McNamara makes Puritans pay as they lose ground on play-offs

Zac McEachran cuts inside to give Banbury United the lead against Hitchin Town
Zac McEachran cuts inside to give Banbury United the lead against Hitchin Town
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Substitute Jonny McNamara grabbed the late equaliser as Hitchin Town put a spanner in Banbury United’s Evo-Stik Southern League play-off push.

The Puritans had to be content with a point following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with a Hitchin side which took another step to cementing their place in the play-offs. McNamara came off the bench to cancel out Zac McEachran’s first half opener as United were left to rue missed opportunities to seal all three points.

Slough Town’s Good Friday defeat gave the Puritans an extra boost for Saturday’s premier division clash, knowing victory would close the gap to the final play-off spot to a single point, irrespective of Merthyr Town’s result.

But could Mike Ford’s boys take advantage of Slough’s slip-up? Not quite and, with Merthyr beating St Ives Town, United head to Leamington for Monday’s derby three points adrift of that final play-off spot.

Both sets of players seemed affected by the importance of the game in front of a bumper crowd of well over 700 and the first half developed into a scrappy affair in a swirling wind. Chances were at a premium, Robbie Burns shot straight at Jack Harding and George Nash miscued from a good position.

Just before the break Conor McDonagh failed to seriously test Michael Johnson after being released by Jack Self. But United broke the deadlock a minute before halftime when McEachran cut in from the right and managed to squeeze the ball past Johnson from a tight angle.

After the restart, Ricky Johnson had three opportunities to increase United’s advantage. Johnson was unable to get his far post header on target from McEachran’s deep cross, moments later the United skipper shot wide from the edge of the box and then missed out with another header.

Hitchin substitute Matt Lench almost created something out of nothing, going past Eddie Odhiambo before his dangerous cross was cut out by Jack Westbrook. That signalled a good spell from the visitors, initiated by both substitutes Lench and Liam Brooks.

Another testing cross from Lench was only partially cleared as far Brooks who volleyed over from the edge of the box.

But United had two chances in quick succession to double their lead, McEcharan broke and released Tom Winters, the keeper parried his powerful drive and Johnson could only fire the rebound over the bar with the goal at his mercy. Johnson headed wide from Winters’ cross following another good break from McEachran but the second goal would not come.

And those missed chances came back to haunt United when Hitchin equalised in the 81st minute. A shot from Burns took a wicked deflection after United failed to clear and the ball fell kindly for McNamara who poked the ball past Harding from ten yards.