MARK Ford came off the bench and inspired a second-half comeback as the Terras secured survival in the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division on Saturday.
When Luke Gregson put Hitchin Town ahead just after the break it looked like Weymouth were heading for a third straight defeat but a goal-line clearance from Rhys Baggridge and the introduction of
Ford soon helped turn the tables.
The young striker, who was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card following a poor challenge on Tony Fontenelle, won a penalty on 68 minutes, which Craig Duff converted, before going on to
grab the winner just three minutes later.
Terras’ boss Brendon King made two changes to the starting XI that began the 3-0 defeat at Cambridge City last time out with Sam Poole and Warren Byerley replacing Scott Dixon and Ollie Tribe.
After sustaining concussion at Brackley Town back in March, Poole was expected to be out for the rest of the season but after turning out for the reserves in midweek, King was happy to put the
centre-half straight back in alongside Ben Gerring. Meanwhile, Byerley’s fitness was even more of a gamble. Having missed the previous three games, the striker was rated 50-50 ahead of kick-off due
to a knee injury that could require surgery in the summer.
Another man that returned to the squad was Ashley Wells, who was named amongst the substitutes.
Hitchin, who beat the Terras 3-1 at home back in December, just made the one switch with Aaron Morgan coming in for Louis Lee.
Winless in eight, Weymouth desperately needed a bright start and they immediately signalled their intentions with Duff heading a corner just wide and Baggridge breaking into the box and seeing his
effort strike Matt Groves, who was unable to force it home.
With nothing to play for, mid-table Hitchin could afford to approach the game with a bit of freedom but despite producing a couple of good passages of play in the opening 15 minutes their final
ball was clearly lacking.
Due to that, all the chances were coming at the other end where Duff sent another effort wide on the stretch from Jamie Beasley’s driven cross and Byerley fired a shot at keeper Martin Bennett, who
did well to gather at the second attempt at the feet of Groves.
Weymouth continued to look the brighter team but they still could not force the opener with Reed seeing a low drive from the edge of the box blocked by Dean Gilbert following a jinking run from
Hitchin had hardly had a sight of goal but on 41 minutes John Frendo did test Tom Manley with a swirling effort from 25 yards that the home keeper did well to beat away.
The Canaries were growing in confidence and just seconds before the break they fashioned another opening when Morgan teed up Callum Donnelly, whose low drive from the edge of the box fell just wide
of the left-hand post.
With Hitchin a little more buoyant and the Terras notoriously slow starters in the second half, what happened two minutes after the break was hardly a surprise.
The hosts lined up for the restart in a slapdash fashion and quickly had to rely on a last-ditch tackle from Poole to stop Zak Burke from racing through.
The ball flew into the stands for a corner and it was from that set piece that the Canaries took the lead.
A short corner saw the ball returned to Donnelly and after Beasley had needlessly committed himself and allowed a cross to come over, the Terras failed to clear allowing Marc Leach to set up
Gregson, who drove home a powerful volley from 14 yards.
It was a disastrous goal to concede and King immediately responded by bringing on Ford for the hobbling Byerley.
Within five minutes of the forward’s arrival, he clattered into Fontenelle, catching the defender just above the ankle.
It was a rash challenge and another referee may have taken more serious action but Stephen Annis chose just to book the youngster, much to the home fans’ relief.
Weymouth looked flat and moments later they were fortunate not to concede another when Frendo put Burke clean through. He rounded Manley and steadied himself but Baggridge got back on the goal-line
to make a crucial block.
The Terras desperately needed a lifeline and with 22 minutes remaining they got one when Ford broke into the box and was upended by Leach.
It appeared the defender had got his boot to the ball but Annis immediately pointed to the spot allowing Duff to step up and smash the resulting penalty beyond Bennett, who dived the wrong way.
Town clearly felt aggrieved and immediately went on the offensive when play resumed but they left themselves open and three minutes later Reed put Ford away again.
The ex-Blandford United striker raced clear and showed great composure to round Bennett and slot the ball into the open net to the delight of the claret and blue faithful behind the goal.
The Canaries responded by quickly going in search of an equaliser with Baggridge once again making a key interception to deny Frendo from close range.
The game was now stretched and Weymouth missed a great chance to grab a third when Duff’s header found Ford, whose effort from an acute angle was superbly held by Bennett diving to his left.
Burke then raced away from the Terras’ defence again only to be shut out by Manley before Reed fired wide from the edge of the box as the hosts held on to the delight of their fans at the final
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