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Hitchin Town 1 Slough Town 2

Tuesday, April 27 2010

Former Stevenage and current England C manager Paul Fairclough, a special guest at Top Field,  summed it up at the end of this game. “Twenty three points!”, he exclaimed, underlining the lottery that is the play-offs and the ultimate irrelevance of the points margin between Hitchin and Slough.

When it came down to it, Hitchin’s record breaking season – in terms of results – was wiped away by two Slough goals. Crestfallen, distraught, disbelief and dismay – all of these superlatives could be used to describe the post-match reaction. And let’s not forget – Hitchin beat Slough twice in the league and won four of six available points against champions Bury.

But on the night, Hitchin could have few complaints. Slough controlled the game, stifling the fleet-footed front pairing of Jamie Arlick and Harry Hunt and running the midfield. The Canaries, perhaps a little jaded after their run-in and the anti-climax of falling at the final hurdle, just didn’t have the legs to deal with a Slough side who only just made the play-offs.

To make matters worse, Slough arrived armed with a couple of hundred noisy fans, who provided the soundtrack to the game. On that evidence, it seemed that Steve Bateman’s side, with his voiciferous backing, turned up full of confidence.

The occasion was tense, but the deadlock was broken on 22 minutes when a 25 yard shot from Adam Martin arrowed into the top corner of the net to give Slough the lead. Within three minutes, however, Harry Hunt broke clear of the Slough defence and slid the ball wide of Jamie Jackson’s goal.

But Slough took a firm grip on the game in the 35th minute when a deft cross by Mo Sharif gave Elliot Buchanan a free header to plant into the net.

Hitchin needed a goal before the break to change the pattern of the game and it almost arrived in the 45th minute when Carl Williams saw his shot – teed up by Hunt – tipped over by Jackson.

Slough’s first half performance, in which Buchanan and Sean Sonner – both protégés of Hitchin boss Colin Payne – caused countless problems, gave way to a second half in which Hitchin pressured to find a way back. But the Slough defence was outstanding and allowed the Hitchin frontline precious little room.

Hitchin were limited to half chance, Arlick and Luke Donnelly both had headers that went close, but Jackson was comfortable most of the time. At the opposite end, a corner by Tommy Hayes – a former Hitchin striker – went almost unnoticed as it struck the woodwork.

Hitchin had thrown on all substitutes by the 71st minute and with three forwards on the pitch, it suggested a late cavalry charge. Jeff Hammond burst through but was denied by Jackson and it was another substitute, Zak Burke, who gave the Canaries late hope. His shot took a pinball-like route into the net, but it seemed the only way that Hitchin would score – a wicked deflection. There were not nine minutes remaining, but Hitchin didn’t seriously worry Slough’s goal and time just ran out.

Thirty-one wins, 100 points, record home and away victories and a 30-goal striker in their ranks. Despite the shock of missing out on promotion, the Canaries’ season has been a mammoth effort on the part of Payne and his charges – few people would wager against an improvement on one place…

Hitchin Town (0)1 Slough Town (2)2
0-1 A.Martin 22; 0-2 Buchanan 35; 1-2 Burke 81

Hitchin: Bennett, Pepper, Fontenelle, Williams, Smith, Gilbert, Lewis, L.Donnelly (Stevenson 71), Arlick, Hunt (Hammond 59), Howell (Burke 59)
Slough: Jackson, Sweeney, Harper, A.Martin, Seeby, Yeboah, Sinclair, Sharif (Hayes 73), Sonner, Buchanan, Edgeworth
Referee: P.Knight
Attendance: 541

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