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Hitchin Town 1 Stratford Town 0

Saturday, January 7 2017

Hitchin Town pulled level on points with Leamington at the top of the table as they overcame a stubborn Stratford side. 

Mark Burke made one change from the Biggleswade game as Callum Donnelly returned to the starting XI in place of Liam Brooks. Lewis Rolfe also returned to the bench. Stratford named five substitutes but were hampered as a number of them were carrying injuries. 

The Canaries made the best possible start to put the recent off-the-field events behind them. Niall Cooper had to turn a stinging free kick from Ben Walster over for a corner. However Robbie Burns was on hand from the set piece to nod through the crowd and put Hitchin ahead in just the 4th minute. 

From then, Hitchin applied plenty of pressure but could not find the vital second goal. Matt Lench met a deep cross but had his shot cleared off the line by Guy Clark. From a free kick conceded by the combative Faulkner, Burns shot over after Dan Webb had nodded down Kane Smith’s delivery.

Stratford had their own chances as Michael Taylor and Edwin Ahenkorah worked hard up front. The latter’s free kick was gathered calmly by Michael Johnson. Dan Webb headed clear a shot from Ahenkorah after the forward had been given too much space in the Hitchin box. Taylor then beat Webb to fashion a chance with his back to goal but he lacked accuracy, while Lucas Kirkpatrick was in the right place to clear a Clark header off the line from a Stratford corner.

Despite those opportunities, Hitchin were still making most of the running. Lench beat Kalenda on the left to bring a save out of Cooper, and posed a further threat down that flank when he ran at the defence and fired a low cross that went behind the players in the middle. However the number 11 had the Canaries’ best chance to double the lead just before the interval. A crossfield ball by Smith was nodded down by Donnelly into the path of Lench - but he fired wide when many in the stand thought the ball had crept into the goal!

Half time - Hitchin Town 1 Stratford Town 0

After the interval, Hitchin continued to run at the visiting defence but a combination of the visitors’ determined defending and the failure to take chances saw the scoreline remain tight. Burns latched on to a Lench cross but his dipping shot flew over, while he was also off target with a header after good play on the flank between Donnelly and Lench. 

It was not one-way traffic though as Will Wright had to slide to block a shot from Marsden. Ahenkorah also again made space for himself but was off target with his shot.  

Lench again came close as his shot from Kirkpatrick’s training ground corner skimmed over the bar and he then forced a save from Cooper with a fierce snapshot after being set up by Burns. Smith tried his luck as he advanced with the ball but could not repeat Monday’s thunderbolt and shot over the bar, while Webb nodded down a free kick for Donnelly who also shot over.

At this point nerves were beginning to stretch as Stratford tried to extend their unbeaten league record against the Canaries and snatch something from the game. Ahenkorah crossed for Faulkner to turn the ball just wide before the number 11 had another try himself but shot well over. He then worked his way free of the Hitchin defence but Johnson was alert and got down to deny him.

As the final whistle approached Hitchin tried to defend in their opponents half, creating further late opportunities as a result. Kirkpatrick’s teasing cross just evaded the head of a diving Burns before the goalscorer was replaced by Brooks. The substitute nearly found his way through but was incorrectly flagged offside. In a final moments, Lench once again skipped down the left flank, cut inside along the goal line but elected to shoot rather than cut back for Brett Donnelly with the substitute well-placed.

On another day, the Canaries might have had a hatful of goals to reward their possession and patience but they will be pleased to have taken 3 points from Stratford at the fourth time of asking, especially on a day that some of the other teams at the top of the table were struggling even more. Hopefully the goals are being saved for next week’s trip to Merthyr!

Full time - Hitchin Town 1 Stratford Town 0

Teams

Hitchin Town - Johnson, Smith, Walster, Bickerstaff, Webb, Wright, Spence, Callum Donnelly, Kirkpatrick, Burns, Lench; subs - Brooks (for Burns), Brett Donnelly (for Callum Donnelly), Barnes, Clarke, Rolfe
Stratford Town - Cooper, Summerfield, Clark, Fry, Francis, Kalenda, Faulkner, Fitzharris, Taylor, Marsden, Ahenkorah; subs - Grocott, Stephens, Westwood, Fox, Bethell (for Kalenda)

Goal
Hitchin Town - Burns (4)

Yellow cards
Hitchin Town - Callum Donnelly, Walster, Brooks
Stratford Town - Faulkner, Fitzharris, Francis

Sponsors Man of the Match - Lucas Kirkpatrick

Attendance - 455

Colin, photo by Peter Else