Hitchin Town 2 Hungerford Town 3
IT’S back to work and training on Saturday after Hungerford secured the first half of a result of a club’s lifetime by overturning a two-goal deficit to secure a home final tie with Leamington on Bank Holiday Monday with a place in the Vanarama National League at stake.
Hungerford had looked set for a second successive semi-final disappointment when Hitchin struck twice against the run of play early in the second half, and with the league’s best home record at their backs, were odds-on to win through.
But Hungerford’s fighting spirit shone through, and once Scott Rees had pulled one back, they always looked capable of a full recovery and James Clark’s rammed home the equaliser before Stefan Brown’s looping back-header completed a remarkable turnover.
There were a couple of scares to come, but Hungerford were able to celebrate and wait the additional 45 minutes before learning that they would have home advantage in Monday’s final before social media was ringing out with messages of congratulation.
Hitchin went into the match with the best home record in the league and they looked good to make Monday’s final having gone two goals up early in the second half.
It was a rollercoaster ride to get there though! Hungerford had what looked a perfectly good goal from Matt Day ruled out after only three minutes when he headed home Garyn Preen’s corner and then survived a scare when Brett Donnelly got in behind but Paul Strudley blocked well.
Stefan Brown latched onto a Nat Jarvis pass in the box, but was crowded out before he could finish and Brown was denied by goalkeeper Charlie Horlock before Dan Webb threw himself down to block Jarvis at point-blank range as Hungerford reached the interval in good shape, but having to be wary of a Hitchin side that had been repelled, but was building neatly and concisely.
It was Hungerford who were building dangerously after the re-start with Horlock saving well from a Preen free kick before Clark’s corner was sent skimming off the bar by Brown.
It looked as if Hungerford had won another corner when Rhys Tyler chased down Alasan Ann and the ball cannoned off the midfielder and behind, But referee Gareth Viccars gave a goal kick, and Hitchin broke quickly with Smith darting around the back back and setting up Brett Donnelly for a simple finish that stunned Hungerford.
And that became shock three minutes later when Callum Donnelly’s free kick had Strudley stretching past a couple of players as he could not keep the ball and it fell for Robbie Burns to drive in.
Hungerford needed to show all of their resolve and when Clark cut the ball back for Preen to be blocked out, the ball fell for Scott Rees to follow up and drive home left-footed beyond Horlock.
The equaliser came in the 75th minute from Ian Herring’s long throw towards Matt Day and Mike Jones, with Day getting the flick and James Clark stealing in unnoticed at the back post to fire home.
Strudley had to make one key save - from Day’s backward delivery - but Hungerford were rampant and Will Wright escaped punishment when hauled back Preen and Rees put an effort wide before Hungerford pocketed another throw on the left that Brown shaped to take But Herring took charge, and instead delivered the ball to Brown at the near post, and he got up with a back-header that looped over Horlock and was ushered in by Jarvis.
Hungerford were almost there, and when Hitchin substitute Mason Spence fired inches wide just before the end, they were there, home and waiting for Monday’s meeting with fate.
Hitchin Town: Horlock; Wright, Webb, Rolfe, Bickerstaff; Smith, C. Donnelly, Ann, Burns, Kirkpatrick; B. Donnelly; Subs: Brooks, Johnson, Spence, Lench, Frendo.
Hungerford Town: Strudley; Horgan, Day, Jones, Tyler; Clark, Herring, Rees, Preen; Brown, Jarvis. Subs: Goodger, Draycott, Rusby, John, Boardman.
Referee: Gareth Viccars (Milton Keynes). Attendance: 1305.