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Cambridge City 0 Hitchin Town 1

Monday, March 28 2016

It has been a feature of Hitchin’s season how well they have reacted to adversity. Many times they have come from behind in matches and at Cambridge they had to play 71 minutes with 10 men after Jonny McNamara was sent off. In horrible conditions it seemed a real uphill battle but once again Hitchin displayed their usual resilience and dug very deep to achieve a vital victory.
Manager Mark Burke said afterwards that he would have been happy with a point after the sending off but was delighted with the win. He paid tribute to the players for their professionalism and for not panicking and was again impressed with just how hard the players worked in such difficult conditions.
That the game took place at all was down to the herculean efforts of the ground staff who found the pitch under water at 9.00am. They somehow got rid of the surface water  and the pitch was definitely playable by the time of kick off even though it resembled an allotment as much as a football pitch. As if this did not make playing good football almost impossible there was a gale force wind blowing straight down the pitch to contend with as well.
Hitchin kicked in to the wind in the first half and it was really difficult to clear the ball as defenders were struggling to cope with the foul conditions. Will Wright started at right back with Kane Smith still laid low by a virus and Morgan Spence injured from the Weymouth game. Josh Bickerstaff replaced Lucas Kirkpatrick in midfield with Robbie Burns overcoming his hamstring injury to start.
The game was never going to be pretty - even Barcelona would have struggled to play football in these conditions - and it was low on quality and incisive passing. Against the wind Hitchin would have been aiming to not concede in the first half and were happy when James Hall shot wide early on. A goalmouth scramble after 8 minutes following a Callum Donnelly corner saw Alasan Ann have a shot blocked but disaster was to follow on 19 minutes.
McNamara was challenged by Ieuan Lewis and was seen by the referee to spit in the vicinity of the player. It was definitely not a case of spitting at Lewis but the referee showed a red card to make Hitchin’s task even more difficult. But credit to Hitchin, they limited the chances Cambridge created. The closest Cambridge came to scoring was after 36 minutes when Charlie Horlock slipped in the mud before recovering to bravely dive at the feet of Hall to keep the scoreline goalless. At the other end Brett Donnelly forced Zac Barrett to make a save.
The second half saw the wind ease slightly and Cambridge made a positive start with Hall and Kaan Fehmi coming close. Hitchin replaced Brett Donnelly with Kirkpatrick after 65 minutes and his fresh legs were needed. Callum Donnelly just failed to reach Dan Webb’s cross before Webb shot over the bar from Hitchin’s best chance so far.
Kirkpatrick was booked for simulation and with 8 minutes to go John Frendo replaced Burns. Frendo was involved in the winning goal as he initially won the ball but it was sublime skill from Kirkpatrick that saw him turn and hit an unstoppable shot in to the far corner of the net with 85 minutes on the clock. The goal was one of the few moments of quality in the game but this was a day when work rate and desire were all important.
Hall forced Horlock to a good save in the last minute and Jon Kaye shot over the bar but Hitchin were in no mood to surrender their hard won lead and the final whistle saw great scenes of jubilation shared by the large number of Hitchin fans who accounted for more than half the crowd.
Hitchin were the only top side to get maximum Easter points and the battling qualities they continue to show will stand them in good stead for the remaining 5 league games.
Hitchin  Horlock, Wright, Walster, Ann, Webb, Rolfe, McNamara, C Donnelly, B Donnelly, Burns, Bickerstaff  Subs Kirkpatrick for B Donnelly 65, Johnson, Brooks, Barnes, Frendo for Burns 82
Cambridge City  Barrett, Cooper, Day, Murray, Lewis, Kaye, Brown, Harradine, Hall, Fehmi, Norman  Subs Auger for Harradine 66, Woolfe for Fehmi 64, Castiglione
Scorer Kirkpatrick 85
Sent off  McNamara
Hitchin Walster and Kirkpatrick
Cambridge City  Kaye
Attendance 222 

Roy Izzard

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