Hereford 1-0 Town
HEREFORD 1 (McQuilkin 56)
The Town fell to only their third away defeat of the season – despite dominating at Edgar Street.
The Hatters created a number of chances and were kept at bay by a string of saves from home goalkeeper James Bittner, but ultimately it was James McQuilkin’s shot that won it for the hosts.
His fine curling effort 11 minutes after half-time proved to be the difference as Hereford held out in the face of a barrage of Town attacks and corners.
Stuart Fleetwood, Scott Rendell, Simon Ainge and debutant Jonathan Smith were thwarted leaving the Hatters to think on what might have been on their first trip to this part of Herefordshire since March 1977.
It all started with Town boss Paul Buckle making two changes to the side that drew with Nuneaton on Saturday. New signing Smith made his debut in midfield whilst Ainge returned to centre-half having been cup-tied. That meant Lathaniel Rowe-Turner slotted in at left-back and Jake Howells moved into central midfield. JJ O’Donnell and Dan Walker were the ones that dropped to the bench. Dean Brill continued in goal – making his 100th appearance in Town colours.
The Hatters started brightly, with Andre Gray twice speeding down the right to force two corners in the first six minutes that Hereford cleared.
Neither side had forced a clear goalscoring opportunity in the first 10 minutes but on the quarter-hour mark the Town almost had the lead. Fleetwood, playing against his old club, fed Rowe-Turner down the left. His low cross was met by Rendell who turned and fired a low shot that goalkeeper Bittner got his hands on to turn away.
That was a fine save as the Town were beginning to get on top and, a minute, later Gray raced down the right once more to dig out a deep cross to the back stick but, with Fleetwood lurking at the back post, Hereford were able to concede a corner which Fleetwood took but was punched clear by Bittner.
Still the Hatters were having the better of the play and Fleetwood did well on 24 minutes to pick the pocket of a Hereford man down the left and sprint down the wing but could not pick out Jake Howells’ run into the box and Bittner was there to snuff out the danger.
While the Town were bossing things Hereford almost got their noses in front on 26 minutes when Simon Clist’s low pass into the six-yard box was deflected goalwards by Ainge but Brill was quick to react to the loose ball to prevent it crossing the line.
Fleetwood continued to see a lot of the ball down the left and, after his shot from the edge of the area was blocked, Arnaud Mendy saw a deflected effort from distance saved by Bittner on 29 minutes.
Three minutes later Fleetwood came even closer to breaking the deadlock when he did well down the left to cut inside and curl a right-foot shot inches wide of the post with Bittner beaten.
It was all the Town as they continued to play some attractive football. On 34 minutes Mendy did well to win a free-kick that Smith took quickly into the feet of Rendell. The striker held off two defenders and brilliantly fed Fleetwood on the left. Rowe-Turner charged up on the overlap and fired Fleetwood’s pass into the side-netting.
The Hatters continued to knock on the door in search of the opener as the Howells hammered a well-hit drive from 25 yards that looked destined to test Bittner.
While the Town were playing some eye-catching stuff Hereford were struggling to create a clear-cut opening but the Bulls tested Brill on 41 minutes when Sam Clucas volleyed a left-foot effort from the edge of the box that Brill comfortably saved diving to his left.
But that was a rare foray forward from the hosts as the Hatters continued to threaten. Fleetwood again muscled past his man down the left to cross dangerously before he found Howells a minute later that led to the midfielder warming Bittner’s fingertips with a stinging effort from outside the box.
As half-time approached the Hatters spurned one final chance when Rowe-Turner galloped forward once more from left-back to cross for Rendell whose glancing header failed to hit the target.
The Hatters continued to press for an opening goal minutes after the restart. Gray blazed a shot on the turn out of the ground on 49 minutes before Bittner came to the Bulls rescue a minute later when he beat away Gray’s firm effort from 15 yards before Rendell’s follow-up was blocked by a covering defender with the goal gaping.
But, after the Town failed to convert following a goalmouth melee after a left-wing Fleetwood corner, it was Hereford that took the lead against the run of play with a fine goal. McQuilkin latched on a loose ball down the right, drifted inside and let fly from 20 yards with a curling effort that gave Brill no chance.
Hurt by that the Hatters tested Bittner once more when Fleetwood struck a firm shot from outside the box on 63 minutes.
Hereford almost a had a sniff for a second on 64 minutes when Will Evans broke down the left but he couldn’t pick out a team-mate with several well-placed to turn the ball home.
With 20 minutes left Buckle made a double substitution, bringing on Jake Robinson and Alex Lawless for ex-Bull Janos Kovacs and Gray. It meant the Town changed tact, going 442 in a bid to overturn the deficit.
Lawless drilled a shot narrowly over the crossbar five minutes after his introduction before more Fleetwood trickery in the box won a corner that eventually led to Howells firing a shot at goal that was blocked.
Still the Town pressed, winning corner after corner, but they continued to be thwarted by the home defence and goalkeeper Bittner who kept out Robinson’s low shot on the run that was heading for the bottom corner.
It was almost 1-1 with eight minutes left when Howells hung up a cross from the left that Smith headed goalwards but Bittner was equal to it, diving down to his right.
With six minutes left Rendell was denied a glorious chance to level it up when Bittner fumbled a Howells effort and the striker saw a shot somehow deflected over the crossbar.
It was one-way traffic as the Town pushed for an equaliser. Lawless swung over a cross with three minutes left that Ainge headed over at the back post, before Mendy blazed a shot out of the ground with a minute left.
Five minutes were added at the end of the 90 but the frustrated Hatters could not find a way past a wall of white shirts in front of them and Hereford celebrated victory come the final whistle.