Hitchin held their nerve in another penalty shootout and claimed a place in their second cup final of the season. After a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes against an in-form Hayes & Yeading side, four Canaries put away their spot kicks while Michael Johnson again excelled as he saved two out of four of the visitors’ attempts.
Mark Burke opted for experience for what he had described as “the most important game of the season” with Dan Webb, Brett Donnelly and Jonny McNamara returning to the starting eleven.
The first half was a contrast of styles as the visitors exhibited the pace and power that may well see them regain their Step 3 status next season, with top scorer Manny Duku nodding wide on 16 minutes. Hitchin had more chances though, with the best of them falling to Robbie Burns who shot wide twice and headed one effort past the post. Keeper Danny Bonness also saved from Burns and from Lucas Kirkpatrick, who was put through by an excellent reverse pass from McNamara.
Hitchin were ahead on points at the interval, especially as the referee had also lectured a number of Hayes & Yeading players for some over-physical challenges. However the visitors brought on the diminutive Ismael Ehui for the second half and he nearly broke the deadlock straight away, instigating a move and then finishing it with a shot that was turned away for a corner.
Toby Little for Hayes & Yeading and Charlie Smith for the Canaries traded shots over the bar but on 58 minutes the deadlock was broken. The experienced Scott Donnelly curled in a free kick that was met by the head of Duku and the goal was given despite Michael Johnson’s claims for offside, for which he was booked.
Hitchin fans may have feared a repeat of a number of previous cup reverses, especially as Johnson had to punch away another Donnelly free kick. However a sustained period of pressure paid off on 68 minutes as a Kirkpatrick cross was nodded down at the far post for Connor Vincent to backheel goalwards, although Brett Donnelly and Webb both laid claims to the final touch.
Hayes & Yeading pushed back and Duncan Culley created a number of half chances only for his final ball to lack accuracy. Bonness made one final save from Vincent but there was a sense that penalties would decide the match and so it proved.
Kirkpatrick, Little and Ben Walster made it 2-1 for Hitchin, before Laste Dombaxe indulged in an over elaborate run-up followed by a weak shot that Johnson saved to his left. Kavan Cotter, Ehui and Burns all converted to make it 4-2 and pile the pressure on Culley. The pressure told and Johnson again guessed right to seal the win. It was the second shootout triumph for the Canaries in this competition following the win at AFC Rushden & Diamonds in the Third Round. The Canaries now wait to see who from Frome Town, Larkhall United and Didcot Town comes through the other, delayed half of the draw ahead of a two legged final, with the first leg scheduled for week commencing 19 March.
Hitchin Town – Johnson, Cotter, Walster, Smith, Webb, Rolfe, Kirkpatrick, Vincent, B Donnelly (Charles 71), Burns, McNamara (Logan 71); subs not used – Byrne, Tshikala, Bickerstaff
Hayes & Yeading – Bonness, Cash, Robinson, Olajubu (Ehui 45), Smith, Farquharson, Little, S Donnelly, Duku (Fehmi 76), Dombaxe, Culley; subs not used – May, Roper, O’Neil
Hitchin – Vincent (68)
Hayes & Yeading – Duku (58)
Kirkpatrick scores 1-0 to Hitchin Town
Little scores 1-1
Walster scores 2-1
Dombaxe saved by Johnson 2-1
Cotter scores 3-1
Ehui scores 3-2
Burns scores 4-2
Culley saved by Johnson 4-2
Hitchin – Johnson, Rolfe, Kirkpatrick
Hayes & Yeading – none
Attendance – 186