Hitchin Town produce stunning comeback before securing penalty shootout success over St Albans City
PUBLISHED: 21:51 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:27 11 January 2017
Goalkeeper Michael Johnson proved the hero for Hitchin Town, saving a penalty in the shootout after his team had staged a dramatic comeback to draw 2-2 with St Albans City.
Johnson sprung to his right to deny new signing Charlie Walker as the Canaries advanced to the semi-final 5-3 on penalties.
Earlier Tom Gardiner, playing in only his second game for his hometown club, had ghosted in from a corner just before the hour to put City ahead before Jamie Cureton tapped in from a yard with 18 minutes to go.
But an instant reply from Kane Smith started the holder’s fightback before Will Wright took the game to penalties.
Both teams came into the game towards the top of the respective divisions but it was the Southern League side that had the better of the opening 45 minutes.
Smith has attracted lots of attention from professional clubs over the last 12 months and it was down that right flank, along with Mason Spence, that Hitchin looked the most dangerous.
From one cross Callum Donnelly got in front of his marker but saw his header ping back off the upright.
Another cross needed a good block from Gardiner and Donnelly then nearly found himself one on one, only for James Russell to come out quickly and deny him.
Josh Hill came closest for City, flicking a Graeme Montgomery free-kick goalwards. However, he found Hitchin keeper Michael Johnson leaping to his right to tip it over.
One worrying moment for Hitchin saw Johnson pull up injured in the first-half but after a spray from the medical bag, he was fit enough to continue.
St Albans had the first chance of the second period, Cureton stinging the palms of Johnson with a shot on the turn.
But Hitchin quickly replied with Matt Lench testing Russell from a narrow angle.
Gardiner’s goal seemed to settle any nerves in the sparse crowd, finding the net moments after he had won a corner.
Wright made a superb clearance off the line to deny Montgomery but when Cureton pounced to finish off a cross shot from Shaun Lucien that seemed to be that.
But Smith found himself unmarked at the back post to nod home a Lucas Kirkpatrick cross two minutes later and Wright completed the comeback with another header.
City: Russell, Gardiner, Bender, Chappell, Hill (Thomas 77), Martin, Lucien, Ball, Cureton, Merson (Walker 69), Montgomery (Theophanous 83)
Subs (not used): Swales, Noble
Goals: Gardiner 58, Cureton 73
Hitchin: Johnson, Smith, Walster, Rolfe, Webb, Wright, Spence (Clarke 69), Donnelly (Barnes 78), Kirkpatrick, Burns, Lench
Subs (not used): Brooks, Coley
Goals: Smith 75, Wright 87
HT: St Albans City 0 Hitchin Town 0
FT: St Albans City 2 Hitchin Town 2
Pens: St Albans City 3 Hitchin Town 5
Penalties - Hitchin Town: Lench, Wright, Rolfe, Burns, Kirkpatrick
Penalties - St Albans City: Ball, (Walker), Lucien, Bender
Attendance: Not announced
Referee: Lee Grimsey