Hitchin Town boss Marke Burke hails his FA Cup ‘heroes’after dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Didcot Town

PUBLISHED: 01:00 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 01:00 26 September 2018

Hitchin Town travelled to Didcot Town in their FA Cup second qualifying round replay. CREDIT PETER ELSE

Hitchin Town travelled to Didcot Town in their FA Cup second qualifying round replay. CREDIT PETER ELSE

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A delighted Hitchin Town boss Mark Burke has been speaking to CometSport after his side’s dramatic FA Cup victory on penalties 3-2 over Didcot Town – following their 0-0 draw after extra time at the Loop on Tuesday evening.

Hitchin Town travelled to Didcot Town in their FA Cup second qualifying round replay. CREDIT PETER ELSEHitchin Town travelled to Didcot Town in their FA Cup second qualifying round replay. CREDIT PETER ELSE

Burke’s batting Canaries moved into the third preliminary round of the world’s oldest knock-out competition after a courageous rearguard performance in deepest Oxfordshire.

The Top Field outfit also picked up a cool £9,000 in the process as they prepare to host Hastings Town at Fishponds Road a week on Saturday as their bid to emulate the club’s famous cup runs of the mid 1990’s continues.

A relieved Burke said: “They’re all heroes. They might struggle to go to sleep later. I’ve been there. The adrenaline will still be flowing. I’m going to struggle to go to sleep. I’m already thinking about the Hastings game.

“It was a good night for Hitchin Town. It will go down in our history as the night we went to Didcot and got a result in the FA Cup.

“We were the underdogs. The players responded and played without fear. They gave everything. Putting their bodies on the line to block shots. I couldn’t be happier.

“The FA Cup is special. It’s great to get through to the third qualifying round. It’s only the second time I’ve got through as a manager and I’d like to go one further at least.”

Canaries keeper Michael Johnson saved three penalties in the shoot-out and is fast gaining a reputation as a superb spot-kick shotstopper – even if the defeat was cruel on the home side in a match in which neither side deserved to lose.

However it is Burke’s braves that progress to the next round after the Canaries had travelled to The Loop in deepest Oxfordshire under a bright Harvest moon after the hard-fought 1-1 draw at Top Field at the weekend.

Three days previously Burke’s side led through a Charlie Thake goal cancelled out by Brett Gardner’s equaliser for the ‘Diddy’.

Burke added: “That’s what the cup is all about. It wasn’t the prettiest of games or one for the purists.

“It was blood and thunder with bodies on the line. In that respect it was quite exciting.

“My nerves were wracked during the penalty shoot-out but thankfully we held our nerve and got through to the next round. I went through a range of emotions.

“A draw was probably a fair result after 120 minutes. MJ [keeper Michael Johnson] has come through as he has done on so many occasions for us. MJ has had a superb night. His handling was exceptional and he came up with the goods in the shootout.”

Hitchin boss Burke earned acclaim for the dignified way he handled a difficult first month of the season which included an 8-1 defeat at Needham Market.

However, the Fishponds Road outfit showed character to rally since that out-of-character defeat and are now unbeaten in five matches.

With so much at stake the game was full of perspiration if not inspiration. Despite a valiant effort from both sets of players the tie could still not be settled after 120 minutes on the night after 90 minutes on Saturday.

A relieved Burke said: “I said to the boys before the game: ‘If we keep a clean sheet at the very minimum we’ll keep a clean sheet and the tie will go to penalties.’

“We had a couple of chances we could have scored from during the game but we managed to see it through on penalties.

“You have to show respect and dignity in victory as well as defeat. I calmly shook hands with the opposition and wished them luck for the rest of the season and then joined in the jubilation with the rest of the players and the fans who made the trip.

“There was a bit of a sing-song after the game, I think there may be a few videos floating around. You might have to edit them first mind.”

Thoughts now move to the tie against the Sussex side on the first weekend of October.

Former Hitchin keeper Charlie Horlock has been starring for the south coast side and Burke will be well aware of their capabilities.

“I set a target at the start of the season that we wanted to go on a bit of a cup run. We’re on one now but I want to go further. It will be tough against Hastings in the next round,” he added.

“I know a little bit about them as I still keep in touch with Charlie Horlock who keeps me updated. He might have told me a bit too much but it’ll be good to see him when he comes down.

“He’ll be looking forward to seeing the MJ who was his understudy. He learned a lot off him and they’re good friends – but hopefully we’ll come out on top on the day.

“We’ll have them watched during their game at Waltham Abbey on Saturday and we’ll do a professional job in compiling our report.”

Burke will be looking to use some of the prize money to add to his playing budget but hailed the support he has had from treasurer and stalwart Roy Izzard and chairman Terry Barratt.

He said: “£9,000 is not to be sniffed at. I’ll be on at Roy [Izzard, club treasurer] and Terry [Barrett, chairman] to get a little bit of it. I have to say they’ve been very supportive and they’re right behind us. I couldn’t ask for any more from them.”

Looking ahead to the Hastings tie Burke issued a rallying cry to the town, calling for as many fans as possible to attend the match at Top Field.

He said: “My message to people in the town would be: ‘Get behind the team and come and support us against Hastings a week on Saturday at Top Field and help us progress in the FA Cup.

“If we can get the town behind us and be that 12th man against Hastings then who knows what could happen and how far we could progress – it could be another very special year.”

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