THERE was injury time heartbreak for Blues as champions-elect Hereford left the ProKit (UK) Stadium with all three points.
Substitute Mike McGrath headed home a corner in the 91st minute to deny a battling Blues side who played the entire second half with only ten men after skipper Marvel Ekpiteta received a second yellow card shortly before the break.
While Hereford dominated long periods of the second half, the result was harsh on a Stortford side –especially outstanding keeper Calum Kitscha – who produced one of their best performances of the season and received a standing ovation from the home fans as they left the pitch.
Having completed his three game ban, Jack Thomas was back in Kevin Watson’s starting line-up but the plans of the Blues boss weren’t helped by Chad Cruse and Marcus Crowther being unavailable whilst Freddie Oakman was absent through illness. Watson was only able to name one fit outfield player on his bench, with injured player-coach Mark Hughes and back-up keeper making up the numbers.
The visitors took the early initiative with Pablo Haysham’s low drive well held by Kitscha in the second minute and Thomas was soon back in the thick of the action producing a fine tackle to stop Hereford skipper Jimmy Oates on the right.
The Bulls, however, continued to have the edge and Mike Symons headed over when well placed and then a Rob Purdie free-kick was close past the far post. Ekpiteta collected his first yellow card of the afternoon in the 18th minute and ten minutes later the visitors were awarded a penalty after striker Jennison Myrie-Williams was grounded by Ekpiteta in the box.
Kitscha guess correctly to save Mike Symons’ penalty.
Eight minutes later a Haysham looping header from an Elliot Richards cross struck the bar. Shortly afterwards, with five minutes remaining of the half, Ekpiteta was harshly yellow carded for the second time after holding back Symons leaving Stortford down to ten men.
Three minutes after the restart Kitscha produced a great one handed save to push way a goalbound header from Symons following Oates’ cross from the right.
Symons headed across goal in the 57th minute before the Blues stopper denied Haysham at point blank range.
It was virtually one-way traffic in the closing minutes with Stortford defending stoutly to try and earn a point. With nine minutes remaining another excellent one handed save by Kitscha denied substitute John Mills from scoring with a header. Mills also had a chance with a late free-kick but his effort from 25 yards was over the bar.
The Blues resistance was then finally broken at the start of four minutes of added time after the visitors were controversially awarded a corner.
STORTFORD: Calum Kitscha; George Casey; Tom Clifford; Jack Thomas; Marvel Ekpiteta; Joe Robinson; Max Brassington; Jordan Westcott; Alfie Mason; Jamie Cureton; Darren Foxley.
Unused substitutes: Mark Hughes, Jamie Riley and Callum Lynskey.
HEREFORD: Will Puddy; Jimmy Oates; Cameron Pring; Elliot Richards (Mike McGrath 72); Dara O’Shea (Jack Dearman 79); Jordan Liburd; Keyon Reffell; Rob Purdie; Jennison Myrie-Williams (John Mills 64); Pablo Haysham; Mike Symons.
Unused substitutes: Billy Murphy and Martin Horsell.