Hitchin Town come from behind to sink Stratford Town
Stratford Town 1-2 Hitchin Town
Southern Premier Central
MISTAKES once again proved costly for Stratford Town as Hitchin Town fought back from a goal down to snatch all three points at the Arden Garages Stadium on Tuesday night.
After a goalless first half, the Bards came flying out the blocks in the second period and were thoroughly deserving of their 57th-minute lead, as Dan Lafferty powerfully rifled past Canaries shot-stopper Charles Horlock.
Five minutes later, though, came the moment of madness. From a simple long ball launched deep into Stratford's half, centre-back James O'Neill and goalkeeper Luke Bell showed indecisiveness and by the time the latter had rushed to the edge his box to clear, the headed backpass had gone past him and Ashley Hay tapped into an unguarded net.
Eleven minutes before the end Hitchin snatched the decisive goal when substitute Diogo Freitas-Gouveia twisted and turned before unleashing a powerful effort into the bottom corner.
The Bards, though, had good shouts for a penalty turned down when Ashley Sammons was upended just inside the area, while Andre Wright somehow managed to miss the ball when going for a diving header just a couple of yards out.
In recent weeks the management team have been speaking about how mistakes are costing the team and it proved true once again. When Lafferty fired in the opener, the Bards at the time found themselves back up to seventh place in the table, instead they dropped to 16th as a result of the defeat and they have now won just one of their last six league outings.
Gavin Hurren made just the one change to the team which beat Needham Market on Saturday with Jack Turner coming in for Dan Vann who wasn’t named in the squad.
But it was the visitors who carved out the first big chance inside the first five minutes. A well-worked low corner caught the Bards napping and the delivery found the unmarked Finley Wilkinson whose first-time shot was parried onto the underside of the bar by Bell and the loose ball was somehow hacked off the line.
Eight minutes later the Bards should have nosed themselves in front. Jack Storer showed a good turn of pace to latch onto Andre Wright’s clever knock-down and with just Horlock to beat, the in-form striker put his lobbed effort wide of the mark.
From there on in the game became a scrappy affair. The Bards often went long which left Wright and Storer isolated up top, meanwhile, Hitchin looked to use the pace of Rio Dasilva and Ashley Hay on the break but they were well marshalled by a resilient Stratford defence led by the experienced duo of Paul McCone and O’Neill.
When the Bards did get the ball down they played some beautiful football and they enjoyed their best spell just before the half-time interval.
Some intricate play around the edge of the area ended with Lafferty seeing a miscued shot easily saved by Horlock, who then had to be alert to stop Storer’s thunderous effort from a tight angle creeping in just a few minutes later.
Five minutes after the restart the Bards thought they had taken the lead. After stealing possession back deep in the Hitchin half, Grocott’s floated found Storer at the back post and he cut inside and drilled home into the bottom corner but the celebrations were cut short as the assistant referee had his flag up for offside.
However, the Bards were not to be denied and just before the hour mark their increasing pressure finally reaped its rewards, with Sam Wilding playing through Lafferty and he powered the ball past Horlock who could not keep the effort out despite getting a glove onto it.
Stratford’s lead lasted just five minutes though as the calamitous miscommunication between Bell and O’Neill allowed Hay to bag a surprise equaliser.
The goal was a sucker-punch, especially as Stratford had dominated the first 15 minutes of the second period, however, it wasn’t long until a huge chance to retake the lead went begging.
Once again some intricate play in and around the area resulted in Storer finding space on the left and his cross into the area found an unmarked Wright who only had to direct his header to either corner and it was 2-1, instead the ball went straight down the throat of the relieved Horlock.
That miss came back to haunt the home side and with 11 minutes to go Hitchin found themselves ahead through Freitas-Gouveia's devastating finish from 18 yards out.
The Bards tried to rally and in the 90th minute Wright came within a whisker of nodding his side back on level terms but he somehow managed to miscue his diving header and Hitchin cleared the danger.
Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Stratford were appealing vigorously for a penalty as Sammons was upended in the area but referee Richard Walker was unmoved and that brought an end of any chances of the home side rescuing a point on a night when they should have come away with all three.
STRATFORD TOWN: Luke Bell, Jack Turner, Taylor Morrison, Ashley Sammons, Paul McCone (Aksum White 66), James O’Neill, Sam Wilding (Jamie Molyneux 86), Dan Lafferty, Andre Wright, Will Grocott, Jack Storer (Dexter Walters 77). Unused subs: Louis Beresford, Dexter Walters, Felix Miles.
HITCHIN TOWN: Charles Horlock, Bradley Bell (Delsin Ackom 90+3), Malaki Black (Diogo Freitas-Gouveia 55), Stanley Georgiou, Lewis Barker, Ciaren Jones, Rio Dasilva, Stephen Gleeson, Ashley Hay, Stephen Cawley (Jack Snelus 90+7), Finley Wilkinson. Unused subs: Johnny Allotey, Leon Chambers.
REFEREE: Richard Walker
MATCH RATING: 3/5