Battlers of Hastings
Hastings United ended a winless sequence of seven league and cup games last Tuesday (3 October) by upsetting Carshalton Athletic, previously unbeaten in the Bostik League. The 2-0 scoreline at Pilot Field provided a first victory under new manager Chris Agutter. The following Sunday they won again, 1-0 away to Romford (playing at Thurrock), in the preliminary round of the FA Trophy.
In the league game the visitors dominated possession, playing fluent pass-and-move football when they had the ball, pressing relentlessly when they didn’t, forcing corner after corner. But United defended deep with admirable team discipline, and scored excellent goals on the break, the first by impressive midfielder Sam Beale, then a stunning left foot shot by substitute Davide Rodari from the edge of the penalty area that skimmed like an Exocet into the bottom corner. The 300-strong home crowd are unlikely see a better strike all winter.
Against Romford the ‘U’s again scored an early goal – a header from Sam Adams – then soaked up the home side’s pressure with another robust defensive display.
Do these performances herald a change in style under the change in management? It certainly looks like a change in priorities. The emphasis on youth reported in our last issue, with five under-19s taking the field in Andy Hinshelwood’s last selection against Herne Bay, has not been wholly abandoned: teenager Ollie Black, who did not feature then, played at left back in both games while Davide Rodari has twice been called on as substitute. But a number of older players, several gathered back to the ‘U’s after many seasons of playing elsewhere, have been drafted in to temper the mix. Former captains Rhys Whyborne and Lee Carey plus returned defender Tom Vickers all played sterling roles last Tuesday in repelling Carshalton’s bombardment. Up front Sam Adams ran and battled tirelessly against numerical odds to set up occasional counter-attacks. You might think that the years were being rolled back.
However the club’s management does not see any inconsistency in this mingling of old and young, been-there-before with raw up-and-coming. On the contrary youth needs experience and perhaps some old legs need youthful energy beside them. A month ago director David Nessling stated on the club’s website that any players brought in “must be considered the right type as regards their ability to mix well with the young players, both in terms of relationship and ability to educate”. On the evidence of last Tuesday there’s a very healthy team spirit being fostered.
Of course the health or sickness of football clubs depends primarily on results on the field. One league victory against the odds, coupled with a cup success against modest opposition, doesn’t define a season. But with four of the next five league fixtures scheduled at home against sides currently in the lower half of the table there is a clear opportunity to build on these performances. Can Hastings produce some attacking football to accompany the new defensive resolve? Tomorrow (Saturday 14th) they entertain Faversham Town at Pilot Field. Here’s hoping.