A Sunny Sort of Start

Hastings United 1
Herne Bay 1

By Nick Pelling

The sun was shining over Pilot Field last Saturday as the blue sky and cold lagers welcomed in the new football season. There is a great deal of expectation around Hastings United, and with such a perfect afternoon for a backdrop it appeared that surely this would be a chance for the ‘U’s to kick off with a flourish. The gods of football, we hoped, would go along with the plan.

The game started promisingly when new signing Dave Martin deftly put United ahead after four minutes. But somehow the plot line for this opener began to twist. Herne Bay proved to be quite creative going forward, and pressed Hastings effectively. Although Craig Stone and Gary Elphick between them give United a solid defensive platform, free kicks can be tricky. And so it proved 20 minutes on, when Herne Bay’s Ramadan flashed a brilliant direct strike in, off the underside of the bar. 

Gradually the game began to take on a different look, and Louis Rogers made several excellent saves. As Chris Laverick, of the Hastings United Independent Supporters Club, said prophetically before the game, “Herne are always hard to beat.” At half time, the tannoy pumped out Joey Ramone punk-crooning ‘It’s a Wonderful World’, but no one was entirely convinced. 

Gary Elphick (in claret and white) in action against Herne Bay
CREDIT: Scott White

In the second half Sam Adams was brought on to give some support to Ben Pope who was a little isolated up front. Although the substitution lifted the crowd, it soon became apparent that Pope was struggling with cramp – the start of the new season was taking its toll. This forced a substitution, and the youthful Freddie Legg came on. He undoubtedly looked lively, but not enough to spark the game out of its growing sense of stalemate. A nasty injury to the battling Ryan Worrall forced yet another substitution on coach Chris Agutter.

Substitutions amidst other stops and starts prevented Hastings from developing any rhythm or momentum. Seven minutes extra time at the end confirmed the way the game had stuttered along. Almost inevitably, the contest muddled itself into a tangled knot of a 1-1 draw.

Agutter said before the game that pre-season had been frustrating in some ways because “injuries, long overdue holidays and a wedding every other week” have prevented him from fielding his strongest side. This display only served to show that frustration is not easily cast off.

Nevertheless, United fans will take the positives. The United defence appears well organised. Keeper Rogers gives a sense of confidence to the men in front of him, and it is probably true that all strong teams are built upon such solid defensive foundations. New signing Dave Martin looks a quality player and Tom Chalmers showed some skilful touches. Above all, United are up and running, if a little spluttering. Maybe they just needed better luck – but, as we all know, the football furies don’t always co-operate.

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