Self hits winner as ten-men Puritans see off Hitchin

Jack Self's solitary goal means Banbury United have made it back-to-back wins in the Evo-Stik Southern League for 2018.

Banbury United's Leam Howards is beaten to a cross by Hitchin Town's Dan Webb
Banbury United's Leam Howards is beaten to a cross by Hitchin Town's Dan Webb

The Puritans beat in-form Hitchin Town 1-0 in Saturday’s premier division clash at the Banbury Plant Hire Community Stadium. Self struck straight after the restart but United then had substitute Leam Howards harshly sent off and had to see out the game with ten men to pick up three more points.

With Tom Bradbury, Jack Finch and Darren Pond still ruled out, manager Mike Ford named the same starting line-up to the one at Stratford Town. That meant match-winner Howards had to be content with a place on the bench and found himself to be one of the more experienced players occupying it.

The first chance of the game fell to Hitchin’s Jay Dowie but his speculative effort sailed over the bar. Trey Charles turned Jordy Ngathe before firing wide and moments later the tricky winger’s cross evaded Jack Harding and skimmed the top of the bar.

Hitchin continued to make the early openings and Jonny McNamara’s goal-bound effort was deflected wide. From McNarama’s ensuing corner, the ball fell to Josh Bickerstaff but the Hitchin central defender’s weak effort was comfortably gathered by Harding.

United struggled to hold on to possession for decent periods and looked anxious when they did get hold of the ball, pumping it forward and giving it back to the visitors.

But United went close when Ricky Johnson forced Kavan Cotter into an error and, with Hitchin appealing for a foul, Tom Winters raced away before seeing his angled drive deflected for a corner. At the other end it took a timely interception from Charlie Wise to deal with a dangerous low cross from McNamara.

But it was United who went closest to breaking the deadlock just before the break. Johnson found Elliot Sandy in the box but, as Michael Johnson advanced, he lifted the ball over the keeper and wide of the far post form ten yards.

Hitchin had a penalty appeal waved away when McNamara burst past Charlie Hawtin who collided with the tricky winger but the referee wasn’t interested. Moments later, McNarama was unable to make the most of a mix-up between Wise and Hawtin, his low cross going begging in the six-yard box when a shot looked a better option.

Howards replaced Sandy for the second half, could he repeat his feat at Stratford? His impact was soon to be felt.

Within two minutes of the restart United were in front, Howards skipped past Cotter and fired in a low cross which Johnson was unable to turn in but when the ball ran free Self netted from six yards.

United had the lead but could they hold on to it?

United almost doubled their lead when Howards burst clear but his powerful drive was beaten away by Johnson for a corner. Now Hitchin’s defence had something to trouble them - pure pace.

McDonagh was foiled by Johnson following a quick counter-attack. Self released McDonagh who burst into the box but Johnson was quickly out to save at his feet.

Goals change games and that was certainly the case in this one as United suddenly looked a different side. But so can red cards and United were reduced to ten men in the 70th minute and it was Howards who got it.

Howards slid in to challenge Dowie as he went to clear the ball. The hysterical reaction of the Hitchin players did it for the young striker with referee Matthew Law, after consulting with his assistant, producing the red card and off trooped Howards.

Hitchin sensed an equaliser but failed to seriously threaten before Elliot Bailey broke into the box, lifted the ball over Harding but also cleared the bar.

United also had their moments, Ngathe advanced and forced a full length save out of Johnson. But Hitchin piled on the pressure in the closing stages and deep into stoppage-time Harding somehow kept out a glancing close range header from Bailey.

That was that and United got a precious home victory and their second of 2018.