BRILLIANT Luke Benbow cracked a hat-trick as Stourbridge’s excellent run continued against Hitchin Town.
The striker fired the hosts in front after just 69 seconds, only for visiting skipper John Frendo to equalise almost immediately.
Benbow put the Glassboys back ahead early in the second half with a delightful volley, before completing his treble from close range.
Substitute Sean Geddes then finished the scoring from the penalty spot.
It’s now six wins from the last seven Southern League Premier games for Stour and this win takes them within a point of second-placed Hemel Hempstead Town.
If the off-field plaudits must go to the 30 or so volunteers who helped clear the pitch and stands of snow, the on-field plaudits must certainly go to Benbow.
The striker’s Stourbridge career took time to get going after his summer move from Redditch but is now starting to hit top gear.
His second goal would have graced any stage and proved the game’s decisive moment, coming just moments after Hitchin had hit the post.
When Benbow got his third soon after, there was only going to be one winner.
Those who helped clear the pitch and stands of snow were treated to two goals in the opening 120 seconds, though neither side will be proud of their defending.
Hitchin will wonder how they allowed Ben Billingham’s bobbling corner to reach Benbow, who was afforded time and space to shoot against the upright, the ball eventually going in off unlucky keeper Jon North.
But within seconds the visitors were level. A punt from the kick-off found Jake Woolley in acres of space and he fed Frendo, who kept his cool to send a smart finish past Dean Coleman, ensuring the former Halesowen Town keeper’s first job as a Stour player was picking the ball out the net.
It was frenetic stuff, with Nathan Bennett and Paul McCone both threatening with headers as Hitchin struggled with the hosts’ aerial threat and Frendo seeing another shot deflected just wide of the upright.
Eventually the game settled down and a Benbow shot which flashed just wide of North’s far post was the closest either side came to another goal in the opening half, though it was Hitchin who were enjoying far greater possession.
The visitors started the second half brightly and Woolley had already fired just off target, before a smart move saw Daniel Webb fire against the upright from close range.
But instead it was the hosts who regained the lead, thanks to a piece of brilliance from Benbow. The striker controlled a long throw from Gavin Hurren on his chest, turned and sent a blistering volley into the top corner with North a spectator.
His third goal was rather less glamorous, coming courtesy of a sliding finish from six yards out after meeting Paul McCone’s low cross.
There was no way back for the visitors and North did well to deny Billingham at close range following a mazy run through the defence. Stour’s skipper played a significant part in the fourth, as he was hauled down by Sam Berry while trying to reach a Hurren cross. Referee Kevin Morris pointed straight to the spot and Geddes gave North no chance, blasting his spot-kick into the top corner.
Coleman, who otherwise had a fairly quiet debut, saved late on from Jhai Dillon as Hitchin went in search of a consolation.