Biggleswade United’s FA Cup dreams ended in the driving rain at Hitchin Town on Saturday.
For a few minutes it seemed as if the dream may become reality as United clawed their way back from a two goal deficit, before eventually succumbing to a 4-2 defeat against a slightly rattled Hitchin Town.
The Canaries advance into the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Cup once again while this stage remains the furthest United have progressed in their history.
To compound matters the hosts also emerge with the Top Field Trophy, a title contested whenever the two clubs meet after United’s assistance with the campaign to save Hitchin’s hallowed turf a few years back.
In truth the result was expected and the Hitchin faithful were still given a scare by their opponents so there are positives beyond the final scoreline to take into the rest of the season.
Over 700 people were in attendance with Sky Sports Presenter David Garrido and Non League Daily Editor Mark Carruthers among those to have opted to celebrate Non League Day down at Top Field.
Spectators were also granted entrance on a ‘pay what you want’ basis and they were entertained right from the start as the home side struck after just three minutes.
Callum Donnelly’s free kick was glanced into the far corner past a stranded Tom Wyant in the United goal. There remains some ambiguity over who met the cross but Brett Donnelly appeared to rise highest and get the final touch.
Eight minutes on the clock and another blow to United’s armoury as an incisive counter attacking move developed on the left hand side. Lucas Kirkpatrick was eventually found in the box with a low cross, although two men were queuing up behind also, and he proceeded to slot the ball neatly past Wyant.
A hammering was now on the cards as the hosts exerted their superiority right from the start. United adapted and began passing the ball with far greater assurance as the first half progressed. Their first genuine chance came when James Cooper clipped a ball towards Nick Elliot at the back post, only for the former Aston Villa academy player to loop his header over the bar. Captain Martin Russell made no mistake with his headed effort moments later as he latched onto Elliot’s free kick and despite getting a hand to it, Hitchin stopper Michael Johnson couldn’t keep it out.
Hitchin resumed control of the match before halftime without creating much. Dan Webb scuffed his volley wide after the ball broke kindly for him from a corner while Matt Lench, who also claimed to have scored his side’s first goal, headed harmlessly wide from a cross on the right hand side.
United Head Coach Cristian Colás adjusted the system during the interval with the initial 3-5-2 becoming more of a 4-5-1 as winger Charlie Joy replaced centre half and goalscorer Russell. The game was almost out of reach, however, as shortly after the break a corner caused a scramble inside the United box and required a defender to clear the ball of the line.
The visitors then had a couple chances to equalise as Elliot’s free kick was pushed out well by Johnson at his near post. Former Barcelona B midfielder Sergio Urbano then headed over from a corner before Colás made his second substitution replacing Antonio Mitri with Daril Ngwala.
Charlie Black was the hero away to Aylesbury United two weeks ago when he notched a late winner to set up this tie and he was up to old tricks again. A free kick came in from the right flank and his tame volley crept into the bottom corner to set up a compelling final half hour.
It took all of six minutes for the Canaries to regain their lead as Brett Donnelly guided his header into the far corner after meeting an average cross from the right. They were looking to kill off their opponents and when United centre back Carlos Balbao inadvertently flicked the ball on into the path of Robbie Burns it seemed as though they had. But Wyant was equal to the controlled side-footed volley from the forward.
Even if the home side weren’t dominating they had certainly taken the sting out of the game as United struggled to construct attacks of any note. Kevin Owusu entered the fray in place of Gareth Hunt in one final attempt to prevent the inevitable result.
But that alteration had little impact and in the 89th minute United’s fate was sealed by Kirkpatrick. The impressive Lench delivered a cross to the far post which he met on the half volley as the ball nestled into the bottom corner for his second goal of the match.
Cooper picked up a booking and the resulting free kick was curled over by Lench who couldn’t cap his influential performance with a goal as it finished 4-2.
A loss yes but still a performance that the significant number of travelling supporters can be proud of. The boys competed well against a team two divisions above and in patches exhibited some quality football that unsettled their higher-tiered opposition.
They depart from one illustrious competition but another big fixture arrives swiftly as United travel to KIng George V Playing Field next Saturday to take on Whitton United in the FA Vase, KO 3pm.