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Hitchin Town 2 St Neots Town 0

Saturday, April 23 2016

Second half goals from Kane Smith and Robbie Burns propelled Hitchin Town to third place in the Southern League table. It also assured them of a home tie against Hungerford Town in Wednesday's play off semi final. 
 
The only change from the Biggleswade match saw the return of Lucas Kirkpatrick from suspension, with Josh Bickerstaff dropping into the back four. 
 
The first half was a cagey affair in front of a bumper 1184 crowd, boosted as a result of the annual Youth Day and also the "Pay as you Want" initiative. St Neots – with nothing but pride to play for – built through Clarke in the centre of midfield and the dangerous Remy Gordon (a player with a background with the other Canaries from Carrow Road).  
 
Alex Archer had to be alert to a run from Kane Smith after he was put through by Callum Donnelly – who pulled the strings for the Canaries throughout the game. He was also beaten as Brett Donnelly put the ball over after a Dan Webb knock down from a free-kick. However the St Neots keeper was not seriously tested as efforts  also came in from Kirkpatrick, Alasan Ann, Callum Donnelly and Lewis Rolfe. At the other end, Gordon's cross-shot was the closest attempt for the visitors. 
 
Half Time - Hitchin Town 0 St Neots Town 0 
 
The opener, four minutes after the break, had an element of controversy as Callum Donnelly appeared to receive the ball in an offside position before setting up Smith. However the referee had adjudged the ball had come from a defender and he overruled his assistant's flag. 
 
The goal calmed Hitchin's nerves and the Canaries came close to a second as Dan Webb sent a diving header flying wide from a Callum Donnelly corner. Archer then pulled off a fingertip save to deny Donnelly as he flicked a Will Wright cross goalward, while Burns chipped onto the roof of the St Neots goal. 
 
At the other end chances were at a premium. Gordon thought he had converted but on this occasion the assistant referee had flagged and the effort was ruled out. Keeper Charlie Horlock was booked as he correctly came out of his area to prevent an attack but then dwelt on the second ball and was penalised for a foul against the onrushing player. 
 
The goal that sealed matters arrived on 79 minutes. Again Callum Donnelly was the provider as he cut the ball back for Burns to place past Archer for his third in three games. 
 
St Neots struggled to come up with any clear efforts during this period with Brown firing high and wide on the turn and Drew Roberts being well marshalled and firing over from a late Gordon corner. 
 
Simon Martin nearly completed a cameo appearance from the bench as he outpaced his defender but couldn't get a clear shot away from two attempts. However the Hitchin faithful didn't have long to wait for the final whistle to be blown and for the start of the celebrations to mark what has already been a successful season but could yet get even better. 

In a nice gesture, the match sponsors gave their award on this occasion to Mark Burke in recognition of the work by everyone over the season to date. However the manager stressed that it had been a team effort and every player had been "man of the match" over the whole season. He added that he had told the team to be calm and composed at the interval - "playing with a high tempo but not rushing it". The team would train on Monday ahead of the semi-final on Wednesday.
 
Full Time - Hitchin Town 2 St Neots Town 0 
 
Teams  
Hitchin Town - Horlock, Wright, Bickerstaff, Ann, Webb, Rolfe, Smith, C Donnelly, B Donnelly, R Burns, Kirkpatrick; Subs – Brooks (for B Donnelly), Johnson, Barnes, Lench (for Wright), Martin (for Kirkpatrick) 
St Neots Town - Archer, Casey, Heywood, Clarke, Ward, Tann, Dawkin, Coulson, Brown, Roberts, Gordon; Subs - Hobbs, Sciavi (for Dawkin), Clark (for Coulson), D Burns, Jeckells 
 
Goals 
Hitchin Town - Smith (49), Burns (79)



Yellow cards 
Hitchin Town
- Horlock  

Attendance – 1184 

Sponsors MOTM – Mark Burke 

Colin (match photo from Peter Else)