After an entertaining 4-2 win over Molesey at Pilot Field on 9 April Hastings United remained in fifth place in the Ryman League South table. That would be just enough to qualify for the promotion play-offs and, with two league games to go, they were in with a shout. However, having lost leading scorer Billy Medlock to a serious ankle injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season, they were held to a 2-2 draw at Ramsgate last Saturday while rivals Corinthian Casuals were squeezing a win at Walton. Even if the ‘U’s win their last game this Saturday 23 April at home to Herne Bay the victory will leave them a frustrating sixth if Casuals also win their simultaneous home match against Three Bridges. It promises to be a tense climax to the season.

Chairman Dave Ormerod had been very chirpy when I met him a couple of days before the Molesey game. He has just celebrated a year in charge, and confirmed he has thoroughly enjoyed it. “The four directors all work together very well, and we have a terrific atmosphere in the club,” he says.

Unlike other in-coming leaders, from prime ministers downwards, who like to blame problems on their predecessors Dave has only good words to say about former ‘U’s boss Dave Walters. The latter left the finances of the club in reasonable order, with money still retained from the FA Cup run of three years ago, and a number of business partners willing to provide sponsorship. Unpaid, unsung personal support, so often the key to Hastings enterprises, also remains. Dave Ormerod singles out Barrie West, chairman of the management committee, as his “man of all trades”. Not only is he turnstile manager and facilities manager; on the morning I was there, he was out on the pitch filling in badger holes.

Home crowds have averaged 350-400 this season, which may be regarded as low for a town the size of Hastings but is higher than any other club in the division apart from leaders Folkestone and Guernsey. On Easter Monday when entrance fees were discounted the crowd exceeded 600, and Dave is sure that, however many townspeople would declare that they support Manchester United or Chelsea rather than their local team, a good proportion are ready to give their support if they get a little success.

But of course on-field results have to match up, and these may prove to have fallen just short, as Dave admits. “I did think we’d be higher After a brilliant win in Guernsey at the end of February – I really enjoyed that, it’s not often you get to fly out to a game at our level – I thought we would finish in the top three”. At that point the ‘U’s had games in hand over all the contenders above them in the table. But in six subsequent away games, three of them midweek, only 2 points were harvested out of a possible 18.

Manager Garry Wilson confirms that it has been difficult to field a settled side. Injuries, suspensions and daytime work commitments of the players have all taken their toll. Medlock’s injury is just the latest setback. Dependable goalkeeper Josh Pelling tore knee ligaments in December and hasn’t played since. Other key players have had lengthy periods on the sidelines. Those games in hand were the consequence of cup successes early in the season, including a notable win against Football League side Crawley Town in the Sussex Senior Cup. But this meant catch-up in a wearisome series of midweek evening fixtures, most of them away from home. And a midweek away trip to Molesey or Walton means leaving mid-afternoon from Hastings and getting back after midnight.

Away pitches are also seldom on a par with Pilot Field: Whitstable and Walton grounds were “mudheaps”, says Dave (though Hastings won both games), while South Park earlier this month was a waste ground of bumps and lumps. The better footballing side may struggle in such conditions to impose their game.

In home games I have watched this season Hastings have played good attacking football. Only Folkestone have scored more goals in the league. The play-offs consist of two straight knock-out ties, a semifinal and a final, both to be played next week in April, with the final winner promoted. If Hastings can get in the mix I fancy their chances. But that’s only an “if” for now.

In home games I have watched this season Hastings have played good attacking football. Only Folkestone have scored more goals in the league. The play-offs consist of two straight knock-out ties, a semifinal and a final, both to be played next week in April, with the final winner promoted. If Hastings can get in the mix I fancy their chances. But that’s only an “if” for now.