Halesowen slipped to a disappointing defeat against high-flying Hitchin in a comedy of errors at a rain-soaked Grove, writes David Johnson.

Yeltz manager Paul Smith reflected on his team’s first home league defeat of the season. “The performance overall was good but both penalty areas are critical. We’ve given away three goals with mistakes but haven’t taken our own chances. We played well in between the boxes but have to learn we can’t give away silly goals and not take our own chances.”

The contest pitted the third team against the fourth in the league table in the first meeting with the Canaries since 2019.

Hitchin picked up two early bookings in the soaking wet conditions before they missed a golden chance to take a 12th minute lead when Finley Wilkinson was put clean through on goal and he rounded home goalkeeper Dan Platt only to then miskick weakly wide.

But the Canaries were soon gifted a 14th minute lead in extraordinary circumstances when a long ball forward from Hitchin goalkeeper Charlie HORLOCK caught home goalkeeper Platt off his line and he was unable to prevent the ball crossing the line.

With the Yeltz on top, Jack Holmes crossed for Miracle Okafor to flick neatly wide in the 17th minute and another Okafor shot on the turn earned a 25th minute corner. Horlock then saved McKauley Manning’s effort from the right with Halesowen unable to break down Hitchin’s defence on an increasingly sticky surface.

Dan Idiakhoa did fire just over Halesowen’s bar in the 32nd minute but Halesowen continued to threaten as George Cater curled wide in the 40th minute and Horlock made a good blocking save to deny Manning seconds later. Just before the interval Horlock then grabbed the ball ahead of Cater in the clear.

At the start of the second half Cater fired against Hitchin’s side-netting after being played in by Jack Holmes and Okafor’s 62nd minute shot was collected by Horlock, but it was generally a quieter interlude before the drama of three late goals.

Substitute John FREEMAN struck home from 20 yards to double Hitchin’s lead in the 78th minute but just two minutes later home substitute Richard GREGORY reduced the arrears by scrambling the ball home from a free-kick delivered into the visiting penalty area, just seconds after he arrived on the pitch.

The Yeltz then spurned the chance to snatch an unlikely point when Okafor was tripped in the penalty area three minutes into stoppage time, but Horlock dived to his left to keep out Okafor’s resulting spot kick. Halesowen were punished further in the 7th minute of added time when Josh Ezewele’s throw-in stuck in surface water and only served to let in FREEMAN to net his second goal superbly into the top corner from 20 yards out.

Final score: Halesowen Town 1 Hitchin Town 3

Halesowen Town:  Dan Platt (c); Jak Hickman (Richard Gregory 80), Josh Ezewele, Todd Parker, Ryan Wynter, Kieran Morris, George Cater (Simeon Cobourne 66), Nathan Hayward (Kieren Donnelly 66), Miracle Okafor, Jack Holmes, McKauley Manning. Subs Not Used: Luke Redfern, Josh Hawker.

Hitchin Town: Charles Horlock (c); Bradley Bell, Layne Eadie, Toby Syme, Kye Tearle, Stanley Georgiou, Arnold Matshazi (Temilola Akinbusoye 72), Stephen Gleeson, Daniel Idiakhoa, Isaac Galliford (John Freeman 65), Finley Wilkinson. Subs Not Used: Kavan Cotter, Daniel Emovon, Christopher Khoo.

Referee: Luke Scott                  Attendance: 721

Booked: Tearle (4), Gleeson (9), Bell (39), Morris (57), Freeman (90)

Tulleys Print HTFC Man of the Match selected by Craig Bailey: Nathan Hayward

Non-League Paper Man of the Match: Charlie Horlock