Heartbreak for Hitchin as Frome snatch late victory at Top Field

PUBLISHED: 18:24 16 January 2016 | UPDATED: 21:14 17 January 2016

Hitchin Town players during a minutes silence before the game

Hitchin Town players during a minutes silence before the game

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Strugglers Frome Town stunned Hitchin Town at Top Field this afternoon after triumphing 2-1 in a match the Canaries did not deserve to lose.

Strugglers Frome Town stunned Hitchin Town at Top Field this afternoon after triumphing 2-1 in a match the Canaries did not deserve to lose.

In a match full of hard-fought endeavour both sides played out the last half an hour with ten men each after Lewis Rolfe was sent off for a second yellow card on 58 minutes. The dismissal followed the Wiltshire team having centre half Rob Hobbs sent off for a straight red before 30 minutes had elapsed after he needlessly kicked out at hard-working Jonny McNamara.

Yet there was relief for all associated with Hitchin Town FC before kick-off today as their game in the Evo-Stik Southern League survived this week’s cold snap.

The reason for such optimism was not just the fact the Canaries were on a good run of form, elevating them to the giddy heights of third place in the table – but also because the match saw their revolutionary ‘pay what you want’ scheme.

This original idea is an attempt to raise money for new Top Field floodlights – which it must be noted can be taken elsewhere in the event of a possible move.

However, that is for the future, what concerned a bumper crowd assembled was purely football matters – which is how it should be for manager Mark Burke’s emerging tyros.

A cold, crisp but sunny winter’s afternoon – the perfect weather for a football match to banish those January blues – saw an impeccably observed minutes silence for club stalwart Keith Balls, who sadly passed away after an illness.

It was the perfect tribute for the loyal club man. Many who knew him hoped the football played by the home team would also serve as a valedictory offering.

After a scrappy start in which both sides struggled to find any rhythm or momentum the powerful McNamara fired the ball into the Frome box after a surging drive forward that saw Simon Martin aim a header over the ball on 20 minutes.

The green and yellows came into the game on the back of an eight game unbeaten run. A run which has seen them gain two impressive away results at Bedworth United and Weymouth this month, and they were soon attacking the away team in an attempt to make it nine games.

Whether it was frustration at the home team’s dominance Frome centre half Rob Hobbs lost his discipline and kicked out at McNamara on 27 minutes after an everyday midfield tangle.

His rush of blood to the head was to prove costly for the relegation battlers as referee Maskell immediately showed him a straight red card.

Frome were forced to defend even deeper after Hobb’s misdemeanour, and were tested by the highly-rated Kane Smith’s forays down the right flank – which was to see 13 crosses fired in from that flank.

The hugely promising defender who has already caught the eye of several Premier League teams including West Brom and Crystal Palace asked questions of left back and captain Sam Teale throughout the half with his pace, awareness and natural attacking exuberance.

Another player who impressed was Canaries centre back Lewis Rolfe who looked unruffled as he comfortably dealt with sporadic Frome threats. However a first half booking was to prove costly for his team as the afternoon progressed.

His defensive partner Ben Walster also coped admirably with the Froome forwards, cleverly using his strength to win the ball when required.

With three minutes remaining in the first half wideman Lucas Kirkpatrick fired a shot at the Wiltshire club’s keeper Darren Chitty. The well-respected stopper was equal to the task and saved comfortably.

Jon Davies then fired a free kick from the left flank into the box after Rolfe was booked for a foul that would have repercussions for Hitchin in the second half. Frome forward Mitchell Page was first to react and aimed a header past goalkeeper Charlie Horlock into the net to make it 1-0 on 43 minutes.

It was harsh on Hitchin even if questions can be asked about concentration levels by Burke’s defenders.

Hitchin however showed their mettle as they roared back with an equaliser right on half time after a McNamara header made it 1-1 after good work down the flank by Kane Smith.

In truth it was little more than Hitchin deserved as McNamara powered forward with seconds left and narrowly fired wide when he could have done better as a frenetic finish to the first half saw the sides go in level at 1-1.

The early stages of the second half mirrored the opening period in that although there were moments of quality the offering was mostly shapeless fayre – punctuated by Rolfe picking up a second yellow card thereby levelling the sides to ten men each.

On 62 minutes Hitchin could and should have scored a second after more good work from McNamara who played the ball into the box, only for keeper Chitty to deny a clutch of forwards during a goalmouth scramble.

With 25 minutes left Chitty again did well to parry a shot after more good work by Kirkpatrick.

As the considerable number of children in the bumper crowd of 572 cheered on the Canaries – an important by-product of the day was selling the club to the next generation of supporters – their new heroes continued to press.

On 74 minutes McNamara won another corner which saw a spell of prolonged pressure in and around the visitors box which ultimately came to nothing.

But it raised the question of whether the Canaries continued pressure would be able to unlock the stubborn Frome rearguard – as a voice in the crowd pondered: ‘The lads’ can’t win every game.’

The statement, though eminently sensible was a reminder that standards – and with it expectations – have risen this season for the Canaries.

With six minutes to go, man of the match McNamara, who caught the eye with his constant surging drives and all-action combative style – won a penalty which saw Miller booked for an ungainly lunge.

Yet a nervous looking Robbie Burns – no doubt unsettled by the inordinate time ref Maskell took to book Miller – sent a weak shot to Chitty’s left which the keeper blocked before the ball was eventually cleared.

For the majority of those assembled at evocative old Top Field it was a real shame – as it was a moment that appeared to cost Hitchin two points in their quest for promotion.

But on 89 minutes Frome’s George Miller found himself in space 22 yards out and unleashed a powerful shot that beat Horlock, with the ball finding its way into the top left hand corner of the net.

It was a well-taken goal that was as surprising as it was effective. Team mates joyously engulfed him in great celebration as the realisation dawned that Frome had completely changed the course of the match in moments.

Alasan could have saved it at the death with a looping header – but it bounced off the bar and away as Frome held on to win 2-1.

Hitchin’s impressive manager Mark Burke – and I don’t say that lightly considering I interviewed Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp this week at Anfield after covering the match for a sister paper – told me afterwards it was very much a case of showing his side’s undoubted character and embarking on another run.

However, in wider terms, today’s revolutionary ‘pay what you want’ scheme has to be considered a success.

For, if even a fraction of the youngsters or adults unfamiliar with this wonderful old club return – peopled as it is with genuine and passionate fans and officials – it can only help secure the long term future of the club.

Wherever this wonderful Hitchin institution ultimately decides to play its football.

Hitchin: Charlie Horlock, Kane Smith, Josh Bickerstaff, Alasan Ann (c), Ben Walster, Lewis Rolfe, Jonny McNamara, Callum Donnelly, Simon Martin (Will Wright, 67 mins), Robbie Burns, Lucas Kirkpatrick.

Froome Town: Darren Chitty, Kris Miller, Sam Teale (c), Rob Hobbs, Connor Roberts, Marcus Mapstone, Jon Davies (Liam Monelle 89 mins), George Miller, Mitchell Page, Darren Jefferies, James Fitzgibbon (Ricky Hulbert 86)

Ref: G. Maskell

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