Banbury fully deserved their victory, but they suffered nerves, especially when Hitchin were reduced to nine men, and basically hung on for the final whistle.
United had to do without the central defensive pairing of captain Liam Dolman and Dan Chilton, both missing through injuries, and they had to ‘shuffle the pack’ to get a starting line-up which included four strikers, although two were moved into midfield. From the start, Banbury looked the more positive, and it was Howard Forinton, playing in an unfamiliar midfield role, that tried two speculative efforts, one from a full 35 yards which saw home ‘keeper Martin Bennett scurry back to his own goal as the ball landed on the roof of the net.
However, it was Hitchin who spurned the first good chance when, in the 16th minute, a cross from Tom Pepper from the left bye-line was volleyed first time by top scorer John Frendo from close in, but somehow Andy Kemp made a superb instinctive save to parry the goal-bound effort, and Ben Polk was on hand to clear the ball away to safety.
Banbury’s first decent chance fell in the 25th minute when Tommy Kinch nodded a ball into the path of Ricky Johnson, and he managed to get a slight touch with his out-stretched leg which Bennett did very well to tip round the post for a corner. Four minutes later, Banbury got their first piece of good fortune when Frendo was sent-off after being guilty of an off-the-ball stamping incident on Forinton. Banbury kept positive without over-committing their forwards, and gave no chances away as the first-half ended all square.
Two minutes into the second-half, Banbury took the lead when Josh Blake rose to meet Polk’s right-wing corner to nod the ball over the ‘keeper to put United into the lead.
Banbury were now using their one man advantage to good effect, and put the home side under some continued pressure, and they again went close in the 59th minute when Blake played a good pass to Danny Edmond who fired in a fierce left-sided shot which Bennett did well to save at the near post.
In the 63rd minute, Hitchin went down to nine men when a Josh Cole shot was handled on the line by their captain Dean Gilbert, and Ricky Johnson slammed the spot-kick home to put United into a match-winning two goal lead. However, to their great credit, the Canaries had other ideas about that, and suddenly, it looked more like Banbury were down to nine men, as Hitchin started to dominate possession as Banbury started to defend, more in desperation than confidence. Fifteen minutes from the end, Hitchin got a goal back when their positive play saw them earn a rather ‘soft’ penalty when Simeon Williams was adjudged to have pushed Callum Donnelly in the penalty area, and they scored from the spot when Marc Leach converted the chance with ease.
Banbury managed to survive the last ten minutes rather nervously, but at the end of the game, this was a massive three points for United, and it now gives them a chance to play the second leg of the Southern League Cup Final on Tuesday at Banbury without the worry of occupying one of the relegation places.
Hitchin Town: Martin Bennett, Tony Fontenelle, Tom Pepper, Dean Gilbert, Marc Leach, Louis Lee, Callum Donnelly, Luke Gregson (Aaron Morgan 46), Zak Burke, John Frendo, Ieuan Lewis. Subs (not used): Bartolomiej Pedrycz, James Edgerley, Carl Williams.
Banbury United: Andy Kemp, Simeon Williams, Tommy Kinch, Ben Polk, Ben Thackeray, Joe Coleman (Dior Angus 90), Danny Edmond (Ryan Howell 69), Josh Cole, Ricky Johnson, Howard Forinton, Josh Blake (Joe Eyre 83). Sub (not used): Liam Richardson.
Just a few photos here
Photo below shows Josh Blake heading United into the lead