The Martyrs literally paid the penalty at Hitchin Town when they contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of a draw in a scrappy game spoilt by the strong wind and bobbly playing surface with goalmouth activity at a premium.
Merthyr retained the same squad and team that just lost out at Weymouth in the week and kicked off playing with the strong breeze at their backs and the early play was quite even. Bailey broke down the Hitchin right and gave it to Cotter who got to the by-line but his cross went over the bar. Traylor then did well to break down the Merthyr right who sent in a low cross but it was cleared by the Hitchin defence. Donnelly, for the home side, sent a volley wide of Davies’s right hand post after good play on the left. Fleetwood gained the first corner of the game when his attempted cross was put behind by Bickerstaff and Traylor’s kick went far post and was headed just wide by McDonald.
Most of the game was being played in the middle third and the only danger to either goal was from set pieces and when Hitchin a free kick halfway inside the Merthyr half the ball was sent into the Merthyr area and Webb’s header was saved by Davies, stooping down low to grasp it. The home side then gained a free kick in the Merthyr D after a foul on Green and Walster’s effort was sent low, straight into the arms of Davies. Hitchin gained another free kick after Wright was adjudged to have fouled Donnelly on the edge of the 18 yard area which was partially cleared to Dowie who sent his volley over the Merthyr bar. Merthyr got down the other end when Davies’s long punt forward was headed on by Fleetwood and Traylor managed to get a shot away which was saved by Johnson but the ball came off his body towards Richards who sent a right footed shot from about 18 yards wide of the keeper’s right hand post. A few minutes later, Donnelly sent a good cross field ball from left to right which was picked up by McNamara who shot across goal and well wide of Davies’s right hand post. Later, McDonald sent a good ball up the right towards Fleetwood who got to the by-line and tried to get past Cotter who got a foot in but the ball came back to Fleetwood who sent a good shot across goal and Johnson got down well to palm it out and away to safety. Just before the break, a long ball downfield by Hitchin ran all the way through to Davies but he fluffed his clearance and Donnelly chipped a shot over the unguarded goal. Mr Hancock brought the first half to an end with neither side troubling the scorer.
Merthyr gained a corner early in the 2nd half when Walster robbed Fleetwood in the area and Traylor sent the ball high towards the far post which was headed back across goal and Fleetwood tried to get a shot away but the ball bounced up and seemed to strike the hand of a Hitchin defender but the referee waved play on. Playing against the wind, Merthyr were having slightly the better of it and when a free kick taken from the centre circle was partially cleared by the Hitchin defence and Traylor got away a shot which went just wide of Johnson’s left hand post. Then just before the hour Richards was adjudged to have handled an attempted Hitchin pass halfway between the touchline and the Merthyr 18 yard area. Smith sent the kick towards the far post which was allowed to bounce in the 6 yard area with none of the Merthyr defenders or Davies reacting quickly enough and Bailey had the simple task of heading it home from about 4 yards and Hitchin were 1 up.
Merthyr tried to hit back and a long punt out from Davies, against the wind, fell to Fleetwood and approached the area and seemed to get past Bickerstaff but the defender stopped the danger, using his hand as far as the Merthyr attackers were concerned but once again, Mr Hancock waved play on. Shortly afterwards, Touray replaced Robbie Patten and he did well to rescue a poor free kick into the Hitchin area and set it back to Richards but his effort from about 20 yards sailed high over the Hitchin bar. Hitchin were having to defend and Merthyr made a double substitution with Copp and Morgan replacing pre-match injury doubts McDonald and Traylor. Shortly afterwards a cross towards the Hitchin far post was headed back across goal by Patten but Wright’s volley was deflected over Johnson’s bar and away for a corner which was easily defended by the home side. Merthyr also gained a couple of corners which were defended and in the 88th minute, Morgan picked up the ball on the Merthyr left and he cut inside and he got a shot away which was defended out as far as Copp who made a run into the Hitchin area and was brought down by a defender and the Martyrs had a last minute lifeline with Mr Hancock at last awarding a penalty kick at the 3rd time of asking. After on field discussion it was Copp who strode up to take the kick facing Johnson, who had saved the Merthyr midfielder’s penalty in the shootout in last season’s play-off semi-final. Unfortunately for the Martyrs, Johnson repeated his exploit by going across to his right to palm the ball out and as Copp tried to put the follow-up away, Webb got his foot in and sent the ball away for a corner. Morgan sent the corner high into the area towards Jenkins and the ball came to Touray who got it back to Richards who attempted to get it into the Hitchin area and seemed to be bundled over by Bickerstaff but play was allowed to continue and McNamara made progress up the left and got the ball out to Charles all alone on the right hand side as the Merthyr defence had pushed forward for the corner and he got a low cross into the Merthyr area and Bailey was on hand to tap the ball home from 2 yards and that was that with Hitchin leading 2-0 in stoppage time. Shortly afterwards the referee brought the game to an end.
It was a game that neither team really deserved to win and a draw would have been a fair result in a very scrappy game due to the conditions but in the space of 2 minutes the game turned on its head with the home side gaining a 2 goal advantage instead of it ending a deserved 1-1 draw as far as the Martyrs are concerned.