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Hitchin Town 4 Cinderford Town 3

Saturday, August 6 2016

Hitchin Town gave Cinderford  a harsh welcome to the Southern Premier Division. The visitors had taken a commanding 3-0 lead but fell to a four goal salvo in the last 18 minutes to go home empty-handed.   

The Canaries started with only six of the side that had opened the play-off match against Hungerford. This was due to a combination of departures, suspension, injury and the very early start to the season clashing with the peak school holiday period. That of course was nothing compared to newly promoted Cinderford who had had to put together an almost entirely new team following the mass exodus of management and players during the summer. 

In glorious sunshine, Callum Donnelly had the first effort on goal but Ben Fletcher saved his effort. Hitchin then had a golden chance to open the scoring on 11 minutes. Robbie Burns flicked a pass to Donnelly and his low pass across goal fell to Liam Brooks who struck the bar from close range.  

A few minutes later, Hitchin had cause to regret this miss. Cinderford opened their top flight account with their first corner in the 19th minute. Sam Hunt's ball was deflected into the far corner by Lewis Fletcher. 

Hitchin had the majority of possession and good build-up play but they were not seriously testing Ben Fletcher. Donnelly was involved in many of the best moments.  He had a shot that curled just over the bar and then ran at the defence before teeing up Mason Spence who shot across the face of goal.

At the other end, Hitchin still had problems from set pieces - a Cinderford freekick nearly found Nelmes at the far post. The warning was not heeded though as Cinderford doubled their lead a minute before the break. Chambers won a soft freekick on the right flank and Hunt's curling free kick appeared to evade everyone in the crowded box to reach the corner of the goal.

Half time - Hitchin Town 0 Cinderford Town 2  

The pattern of play after the break continued to see Hitchin press forward and Cinderford defending and relying on breaks. Nelmes got a vital  header on a Spence cross before it could reach Brooks. Spence was also denied by Ben Fletcher who palmed away his header as he met a Dan Webb nod back from a Lucas Kirkpatrick free kick. 

However it was on one of their breaks that Cinderford apperaed to have put the game beyond doubt. On 59 minutes, Karnell Chambers robbed Lewis Rolfe and fed substitute Carlos Moreira who slotted home from an angle.  

The Canaries continued to push forward to try and get back into the match. Burns had an effort cleared off the line and when the ball fell to Lench on the edge of the area his effort flew over. Lewis Fletcher cleared from Webb and Ben Fletcher turned away a shot from Kieran Barnes. Burns headed just over from a Donnelly cross and then, to demonstrate that luck appeared to be running against Hitchin, Josh Coley's snapshot hit the post. 

However fortune started to favour the brave on 72 minutes when a chipped cross from Spence on the right flank looped over Fletcher and under the bar.   

It was all Hitchin now and Cinderford were pushed further back. Donnelly shot wide again while the ball also ricocheted just past the post off Barnes after a goalmouth scramble. A second goal did come and it was the captain who delivered. After another panic in the area, the ball fell out to Donnelly on the left and he fired home from an angle on 82 minutes.

It looked like the comeback would stall when Matt Lench hit the crossbar twice in a minute - the first after carrying the ball half the length of the pitch, and the second from closer range while firing on the turn. 

On 88 minutes the Hitchin pressure paid off. Another penalty area scramble saw a Spence effort strike the post but Kirkpatrick was on hand to turn the ball home.  

There was suddenly a sense that, if there was to be a decider, it would be Hitchin that got it! On 90 minutes, Hitchin were awarded a penalty which Cinderford did not dispute. In the absence of Ben Walster, Will Wright showed great composure to convert and put Hitchin in front for the first time in the game. The goal sparked pandemonium among the home fans, with some people on the pitch to join the celebrations.

The referee played six minutes of stoppage time but there were no further scares for The Canaries as Cinderford were, unsurprisingly, deflated. The final whistle signalled the end of a memorable match in which both sides had played their part. Hitchin made sure they did not make the same mistake they did against Stratford on the opening day last season but will need to examine the defensive lapses that saw them concede three goals.  

Credit also to referee Wilson who did not issue any cards but spoke to the players where needed and let the game develop.

However this was a pulsating way to kick off the new season and both teams have players returning so will feel they can improve. The 6 August start probably explained the slightly disappointing 334 attendance but those that did attend certainly got their money's worth! 

Final score - Hitchin Town 4 Cinderford Town 3 

Teams
Hitchin Town - Barrett, Wright, Payne, Lench, Webb, Rolfe, Spence, Callum Donnelly, Brooks, Burns, Kirkpatrick
Subs - Pearson, Johnson, Barnes (for Payne), Coley (for Brooks), Alfie Barker
Cinderford Town - Ben Fletcher, Lewis Fletcher, Hicks, Nelmes, Hunt, Jake Burns, Waugh, Prangley, Hill, Hands, Chambers
Subs Oxley (for Chambers), Moreira (for Waugh), Harry Burns, Camm (for Hands), Chris Burns

Goals
Hitchin Town - Spence (72), Donnelly (82), Kirkpatrick (88), Wright (90)
Cinderford Town - Fletcher (19), Hunt (44), Moreira (59)

MOTM - Will Wright       

Penalty!

Attendance - 334

Colin, photo by Peter Else