three-goal salvo, Rugby couldn’t quite believe it either - after all, the ball had been camped in Hitchin’s half since kick-off.

Hitchin’s start had as much to do with Rugby’s defensive frailty, especially their goalkeeper, Andrew Stevens, who looked very statuesque in the opening stages. There was an early scare for Hitchin’s stand-in keeper Luke Howard when Tom Pepper cleared off the line from David Stone, but in the sixth minute, Hitchin took the lead from an unlikely source.

A cross to the far post by Ieuan Lewis eluded Stevens and Paul Tocco - who is growing into the Hitchin team week-by-week - received the ball and hit a tame effort into the net. In the 14th minute it was 2-0 as Balderson shot home from close range after another through ball split the Rugby defence, and to complete a whirlwind start, Mark E’Beyer threaded the ball into the net in off two posts to give the Canaries a commanding three-goal lead.

Three minutes later, the in-form David Kolodynski broke away and netted what looked like a consolation goal for Rugby. Apart from a Lewis free kick that flashed wide, Rugby had the rest of the half but Hitchin looked reasonably comfortable.

The key was to keep Rugby out in the opening stages of the second half, but the home side netted in the 54th minute with Kolodynski again scoring as he raced clear of the Hitchin defence. It was going to be a long half hour or so for Hay’s men. Ten minutes from time, the Canaries defence was breached once more, when Stephan Morley sent a fierce drive past Howard from the edge of the area.

It was quite visible that Hitchin’s heads dropped at this point and their anguish was increased when Dean Gilbert was sent off in the 83rd minute. The free kick that resulted from Gilbert’s offence saw Rugby score their fourth and final goal, a free kick from David Staff that broke Hitchin hearts.

The tableaux at the end said it all. Hay and his men stood around the pitch, looking for answers. Sadly, some of those solutions sat 60 miles away back in Hitchin!

Rugby Town (1)4 Hitchin Town (3)3

Rugby: Stevens, Nicell, Morley, Fitzharris (Taylor 72), Gordon, Breward, Gearing (Simpson 87), King, Stone, Kolodynski, Staff

Scorers: Kolodynski 21, 54 Morley 80, Staff 84

Hitchin: Howard, Pepper, Ellams, Williams, Gilbert, Thorne, Lewis (Rose 83), Stupple, E’Beyer, Balderson (Bull 57), Tocco (Boateng 63)

Scorers: Tocco 6, Balderson 14, E’Beyer 18

Attendance: 253

Referee: N.Radford

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