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Hitchin Town 1 Arsenal XI 1

Thursday, November 10 2016

This celebration of Hitchin Town’s new floodlights ended in an honourable 1-1 draw against an impressive young Arsenal XI. After Kaylen Hinds scored with a “bolt from the blue”, it looked as if Arsenal would wrap up a win but a last gasp goal from Callum Riley salvaged a draw that was merited on the basis of the 90 minutes.

Irrespective of the result, it was a great occasion as Arsenal and Hitchin legends and plenty of other notable guests mingled with a crowd of 1160 on a chilly autumnal evening at Top Field. After the ceremony in which Pat Rice officially switched on the floodlights, the match kicked off a few minutes late with Mark Burke fielding a strong starting line-up.

Pat Rice turns the lights on

Matt Lench and Lucas Kirkpatrick had early efforts just off target, while Zach Medley cut out one dangerous ball and Dan Lincoln in goal was calm when collecting crosses. At the other end, a flicked pass from Trae Coyle put Nathan Tella through. His run was halted by a Lewis Rolfe foul but the resulting freekick was cleared.

Although both sides had plenty of the ball, and Arsenal showed composure and plenty of skill on the ball, Hitchin had the best chances. Lench won a freekick just outside the Arsenal box but Robbie Burns fired into the defensive wall. Lench then won possession as the ball cannoned off two Arsenal players, he advanced to the edge of the area and shot wide.

For the Gunners, Savvas Mourgos stabbed past the post after Tobi Omole had delivered a low cross. However the best chance of the half fell to Brett Donnelly just before the interval. Hitchin took a quick freekick which ran to Kane Smith. His cross was well met on the volley by Donnelly and forced Lincoln into an excellent save.

Half time - Hitchin Town 0 Arsenal XI 0

Mark Burke rang the changes after the break with Andrew McCorkell, from MK Dons, stepping into goal and Spence, Barker, Clarke and Brooks coming on.
Burns again tested Lincoln in the Arsenal goal, and the keeper also had to be alert shortly afterwards. Liam Brooks played in Mason Spence who was brought down. Ben Walster’s free kick brought a save from the keeper. Walster then set up Spence for a shot that flew over the Arsenal bar.

Midway through the half, Mark Burke rang more changes with Josh Coley, Michael King and Kieran Barnes coming on. However Arsenal had visibly upped the tempo with substitute Emile Smith-Rowe looking dangerous, while the lively Nathan Tella came close after taking on Walster, cutting inside and firing just wide. That though was just a warning as Arsenal opened their account on 64 minutes. Kaylen Hinds tried his luck from distance and McCorkell could only watch as the ball flew home.

Hitchin made their final changes with Payne and Riley joining the contest. The Canaries had a great chance to equalise when Barnes put Brooks through on goal. However his shot was straight at the Arsenal keeper.

At the other end, Arsenal looked to double their lead as Smith-Rowe fired across the face of goal for Arsenal while another snapshot just cleared the bar. Medley then showed his attacking potential as he broke out of defence after halting a Hitchin attack. He advanced half the length of the pitch but sent his final shot just wide. McCorkell then got down to gather a shot from Coyle. 

It looked as though the Canaries would lose on the pitch but, as has happened on several occasions this season, their “never say die” spirit paid off. Kieran Barnes sent in one last freekick from the left. The ball evaded everyone except Callum Riley who ghosted in at the far post to slot the ball home and level the scores.

The referee blew for full time almost immediately after the goal celebrations had finished, which generated even greater celebrations as scores of youngsters joined the players on the pitch to round off the entertainment. 

There has been plenty of reminiscing about the fixture in 1962 when the original Top Field floodlights were inaugurated. Hopefully the 2016 fixture will also be one that fans recall during the lifetime of our new lights.

Full time - Hitchin Town 1 Arsenal XI 1

Hitchin Town - Johnson, Wright, Bickerstaff, Webb, Rolfe, Smith, Callum Donnelly, Brett Donnelly, Burns, Kirkpatrick, Lench; second half subs - McCorkell (reserve goalie), Walster, Barnes, Spence, Sam Barker, Clarke, Riley, King, Brooks, Payne; unused sub - Ann, Bryant
Arsenal XI - Lincoln, Eyoma, Omole, Hinds, Ballard, Medley, Tella, Mourgos, Coyle, Burton, Thompson; subs - Olowu, Barden, Da Silva, Osei-Tutu, Smith, Smith-Rowe (for Thompson), Willock (for Hinds)

Hitchin Town - Riley (88)
Arsenal XI - Hinds (64)

Attendance - 1160

Colin, photo by Peter Else