Wingate & Finchley are Hitchin a ride through to the next round of the FA Trophy

Ahmet Rifat (right) scored the decisive goal in Tuesday's night FA Trophy replay at Witham Town. Pic

Ahmet Rifat (right) scored the decisive goal in Tuesday's night FA Trophy replay at Witham Town. Pic: Martin Addison - Credit: Archant

Wingate & Finchley battled through the first qualifying round of the FA Trophy after a thrilling tie with Hitchin Town – fighting back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home on Saturday and then winning the replay 1-0 with 10 men last night.

The Blues looked to be heading out of the competition on Saturday after finding themselves 2-0 down at half-time at Summers Lane.

However, Ola Williams halved the deficit after the interval and Spencer McCall scored an injury-time penalty to salvage a draw.

The sides met again on Monday, with the injury-hit Blues having to field a young side in Hertfordshire.

However, Ahmet Rifat gave W&F the lead and, although Paul Wright was sent off, the visitors held on to secure a home tie with Daventry Town in the second qualifying round on Saturday November 2.

Wingate’s director of football David Norman said: “With lots of injuries, we had six 18-year-olds in the squad [in the replay] and the average age of the starting XI was 21.

“I thought the performance showed character and maturity beyond their age. Hitchin are an established non-league side and I felt that our work ethic and desire not to concede shone through.”

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Progression looked unlikely after 45 minutes of Saturday’s home tie. Hitchin’s Stuart Pearson had already hit the woodwork and Bobby Smith had been forced into a brave save from Jamal Lowe before visiting striker Robbie Burns headed home in the 20th minute – and he doubled the lead 10 minutes later with a superb chip.

It proved to be a game of two halves, though, because Wingate were a different side after the break and they struck back seven minutes after the restart as Williams’ cross caught the wind and ended up in the net.

Leon Smith went close an equaliser, curling just over the bar, and Josh Kennett was then denied by the visiting goalkeeper while Leon Smith could only hit the rebound into the hands of the keeper.

However, Wingate levelled in the 91st minute as substitute Hector Morante was fouled inside the box – and McCall tucked away the spot-kick to set up the replay.

The second showdown was an even affair and the two sides traded efforts before Rifat broke the deadlock five minutes before the break, showing great strength to hold off a defender, turn and finish.

Wingate’s deputy goalkeeper Cain Davies did brilliantly to deflect the ball onto the crossbar in the second period, while Leon Smith’s piledriver was tipped over by Tahj Bell at the other end.

W&F’s task was made harder when Wright was shown a second yellow card 10 minutes from the end, and Hitchin poured forward throughout a lengthy injury-time.

But resolute defending from the entire back four restricted them to difficult shots, which all missed the target, as the Blues booked their place in the next round.