Upon entering the ground through the turnstiles on Fishponds Road, I was pleasantly surprised. Top Field has been around for a long time and, in places it shows, but there is a certain charm and atmosphere about the place. It feels like a proper football stadium. Behind the Fishponds Road goal is a covered stand and a few rows of wooden benches. The main stand, on the Bedford Road side, features covered seating areas and somehow also manages to house the toilet block and the changing rooms. One can only assume that it is like the Tardis inside because it does not appear to be big enough to accommodate all of these facilities. Behind the far goal there are rows of uncovered concrete terraces (see picture) and finally, on the car park side, another covered area behind the dugouts and more wooden benching. Top Field has instantly become one of my favourite ground hops.
Stourbridge has laid on three coaches to accommodate their support for this game who were all desperate to see their team secure the point they required to make the playoffs. It was always going to be a nervy, tense sort of day. Hitchin, sitting happily in mid-table, had nothing but pride and a strong finish to play for but were clearly not going to just roll over for the Glassboys.
Stourbridge started well enough and had an opportunity to take the lead in the opening minutes when Kayleden Brown headed wide from inside the 6 yard area. However on 15 minutes, former Kidderminster Harrier, Brian Junior Smikle put the away team ahead. Cue jubilation from the massed ranks behind the goal.
The goal, however, did not seem to settle Stourbridge. Instead they allowed Hitchin to gradually work their way back into the game culminating with a frantic spell just before the break where they forced a couple of free-kicks and hit the bar from a resulting corner. The danger signs were there for Stourbridge but some better news was coming in from Bulpit Lane where a late first half penalty had seen Bideford go in 1-0 up at the break.
The second half saw Stourbridge again make the early chance but then, maybe through nerves or tension, they seemed to take their foot off and allow Hitchin to start playing some football. In the 66th minute the inevitable equaliser came when Michael King squeezed the ball home amidst a crowded goalmouth. From that point onwards, Hitchin looked much the better side and Stourbridge were starting to look like a team hanging on for a point. With Hungerford's recent record of coming from behind to win late on, this was a dangerous policy to adopt.
Sure enough, Twitter reports showed that Hungerford had scored two quick goals. This was followed, fairly quickly, by the official Hungerford feed denying these report, saying they had been hacked and that it was still 1-0 to Bideford. This ultimately turned out to be true but no-one at Hitchin really knew what the case was in Berkshire. Maybe Hungerford had pulled it back but wanted Stourbridge to think they were still in the driving seat? Who knows? Either way the Glassboys need to hang on for the point and, after surviving a very late penalty appeal, they did just that. As it turned out, just as well, because Hungerford did score two very late goals (the second in the 98th minute) to win the game 2-1.
The final playoff space had been decided on goal difference.
Three coach loads of very relieved Stourbridge fans and a pink emu headed back North, plotting their travel to Chesham on Tuesday evening.
Massive credit to Hungerford Town though. They have picked up 53 points since the New Year and deserve huge credit for the way they pushed the top five to the very last kick of the season making it a nerve jangling finish for all concerned.
Hitchin Town - @hitchintownfc
Stourbridge - @sfcofficial