Late flurry ensures victory
Shaw 74, Whalley 79 (pen), Martin 81, Smith 90
Four goals in the last 16 minutes sealed the Town’s first victory of pre-season.
After a goalless first half the Hatters found their scoring touch in the final quarter-of-hour with Jon Shaw’s header breaking the deadlock.
That goal opened the floodgates as five minutes later the impressive Shaun Whalley fired home from the penalty spot after he was felled in the box.
The Town scored their third goal in a nine-minute spell when Martin smashed home before Jonathan Smith’s header completed the scoring in injury time to wrap up a comfortable victory against the Southern Leaguers in front of a crowd of over 1,000 at Top Field.
The Town began strongly. Solomon Taiwo thumped a first-time effort narrowly over the crossbar in the third minute before a succession of corners put the Hitchin defence under pressure.
Andre Gray, lining-up in attack with Shaw in a 4-4-2 formation, came close to putting the Hatters ahead on 13 minutes. Shaw flicked on Andy Parry’s high ball for the striker to hunt down but his shot at the near post was comfortable for Tahj Bell in the Canaries’ goal.
Gray wasn’t far away two minutes later when he failed to control Martin’s clipped pass into the box when well-placed in the six-yard box.
It was all the Town as they dominated, but clear-cut chances were few and far between. Winger Whalley’s pace and trickery, which was evident at Boreham Wood on Saturday, was again on show as he terrorised Hitchin left-back Josh Bickerstaff whenever he received the ball.
But having seen off the Hatters’ threat it was the hosts’ turn to threaten. On 32 minutes former Town striker Ryan Charles poked a shot onto the crossbar with Mark Tyler beaten following a right-wing cross from Robbie Burns before Burns himself tested Tyler with a low effort from the edge of the box moment later.
Whalley almost fashioned a chance by himself having weaved along the byline, but Charles came mighty close to putting Hitchin ahead five minutes before half-time only for Tyler to dive at full stretch to turn the goal-bound shot around the post for a corner.
John Still, who watched the game from the main stand side of Top Field throughout, made three changes at the interval with Mark Cullen, Smith and trialist Graham Hutchinson making way for Taiwo, Alex Lacey and Gray.
Cullen, who struck the crossbar during Saturday’s defeat at Boreham Wood, did well to start a move four minutes after the restart that ended with Whalley crossing for Martin – only for the winger to see his shot blocked at the back post.
Summer arrival Cullen came close himself on 54 minutes but his angled left-foot shot was blocked by Shaw – not that the Town centre-forward knew much about it as the ball cannoned off of him behind for a goalkick.
Lovely one-touch football, involving Whalley and Cullen teed up Luke Guttridge to fire goalwards on 55 minutes but his shot was charged down bravely by two Hitchin defenders.
Hitchin came close to taking the lead a minute later when substitutes Luke Donnelly and Michael King combined only for the latter to blast an over-hit shot over the bar and out of the ground.
The Town almost made them pay moments later. Jim Stevenson – on for Guttridge – almost connected with Whalley’s long ball over the top – before Cullen came close with an intelligent back-header following another cross from Martin.
Still the chances came, Whalley and Martin combining for Stevenson to try his luck with a shot from inside the box that was blocked on 67 minutes.
Cullen though should have had the Town in front with 20 minutes left when he somehow crashed a shot from close range onto the crossbar after Shaw had also missed a good chance seconds before.
Not to be denied though, the Hatters did get their noses in front with 16 minutes left on the clock. Hitchin had begun to stop Whalley’s right-wing forays by putting two, sometimes three, men on him. However, he had time and space to look up and find Shaw 10 yards out and the striker did the rest, sending a bullet header past Bell.
No sooner was it 1-0 it two when Whalley broke into the box and was hauled down by a combination of two defenders in the penalty area and the winger dusted himself down to fire the resultant kick down the middle to double his side’s lead.
Whalley tested Bell’s handling with a rasping shot from outside the box on 81 minutes but the Town made it 3-0 two minutes later when Martin – the creator of many chances on the night – lashed home with aplomb from a narrow angle into the bottom corner.
As time ticked down the Hatters played keep ball against a tiring Hitchin and Still’s side made it 4-0 in injury time when Smith dived to acrobatically to head home Martin’s left-wing cross to complete the victory in style.
Town: Tyler; Henry, Howells, Lacey (sub Hutchinson 46), Parry; Whalley, Taiwo (sub Smith 46), Guttridge (sub Stevenson 60), Martin; Gray (sub Cullen 46), Shaw.
Sub not used: Justham.