Video & Gallery: Canaries avoid relegation despite losing
Hitchin Town 1 Merthyr Tydfil 3 There was a happy ending despite this defeat for the Canaries with their future in the BGB Premier assured for another season. Defeats for Bromsgrove Rovers and local rivals Bedford Town meant these clubs will occupy the re
Hitchin Town 1 Merthyr Tydfil 3
There was a happy ending despite this defeat for the Canaries with their future in the BGB Premier assured for another season.
Defeats for Bromsgrove Rovers and local rivals Bedford Town meant these clubs will occupy the remaining relegation places and Darran Hay's men have performed the great escape.
Heads were down after Saturday's loss to their tenacious visitors from Wales among the majority of the 501-strong crowd but the celebrations started when news filtered through about the other results.
The grey and cold conditions, with light drizzle which got heavier as the afternoon wore on, made it feel anything but an end-of-season game.
Merthyr, already safe from the drop, did not play as if the game was of little importance to them.
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They were the more impressive side in the early exchanges as the Canaries looked a bit nervy with salvation in sight.
Hitchin keeper Martin Bennett was relieved to see a Craig Stiens lob drift just wide before Shaun Dawe volleyed over the top.
It was no real surprise when the visitors finally went ahead after 25 minutes and who their scorer was.
The muscular Stiens, a hat-trick man against Hitchin last season, was a threat all match and his expert lob nestled in the back of the home net this time.
Their advantage lasted barely five minutes, however, and it was no shock who levelled for the Canaries either.
Paul Barnes has done more than most to pull Hitchin away from the drop zone and when David Deeney played him through, there was little doubt that the former Barton, AFC Wimbledon and Arlesey Town man would score.
Vastly experienced Mark 'Smudger' Smith has also played his part in the revival and his piece of quick thinking nearly gave Hitchin the initiative seven minutes before the break.
From a free-kick just inside the Merthyr half, he spotted Ashley Morris off his line and nearly embarrassed the keeper as his quickly-taken attempt bounced off the top of the bar.
Four minutes later, Merthyr went ahead with the Hitchin keeper Bennett culpable as Dawe's 25-yard free-kick over the wall left him absolutely motionless.
In response for Hitchin, Jon Stevenson's free-kick in added time was too high.
Hay introduced fit-again Luke Gregson at the break in place of Dean Gilbert and Hitchin gave it everything in pursuit of an equaliser.
Paul Barnes was denied by Morris with the flag already raised for offside, while minutes later, his header crashed off the outside of the post.
Iuean Lewis' lob was fractionally off target, while Mark Ducket's long-range effort stung the hands of Morris.
Great work from the other Barnes, younger brother Mark, ended with his shot being tipped over by Morris.
Hitchin continued to press but there was a nagging feeling that Merthyr were capable of scoring a decisive third goal on the counter attack.
These fears proved well founded with that man Stiens capitalising on a superb throughball from Mike Jones by rolling the ball past Bennett.
This came 18 minutes from time and although Ducket pulled a golden chance wide in the final 10 minutes, this basically knocked the belief out of the Canaries before their final redemption.
Canaries: Bennett, Deeney, Pepper, Williams, Gilbert (Gregson 46m), Smith, Lewis, Stevenson (Davies 80m), P Barnes, M Barnes (Fehmi 75m), Ducket.