FA CUP – Maidstone United 2-1 Hitchin Town: Missed penalty dumps Canaries out despite battling display
- Credit: Archant
A late missed penalty saw Hitchin Town knocked out of the FA Cup after losing 2-1 to Maidstone United in the third qualifying round at the Gallagher Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but they can be proud of their performance after pushing the National League South side all the way.
The Canaries took a shock lead through James Verney's brilliant seventh minute strike, but Noah Chesmain was not to be outdone, levelling the game with an equally good effort on 12 minutes.
The home side took the lead two minute later in a frantic opening to the game, as Ibby Akanbi slotted home inside the area.
Steve Cawley had the chance to equalise from the penalty spot on 79 minutes after a foul on Jack Green, but Jake Cole did well to deny him.
Despite their cup exit, Hitchin can be proud of a positive second-half performance where they caused their superior opponents real problems.
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Hitchin were missing a number of key players at the Gallagher, with Mark Burke unable to call upon captain Dan Webb, or new signings Ben Walster and Jhai Dhillon.
The Maidstone side contained a familiar face, with Noah Chesmain - who spent last season on loan at Top Field - named in the starting XI alongside former Premier League defender George Elokobi and ex-Arsenal man Gavin Hoyte.
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Despite being the overwhelming underdogs, the away side took a shock early lead thanks to Verney's superb effort on seven minutes.
The Canaries managed to clear a Stones corner and Okuboyejo broke forward, feeding Verney down the left. He got to the corner of the penalty area before putting a delightful chip over Jake Cole's head, off bar then post and into the net.
Whether it was a shot or a cross is up for debate, but Burke's side didn't care one bit as they ran to the bench to celebrate as a team.
But, their lead lasted just five minutes, as an equally brilliant strike from Chesmain levelled the score.
The full-back was allowed space on the edge of the area after driving forward, and he unleashed a dipping, swerving effort that left Charlie Horlock with no chance in the Hitchin goal.
The crazy opening to the game continued, as the National League South side went in front on 14 minutes, as Akanbi tucked home after being played through.
Horlock did well to keep the score down as Maidstone flooded forward, with the goalkeeper making two important saves to deny Dan Wishart.
The game settled down after that, and bar a Horlock save from Matt McClure's shot, neither side managed to carve out a real opening despite the host's pressure and possession.
The Canaries made a positive start to the second-half as they pressed forward for the all-important equaliser.
Steve Cawley nearly found it with 50 minutes played, but his looping header went just over the crossbar.
Max Ryan came even closer when he brought the ball down and volleyed at goal from 30 yards, but his powerful shot whizzed just past the post with Cole worried.
They were inches away from a leveller on 69 minutes as Joe Gauge's header back across goal found Okuboyejo, but his close range effort came back off the post.
With 79 minutes played, Hitchin had the perfect opportunity to level the game when Jack Green was brought down inside the area and referee Tom Bishop pointed to the spot.
Cawley stepped up to take the penalty, firing low to Cole's right, but the goalkeeper got down well to save and deny the away side an equaliser.
Gauge had a golden chance to level in the dying seconds, but his shot on the turn went just wide a they couldn't find a leveller, but plenty of positives will be taken from a battling display.
Maidstone: Cole, Hoyte, Kamadjo, Elokobi, Kyei, Akanbi (Edwards, 87), Chesmain, Wishart, Khan, Johnson, McClure.
Hitchin: Horlock, Green, Anderson (Crowther, 86), Dowie, Gauge, Ferrell, Ryan, Okuboyejo, Verney (Reed, 76), Cawley, Bickerstaff.