Vital learning experience for young Town XI
Hitchin Town 0
Luton Town XI 1
Ex-Truro City striker Isaac Vassell struck his first goal in a Luton shirt to win the annual pre-season friendly at our Non-League neighbours Hitchin Town.
Andy Awford and Paul Driver took charge of a Hatters XI that included nine players who had featured in Nathan Jones’ first team warm-up matches for 2016-17 over the past month, but equally six who are still eligible for the youth team this term.
They underwent a thorough examination in the first half at the hands of an experienced side who reached the Southern League Premier Division play-offs last season.
Awford described it as an important night on the learning curve for a young side, many of whom won’t have come up against seasoned semi-professionals at Hitchin’s level before.
So it is credit to them that they managed to come out on top thanks to an excellent strike from the old man of the team, at the age of 22, who won promotion from the Canaries’ division two years ago with Truro.
In an even opening period, Tyreeq Bakinson had the game’s first shot on goal on ten minutes, warming home keeper Zac Barrett’s palms from 25 yards.
Hitchin were always a threat, however, and their first opportunity came in the 18th minute when Robbie Burns climbed highest to meet a cross, but fortunately for the Hatters his header landed on the roof of the net.
Four minutes later, Town keeper Craig King had to get down low to keep out Matt Lench's shot as the Canaries’ forward burst towards the area.
Bakinson was looking composed on the ball but it was with his head, from a Jack Snelus cross, that he got himself in a good position to open the scoring, although the midfielder was always stretching and finished off target.
The goal came on 36 minutes when the front two combined to devastating effect, Freddie Hinds crossing low from the right for Vassell, who created space for himself on the edge of the box to fire past Barrett.
King had to be on his guard at the other end to deal with a Lench free-kick from distance, before McJannett came within millimetres of doubling the advantage, racing down the left and unleashing a fierce drive that rattled the crossbar after taking a deflection.
The Hatters averted danger in a six-yard box scramble just before half-time, and afterwards, Jack Snelus volleyed the first chance of the second period wide after a fine cross from James Justin in the 53rd minute.
Almost immediately, Vassell broke into the box but his low cross was intercepted by Hitchin sub keeper Michael Johnson.
Moments later, after Bakinson reacted well to clear danger in his own box, the leggy midfielder was surging towards the Hitchin area in his trademark style. His run was halted 18 yards out, but the ball broke to Vassell who got a shot in on goal, but Johnson managed to divert it wide to deny him a second.
With quarter-of-an-hour to go, Bakinson attempted a cheeky chip that ends up well off target, then Snelus – moved inside behind the front two – let fly from 25 yards to bring a flying save out of Johnson.
Neither side could add to the score, and Awford said: “It’s pleasing to win, of course. Any win is a good win. But in the first half I was really disappointed with our all-round game, our level of intensity, our shape, our compactness. All the things that we talk about weren’t there.
“Fair play to the lads, they responded really well in the second half. They stepped it up and showed us individually and as a team what they can do.
“It’s a big learning curve for the lads. A lot of them are stepping up from the youth team into the Under-21s and trying to get into the first team, and they can’t have minutes like they did in the first half.
“It’s a learning environment, but that wasn’t good enough for the level that we need. The second half was. It was a lot better. But the first half was a reminder that they need to step up to the plate.”
Town line-up: King, Justin, Musonda, Famewo, McJannett, Bakinson, Cotter, Snelus, Banton (Sorunke 76), Vassell (Shamalo 75), Hinds (Read 68). Subs not used: James, Gordon-Stern, Jones.
Referee: R Smith