Friendly: Hitchin Town 0 (0) Luton Town 4 (0)
A fantastic end to the second half saw the Hatters net four quickfire goals to dismiss Hitchin Town 4-0 at Top Field this evening, writes Mark Wood.
A first half high on effort but low on action gave way to a goal-filled second half as Jon Shaw, Shaun Whalley, David Martin and Jonathan Smith all netted in a frantic finish as the Town recorded a comprehensive victory over their Calor Southern League Premier Division hosts.
Luton named a strong side for tonight’s game at Top Field as former Birmingham and Lincoln defender Graham Hutchinson, 20, was named on the bench having played against Biggleswade last night.
Solomon Taiwo flashed an effort wide from a half-cleared corner early on before Town forced a succession of corners that came to naught.
A good flick from Shaw released Andre Gray on 13 minutes but his final ball was poor and his touch then let him down when Martin’s short corner ran to him in the box.
Taiwo curled a promising free-kick harmlessly wide, before a positive burst from Whalley took him past two men, but Shaw was just unable to connect with an acrobatic overhead kick.
Another fleet-footed run by Whalley caused the crowd to stir on a sweltering evening as there was a frisson every time the former Southport man got the ball.
At the other end Robbie Burns’ touch let him down as he tried to latch on to Rogan McGeorge’s pass before the Canaries should have taken the lead on 32 minutes.
Another canny pass by McGeorge allowed Burns to sneak in behind Jake Howells, but ex-Hatter Ryan Charles could only stab against the bar from close range.
A dangerous Whalley cross was well gathered by Tahj Bell with Shaw lurking, but Hitchin were coming into the game more as Burns’ curler was well held and Callum Donnelly then struck tamely at Mark Tyler after a good pass from Charles.
The lively Whalley struck straight at the keeper and Charles whistled wide of the target as both teams seemed to lack a cutting edge.
But it was the Canaries who were finishing the half stronger and a mistake at the back allowed the ball to break to break to Charles with five minutes left whose bouncing bomb from 20 yards was helped past the post by Tyler.
Luton made three changes at the break as Alex Lacey, Gray and Taiwo were replaced by Smith, Mark Cullen and Hutchinson.
Town almost had too much time when Whalley’s cross went begging early on in the second half, before Shaw could only block Cullen’s goal-bound volley wide as he tried to divert it home from close range.
Lovely one-touch play between Luke Guttidge and Cullen ended in the former Northampton man seeing his shot blocked as Whalley then failed to get away an effort, while Hitchin broke at pace at the other end and substitute Michael King blasted wastefully over from Donnelly’s pass on 56 minutes.
Jim Stevenson replaced Guttridge on the hour and almost scored with his first touch when he burst on to Whalley’s clever pass but failed to connect properly as the chance went begging.
Cullen’s flick header from Martin’s free-kick then ran inches wide as the game started to become more stretched.
The Hatters then missed a gilt-edged opportunity as Cullen thundered against the bar from close range for the second game in a row. Shaw was just unable to turn Martin’s near-post free-kick home and Bell pushed the ball to Cullen a yard out, but he could only smash against the bar from a yard out.
But Luton did finally break the deadlock on 74 minutes when Whalley’s inviting cross was confidently glanced home by Shaw in a combination Town supporters will hope becomes all too familiar this season.
At the other end captain Ronnie Henry did well to block substitute Jack Gregson’s low drive, before the Hatters doubled their lead with 11 minutes to go.
Another teasing run saw Whalley jink his way into the area and a combination of Jack Beckett and Lewis Rolfe clipped the winger who tumbled to the floor as the referee pointed to the spot.
Whalley dusted himself down before confidently firing home down the middle.
Hitchin looked to respond as Charles’ drive was deflected just wide off Hutchinson, while a Whalley firecracker from the edge of the area was almost spilled by the keeper.
However, the Hatters blitzkrieg finished the job with a third goal in nine minutes as a brilliant pass found Martin in space and his low drive across goal nestled inside the bottom right-hand corner.
Martin whistled a sharp drive high into the side netting in the closing minutes before Town rounded off a fabulous night in the very last minute when Martin’s deep cross was powered home by the onrushing Smith at the far post to make it 4-0.
Canaries: Tahj Bell, Nyasha Sagwete (Michael King), Josh Bickerstaff (Lewis Rolfe 46), Ryan Frater (C, Jack Gregson 72), Daniel Webb (Myles Tang Unsure 88), Sam Barker (Lewis Rolfe 46), Rogan McGeorge (Unsure 83), Callum Donnelly, Ryan Charles (Unsure 88), Robbie Burns (Luke Donnelly 70), Michael Noone (Jack Beckett 66). Substitutes not used: Gary Wharton, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Adam Sartini.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry (C), Jake Howells, Alex Lacey (Graham Hutchinson 46), Andy Parry, Shaun Whalley, Solomon Taiwo (Jonathan Smith 46), Jon Shaw, Andre Gray (Mark Cullen 46), David Martin, Luke Guttridge (Jim Stevenson 60). Substitutes not used: Elliot Justham.
Referee: G Evetts.
Assistant Referees: L Jesspo and P Parkins.
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