First-half goals from Adam Martin and Elliot Buchanan did the damage, but Zak Burke's late deflected goal had the Rebels holding on for a result which means a trip to Chesham United this Saturday, with promotion the prize for the victors.
Slough came into the game on a high after defeating Romulus 4-1 at the weekend, a result which saw the Rebels snatch the fifth and final playoff spot by a single goal after tying with Sutton Coldfield on points. It was this feeling of euphoria which undoubtedly spurred Steve Bateman’s men on to a remarkable victory against a Hitchin Town side which, as runners-up, had amassed 100 points and 31 league wins along the way, and left the Canaries’ players and supporters dismayed and cursing the playoff system.
It became clear early on that Slough had arrived as the more confident side, and after a typically nervy and risk-free opening quarter of an hour from both sides, Slough began to stamp their authority on the game, with the central midfield pairing of Paul Edgeworth and Adam Martin dominating proceedings and Mo Sharif and Steve Sinclair proving dangerous outlets on the flanks, and the flat back four containing the dangerous strike force of Jamie Arlick and Harry Hunt.
Cheered on by a travelling army of supporters from far and wide, Slough broke the deadlock with the game’s first real attempt on goal – and it came from nothing, as Adam Martin picked the ball up 30 yards out. After assessing his options, he fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner, giving Martin Bennett absolutely no chance.
Just three minutes later though, Hitchin should have equalised as a rare lapse in concentration let Harry Hunt break clean through on goal, but he slid the ball well wide of Jamie Jackson’s goal.
The Slough rearguard was proving impenetrable to Hitchin attacks as the hosts only threatened from distance, and the Rebels went further in front with 35 minutes played. Mo Sharif found space on the left and chipped an inviting cross into the six-yard box, which Elliot Buchanan glanced into the corner of the net to spark delirium behind the goal.
For Slough, it was vital not to concede a goal before half-time, and Jamie Jackson saved his side a minute before the interval as he superbly tipped over Carl Williams’ shot from the edge of the box.
Just before the half-time whistle, though, Slough should have taken a three-goal lead as Sean Sonner failed to get enough contact on a free header from a corner.
Slough had posed Hitchin numerous problems in attack and allowed the Canaries’ front men little time and space, but after an uneventful opening quarter of an hour in the second half, the momentum turned in favour of the hosts, who began to dominate.
For all their possession, Hitchin were limited to half chances, and Arlick and Luke Donnelly failed to work Jackson with headed efforts. Slough on the other hand went close again as Harper headed a corner wide and Mo Sharif lobbed just over the bar after being played in by Buchanan.
Hitchin made changes and threw extra strikers into the fray, but Slough dug deep and defended supremely well - showing immense concentration in the face of the onslaught - roared on at regular intervals by the large mass of travelling support behind the goal.
It wasn’t until the 81st minute that Hitchin seriously worried Jackson, and this time substitute Zak Burke managed to find the back of the net in highly fortuitous circumstances as his shot from the edge of the box took two deflections and snuck in at Jackson’s near post to give Slough a nervy final ten minutes.
With Slough supporters barely able to watch, the Rebels rode the storm for the remainder of the match plus four minutes of added time, but not before referee Knight waved away late appeals for a penalty as Jeff Hammond collided with Jackson in the penalty area, awarding only a corner kick.
The final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation seen all too rarely from Slough players in recent seasons, and sealed a place in Saturday’s playoff final at Chesham’s Meadow ground - a notion which would have been almost inconceivable just seven days previously as Hitchin left Holloways Park with all three points in the penultimate league match of the season.
Hitchin Town Line up
Bennett, Pepper, Fontenelle, Williams, Smith, Gilbert, Lewis, L Donnelly (Stevenson), Arlick, Hunt (Hammond), Howell (Burke). Subs not used: Lee, Dunn.