The Hatters opened their pre-season match programme with a 6-2 win at Hitchin Town tonight.
Manager Nathan Jones fielded a different team in each half, with James Collins, Elliot Lee, Harry Cornick, Jake Jervis and Luke Gambin – with two fine late strikes – scoring the goals that saw off the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Central hosts.
The first half line-up saw Marek Stech in goal, Frankie Musonda, Matty Pearson, Alan Sheehan and James Justin across the back four with Alan McCormack, Arthur Read, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Lee in midfield and Danny Hylton and Collins up front.
Jack James, who had a youth loan at Top Field last season, was substitute for both halves at a sun-baked Top Field.
The hosts had the first sight of goal when Ezra Forde fired just wide from 20 yards in the opening minute, but the Town were soon on the front foot when Mpanzu picked up the ball in his own half, traded passes with James Collins on the left and burst to the byline, but his deep cross drifted behind.
Sheehan tested Canaries’ keeper Michael Johnson’s handling with a 25-yard free-kick in the eighth minute, after Lee had been brought down by former Hatter Matthew Spring, but the Canaries had a penalty appeal turned down when Stech took a heavy touch and Elliott Bailey nicked the ball and went down, but referee Alan Dale remained unmoved.
The Town were in front midway through the half when home keeper Michael Johnson couldn’t hold a 20-yard effort from Justin, cutting in from the left onto his right foot, and Collins was there to tap home from inside the six-yard box.
Five minutes later Hitchin tried to hit back when Robbie Burns pinched possession in the Town left-back area, but his angled shot flashed harmlessly across the face of goal.
With half-an-hour on the clock, Hylton hit the foot of a post after Justin again made progress inside from left-back to find him on the edge of the area, although a linesman’s flag wold have ruled it out, then Lee’s attempted curler was straight at Johnson.
Lee doubled the advantage six minutes before the break, dribbling brilliantly through the middle of the Hitchin half before playing a one-two with Read before burying a low shot into the bottom corner.
It was all change at half-time for the Hatters as Jones switched the entire line-up, James Shea taking over between the sticks with Jack Stacey, Lloyd Jones, Sonny Bradley and Jack Senior at the back. Glen Rea, Gambin and Andrew Shinnie made up a three-man midfield, with Cornick and Aaron Jarvis either side of Jake Jervis up front.
Looking sharp with his Eminem-style bleached blond hair, Cornick curled a lovely shot into the bottom corner from the left side of the area to make it 3-0 in the 53rd minute.
Then, soon after Hitchin had introduced ex-Hatters youth team forward Scott Belgrove, who was released at the end of his scholarship this summer, Cornick twice went close again, bringing good saves out of Johnson after Jarvis had done well down the right flank.
Jervis might have made it four after Shinnie put him through, but Johnson was equal to his attempted chip – and he did extend the lead in the 70th minute from the spot, picking himself up after being tripped in the area to send his penalty into the bottom corner.
Former Hatters youngster Isaac Galliford reduced the deficit in the 77th minute after robbing Jones 30 yards from goal, then racing clear and slotting past the onrushing Shea to make it 4-1.
Galliford was soon after a second, arcing a 25-yard free-kick towards the top corner, but Hatters keeper Shea was equal to it, tipping the ball over the bar.
Gambin had looked likely in the Hatters’ three-man midfield, and it was his deflected shot that made it five with five minutes left.
There was still time for plenty of action though as the hosts’ sub Michael King stung Shea’s palms before Trey Charles raced clear to net a second goal for the Canaries in the 89th minute, then Gambin added his second and the Hatters’ sixth to send the lads off to Slovenia for a week-long training camp in fine spirits.
TOWN 1st HALF: Stech, Musonda, Pearson, Sheehan, Justin, McCormack, Read, Mpanzu, Lee. Sub: James
2nd HALF: Shea, Stacey, Jones, Bradley, Senior, Rea, Gambin, Shinnie, Cornick, Jarvis, Jervis. Sub: James
Goals: Collins 22, Lee 39, Cornick 53, Jervis (pen) 70, Gambin 85, 90
HITCHIN: Johnson, Syme, Olaniran, Farrell, Webb ©, Bickerstaff, Bailey, Spring, Forde, Burns, Smith. Subs: Green, Mollison (GK), Charles, McCaffrey, Wiltshire, King, Barnes, Tshikala, Galliford, Davison, Butler, DaSilva, Belgrove, Dowie
Goals: Galliford 77, Charles 89
Ref: Alan Dale