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Stourbridge 1 Hitchin Town 1

Saturday, January 4 2014

It did not seem possible Hitchin would play their game at Stourbridge as they passed through monsoon conditions en route but amazingly the rain had held off in this part of the Midlands and the playing surface was absolutely first class without any muddy patches and it helped facilitate an entertaining game, one of only four played in the entire Southern League.

Hitchin were without the suspended Michael Noone and Callum Donnelly while Sam Barker was forced to miss out with a nasty bug and Stuart Pearson was absent due to a broken finger. The good news was the return from injury of Dan Webb and manager Mark Burke lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Matt Lench and Rogan McGeorge the two holding players and Kim Forsythe, Michael King and Terry Dixon playing behind Simon Martin with Webb partnering Josh Bickerstaff in central defence.

Stourbridge are one of the best attacking teams in the league and Jordan Fitzpatrick shot wide after 4 minutes while Tahj Bell saved well from the ever dangerous Luke Benbow after 10 minutes. It was Benbow who gave Stourbridge the lead with a very good header from Netan Sansara's precision cross after 13 minutes proving to again be a thorn in Hitchin's side following his hat trick in the corresponding game last season.

But Hitchin were playing some good football of their own and McGeorge forced a good save from Dean Coleman while Dixon again displayed his quality with some really good touches. But Hitchin were dealt a blow when Lewis Rolfe did not come out for the second half because of a groin injury and he was replaced by Nick Butenshaw. Martin produced a teasing cross that King just failed to get on the end off after 48 minutes.

At times in the second half Stourbridge really put the pressure on and Ryan Rowe put a great chance over the bar after Benbow's cross while Bell  made a great save from Ben Billingham. Indeed Bell had a really good game with safe and positive handling. Gary Wharton came on for Forsythe after 67 minutes and just after this Hitchin survived a frantic spell with the ball flying across the penalty area but they somehow survived. Wharton again showed how his extra pace can cause problems for tiring defenders and he added a new dimension to Hitchin with Coleman fumbling his speculative shot.

Martin suffered a nasty facial injury and hade to be replaced by Luke Gregson making a welcome return to the fold after a long injury lay off. Having defended the Stourbridge onslaught so well Hitchin continued to look for the equaliser and it arrived after 89 minutes. Wharton used his pace to bare down on goal and keeper Coleman tripped him on the edge of the area and as last man was shown a red card with Jamie Oliver replacing him in goal. It seemed that justice would not be done as Stourbrige pulled everyone behind the ball but Garry Jones produced a brilliant free kick that went in to the corner of the net leaving Oliver no chance. Jubilant celebrations followed  but the game was far from over as the referee played no less than seven minutes 21 seconds of injury time with both Gregson and Benbow being booked before the final whistle blew.

So once again Hitchin showed just how difficult they are to beat nowadays and their resilience is becoming a real feature of the team. There is a great team spirit and togetherness that can now overcome changes of personnel and the whole squad are producing for Mark Burke. While Stourbridge will feel they should have won Hitchin really earnt their point and the whole team deserve great credit.


Teams

Hitchin:   Bell, Rolfe, Bickerstaff, Lench, Webb, Jones, McGeorge, Dixon, Martin, Forsythe, King  Subs  Barker, Wharton for Forsythe 67, Burtenshaw for Rolfe 46, Gregson for Martin 82, Izeidi.

Stourbridge:  Coleman, Haynes, Richards, Sansara, Geddes, Bennett, Rowe, Fitzpatrick, Brown, Billingham, Benbow  Subs Francis for Haynes 50, Knight for Rowe 68, Oliver for Fitzpatrick 84, Rock, Tye

Attendance 400 



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