Hitchin head to the summit of Southern Premier Division

PUBLISHED: 09:55 16 August 2011 | UPDATED: 10:42 16 August 2011

Photo: James Ronayne

Photo: James Ronayne

Strike duo do the damage against former boss Colin Payne’s Hemel outfit

Southern Premier Division

Hitchin Town 3 Hemel Hempstead Town 0

HITCHIN Town moved to the top of the Southern Premier Division table, albeit probably only for 24 hours, after an impressive victory over former boss Colin Payne’s Hemel Hempstead Town.

Zak Burke fired Hitchin ahead after 20 minutes before two ice cool finishes from John Frendo in the second half secured the three points for the hosts to send the Canaries to the summit of the division on Monday evening.

It wasn’t an easy ride for Hitchin though as Hemel enjoyed large spells of possession, playing an intricate and eye-catching passing game, but while the visitors dominated the possession stats they were unable to get the better of a Hitchin defence who weren’t afraid to put their body on the line for the cause. Nobody better typified that than new-boy Laurie Stewart who, complete with a Terry Butcher-style head bandage after a first half knock, was a pillar of strength all evening and, alongside Marc Leach and captain Dean Gilbert, they threw themselves in the way any time Hemel threatened to test goalkeeper Martin Bennett.

Before kick off both sides observed a minute’s silence in memory of former Hitchin players Den Chapman and Ian Reid but the atmosphere was soon raised a notch with Frendo, back in the side after missing Saturday’s match through illness, unlucky not to see his audacious lob drift inside the far post of Hemel ‘keeper Mike McEntegart’s goal in the opening minutes.

Hemel got into their stride early on pinging the ball around the crisp Top Field surface but it was the home side, who included former Stevenage winger Mitchell Cole in the starting XI, who continued to look the most likely to score.

The marauding runs of Tom Pepper were a feature throughout the opening 45 minutes for the Canaries and the right-back should have done better when one such run found him free in the penalty area with just the ‘keeper to beat but he fired wildly over the bar.

Top Field did not have to wait too much longer for its first goal of the new campaign though as Burke netted his second goal in as many games. The winger-cum-striker has been a revelation since moving up front alongside Frendo last season and he has continued where he left off last term. The former Stevenage youngster was given too much time and space by the visiting defence and took his opportunity with both hands cutting inside from the left wing before slamming home a shot from inside the ‘D’.

Hemel responded with Justin Clayton heading over at the far post from a Danny May corner and Marvin Williams dragging a shot wide of the target after he’d turned Leach on the edge of the box.

As the half came to a close Hitchin found themselves unable to wrestle the ball from the visitors and Cole was forced to throw himself in the way as Michael Alexis fired a shot in from outside the box.

Despite this late pressure it was Carl Williams’ side who could have extended their lead before the interval when Pepper breezed past his man on the right and picked out Luke Gregson but the midfielder miscued his shot and sliced it harmlessly wide of the target.

The decisive moment came 11 minutes after the interval when Frendo won Hitchin a penalty. The visiting defence was only able to half clear a corner and when the ball was lobbed back into the box Frendo was onto it only to be flattened by goalkeeper Mike McEntegart as he tried to round him. Referee Paul Forrester had no hesitation in awarding the spot kick and Frendo confidently dispatched the penalty past the stopper despite the ‘keeper guessing the right way.

Hemel instantly responded and Leach twice had to clear off the line in the space of seconds as Payne’s side looked for a way back into the contest. Their best chance fell to captain Matt McEntgart who had the goal at his mercy but the defender inexplicably headed against the crossbar when it was easier to score.

Williams introduced recent recruit Jerome Anderson in place of Burke and the ex-Stevenage man busied himself unsettling the Hemel defence. Some good hold-up play from the forward led to Frendo sliding the ball in for Gregson who outmuscled his man but was denied by a good save from Mike McEntegart.

Hemel’s frustrations were growing and they soon boiled over when midfielder Liam Malone was shown a second yellow card after catching Ieuan Lewis on the thigh with his studs as the pair slid in to challenge for the ball.

Hitchin made their man advantage count, making the ball do the work and spraying passes around the park just like Hemel had done to them earlier.

One such flowing passing move led to Hitchin’s third goal and it was that man Frendo again. Louis Lee and Pepper got the move going but it was the exuberant footwork of Callum Donnelly who made the space for the cross and when the ball fell in the penalty area Frendo had the awareness and ice-cold calmness to send the ‘keeper the wrong way and fire the ball in off the far post.

That goal ensured Frendo joined Burke at the top of the division’s goalscoring charts and on this form no defence is going to relish the challenge of handling the pair for 90 minutes.

Hitchin: Bennett; Pepper Stewart, D Gilbert, Leach; Lewis, Lee, Gregson, Cole (Donnelly 65); Frendo (Arlick 90), Burke (Anderson 59).

Subs not used: Fontonelle, Edgerley.

Hemel: Mike McEntegart; Goodhind (J Gilbert 75), Matt McEntegart ©, Clayton, May; Malone, Alexis, Smith (Morgan Williams 59), Blake; Fenemore (Toomey 80), Marvin Williams.

Subs not used: Stead, Reading.

Referee: Paul Forrester (Luton)

Att: 359.

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