Merthyr battle back to deny Hitchin victory
PUBLISHED: 16:44 22 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:44 22 February 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
Hitchin Town will be disappointed not to have taken all three points after leading 2-1 against 10-man at Merthyr, but looking at the bigger picture will be satisfied with a battling point earned in heavy rain and swirling wind against the side second in the table who are yet to lose at home this season.
The Canaries travelled to South Wales missing Matt Lench and Ben Walster, with neither able to get the time off work, while Jonny McNamara’s loan spell at Hemel Hempstead ran out after the weekend’s match.
They had assistant manager Adam Parker on the bench – registered in the week leading up to the game –while there was also a place for youth team graduate Zack Decker.
Yet they stuck to their task against a home side who dazzled when going forward but flattered to deceive with a defensive vulnerability, and on a night when fellow promotion hopefuls Slough slipped up, by losing at Cinderford, Hitchin boss Mark Burke was satisfied that his side were able to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches.
Hitchin were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty early doors as defender Scott Tancock barged into Robbie Burns in the box.
The defender made no contact with the ball but plenty with the forward, but the referee disagreed with the protests.
Hitchin then handed the hosts a great chance to go ahead when Dan Webb’s poor back pass was picked up by Ian Traylor.
The winger rounded keeper Michael Johnson but his shot at goal was cleared off the line by Josh Bickerstaff to keep the scores level.
Yet it was not long before Merthyr took the lead.
Jack Compton is a fine player with pace and skill, and he was beguiling to watch for most of the evening.
Kane Smith, the Hitchin right-back, certainly had his work cut out especially after picking up an early booking, but Compton was afforded space by the Canaries defence to open the scoring when he ran onto a through ball and beat Johnson with a low shot.
Hitchin drew level when Liam Brooks, a player who runs so much he probably ran behind the coach on the way to the game and then behind it again on the way home, got onto a knockdown in the box to fire home from eight yards.
Just before the hour Hitchin took the lead when Dan Webb nodded in Lucas Kirkpatrick’s corner before with 17 minutes to go Merthyr’s task was made harder when Scott Barrow collided with Callum Donnelly and the home player was sent off for his reaction.
Hitchin retreated despite their numerical advantage and Merthyr went about lobbing crosses into the box to feed a couple of their tall substitutes.
One such ball in led to a chance on 88 minutes and Merthyr put it away for the equaliser when, with Johnson saving from Keyen Reffell’s initial effort, substitute Corey Jenkins was on hand to fire home with the retreating Lewis Rolfe unable to stop the ball from crossing the line.
Merthyr then had the chance to snatch all three points but substitute Elliot Richards’ header hit the outside of the post in a frantic, but fascinating, end to the game.
Merthyr Town: O Davies, A Davies, Barrow, Evans, McDonald, Tancock, Compton, Wright, McLaggon, Reffell, Traylor. Subs: Patten, Copp, Richards (for Tancock 69), Jenkins (for McLaggon 78), Prosser (for Traylor 61).
Hitchin Town: Johnson, Smith, Bickerstaff, Rolfe, Webb, Wright, Brooks, C Donnelly, B Donnelly, Burns, Kirkpatrick. Subs: Barnes, Riley, Decker, Parker.