Wake-up call for the Canaries
Merthyr Tydfil 5 Hitchin Town 1 The Canaries received a wake-up call at Penydarren Park as Merthyr sent Hitchin to their worst league defeat under manager Darren Salton. Hitchin went to Merthyr with hopes of hitting top spot as most other games fell to
Merthyr Tydfil 5 Hitchin Town 1
The Canaries received a 'wake-up call' at Penydarren Park as Merthyr sent Hitchin to their worst league defeat under manager Darren Salton.
Hitchin went to Merthyr with hopes of hitting top spot as most other games fell to the weather.
Indeed, for 20 minutes, those hopes looked intact as the Canaries led by a Gavin Jaggard goal.
But it all went horribly wrong for Hitchin as their defence was ripped apart by an in-form striker who must rank among the best in the BGB Southern League Premier.
Craig Steins, a stocky player with strength and power, netted a hat-trick to underline Hitchin's shortcomings.
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Top Field fans have been worried about the number of goals conceded by Salton's charges, and the goal against column received a battering at the hands of Merthyr.
Hitchin's opener on 17 minutes was created by a Rob Miller free-kick, headed home by Jaggard despite the presence of a number of Merthyr defenders.
Two minutes earlier, Merthyr could have taken the lead when Ryan Frater brought down Steins and his strike partner, Gary Shephard, missed from the penalty spot.
Six minutes after Hitchin's goal, Steins made amends when he volleyed home from a Chris Collins cross.
At the time, Hitchin were down to 10 men as Frater was hurt in a challenge by the robust Steins, who received a booking in the process.
In the 35th minute, Steins scored again, controlling the ball on his chest and volleying into the net, despite Rob Beckwith's attempt to save.
Steins almost had a first-half hat-trick when he sent a blistering volley against the top of the crossbar.
But it could well have been 2-2 at the break if Chris Dillon had not missed the game's second penalty in the 45th minute.
Steins grabbed his hat-trick in the 69th minute when he lobbed Beckwith from close range. Seconds later, Beckwith pulled off a good save from Steins.
Central defender Gareth Wharton headed Merthyr's fourth after 78 minutes and two minutes from time, the same player shot past Beckwith from close range at the second attempt. By this time, Hitchin were all at sea.
Hitchin were sent back to North Herts with plenty to think about.
But in a league that has become notoriously difficult to predict, they are well equipped to bounce back from this setback.