Hitchin won their first ever match at Stratford to record a second successive away win despite major availability problems. Michael Johnson, Dan Webb and Connor Vincent were unable to play because of work commitments while Elliot Bailey was injured and Kevin Byrne was unavailable. 17 year old Academy goalkeeper Josh Mollison made his debut for the first team and earned the praise of manager Mark Burke who felt he grew in to the game and made some excellent saves to help set up the victory.
Burke elected to play a 4-2-3-1 formation and as well as having players missing he did do some squad rotation as well. Toby Syme came in at right back while Ben Walster was left back and Josh Bickerstaff dropped back to partner Lewis Rolfe in central defence. Charlie Smith and Matt Spring were the holding midfielders with Jonny McNamara and Trey Charles playing wide of Hugo Logan further forward with Brett Donnelly the main striker.
Hitchin started the game well and Smith was prominent early on with some penetrating passing. He set up a good chance for McNamara that went disappointingly wide before being involved in the opening goal. Good build up play saw the ball reach Spring who released Smith and his shot was not held by goalkeeper Louis Connor and Donnelly pounced on the rebound to give Hitchin the lead after 8 minutes. It was Donnelly’s 50th goal for Hitchin and could well be mentioned in his blog this week!
Unfortunately Stratford were level just 4 minutes later as Liam Francis firmly headed home a corner. However Hitchin did not panic and remained on the front foot. Spring had a free kick go just over the bar before Mollison saved well from Eli Bako. But Hitchin regained the lead after 25 minutes with a bizarre goal. A defender inadvertently played the ball back to Connor off his backside and it hit Connor and bounced out to Logan who poked the ball home.
Another excellent Smith pass led to McNamara having a chance but he shot wide and at the interval Hitchin remained ahead. Logan came close after Donnelly set him up before Patrick Tshikala replaced McNamara who had taken a knock. Soon after coming on Tshikala produced an electrifying burst of pace down the left wing and appeared to be taken down by a defender but no penalty was given much to the annoyance of the Hitchin bench.
Mollison made a really good save from Bako’s free kick as he continued to grow in confidence and his kicking was good throughout. Hitchin still created chances and Spring shot over the bar and Logan shot wide from half chances. Stratford were desperately seeking the equaliser but Hitchin dug in and defended very well and survived the 5 minutes of added time.
So it was a really good performance with resources stretched. Burke will continue to rotate the squad over the next 2 games with everybody having the chance to push their case for inclusion in the Cup Final squad. A top ten finish certainly remains achievable despite some tough fixtures to come.
Stratford – Connor, Summerfield, Fry, Hancocks, Recci, Francis, Bako, Ahenkorah, Grocott, Stephens subs Luckie for Hancocks 65, Thomas for Ahenkorah, Poulson, Dawson.
Hitchin – Mollison, Syme, Walster, Rolfe, Bickerstaff, Spring, Charles, Smith, McNamara, Donnelly, Logan Subs Kirkpatrick for Logan 82, Burns, Tshikala for McNamara 60.
Stratford – Francis 12
Hitchin – Donnelly 8, Logan 25
Stratford – none
Hitchin – McNamara, Syme and Bickerstaff