United Form Stokes Cup Hopes

Both the Hastings United team and their loyal travelling supporters will face the toughest test of their season so far when they journey to Chippenham tomorrow (Saturday) for an FA Cup-tie.  

United have played three previous rounds away already, easing past Beckenham Town and Harefield United, then surviving a serious scare at Broadfields before coming from behind with two late goals from defender Gary Elphick. The opposition in each case was from a lower tier, and supporters making the trip from Hastings formed the majority of the crowds. 

Saturday will be different. Their Wiltshire hosts play in the Vanarama National League South, two tiers up from Hastings, and the 300-mile round journey is going to challenge even fully filled petrol tanks of road-running fans (though it can be done by train).

Six straight wins

Nevertheless hopes will be high. United’s epic rise to the third round proper of the FA Cup was nine seasons back, and since then they haven’t made it past the current stage, the third qualifying round. However, with six straight wins prior to the match with Ashford United on Tuesday night (beyond our press deadline) and at least three goals scored in each of the last five of these, the ‘U’s are certainly in buoyant form.

Agutter and ‘opposition scout’ Ben Cornelius in discussion
CREDIT: Scott White

The solid base of the team that has topped the south-eastern division of the Isthmian League for the past two seasons without being rewarded with promotion remains at manager Chris Agutter’s disposal. Goalkeeper Louis Rogers, defenders Elphick, Craig Stone and Ollie Black, midfielders Sam Adam, Jack Dixon and Ryan Worrall, and strikers Ben Pope and Kenny Pogue, are all tried and tested in his methodical possession-based system.

For the current season he has brought in some added experience in the shape of two players who have shown particular quality in opposition shirts in the recent past.

Old blood

Dave Martin, who in his youth played several seasons in the Championship and Football League for Crystal Palace, Millwall and Derby County, is now 36. He still has a “wand of a left peg”, as described by Hastings CEO Billy Wood, and played for the past two seasons for Isthmian League rivals Whitehawk. Now he has taken
up the left wing position in Agutter’s team, and when given any time and space on the ball has been delivering a series of perfectly flighted crosses into the penalty box. 

Sam Hasler, a 28-year-old who has arrived from Folkestone Invicta after spells in the Isthmian League with Ashford United and Cray Valley PM, is also left-footed. Agutter has deployed him both in midfield and as a winger, and his all-round gutsy play has been supplemented by some wonderful strikes for goal including a cracker against Whitehawk on Bank Holiday Monday.  He and Pope have scored seven apiece already, sharing the goals in a 3-0 victory last Saturday at Pilot Field over AFC Dunstable in the FA Trophy competition.

Goals have also been rattling in from set pieces. Ollie Black’s long throw-ins have been a threat for several seasons now, but corners and free-kicks have also been productive, allowing defenders too to get themselves on the score sheet. Besides Elphick’s brace against Broadfields and another at Sevenoaks, Black himself has notched a couple.

The defence has conceded a few more goals than Agutter would like, though Rogers has kept well, and the central partnership of Elphick and Stone remain a formidable barrier to opposition attacks. In midfield, Worrall has missed recent matches with an ankle injury, but Dixon has been a dominant figure at the base, spraying passes forward or wide to set attacks going.

Women’s team 

Meanwhile the Hastings United Women’s team, much changed over the summer after elevation to the London & South-East Regional League, has started the season at a rush. Their run of five successive league and cup wins, with 25 goals scored and only one conceded, was halted last Sunday when they were held to a 1-1 draw at Ashford, but they remain at the top of the league table. On Sunday they travel to Islington Borough for their own FA Cup tie. Hastings will be hoping for a weekend double.

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