Winning under pressure

Sittingbourne 1, Hastings Utd 2

Hastings Utd 3, Phoenix Sports 1

Gary Elphick’s men secured two more victories over the past two Saturdays to keep themselves six points clear at the top of the Isthmian South-East League with ten games to go. Neither win was plain sailing – but the ‘U’s seem to thrive on pressure these days.

On 12 February, away at Sittingbourne in a blustery wind, Hastings opened the scoring with an early goal from Craig Stone but conceded a first half equaliser and then struggled to sustain any attacking threat without talisman striker Ben Pope. When Andrew Sesay was given a second yellow card, leaving them to play with ten men for the last half hour, it seemed that the most they could hope for was to hold out for a draw. But they dug deep, and came up with a last-gasp winner as Tom Chalmers headed home.

Sesay seems to have compounded his frustration at being sent off with a set-to with Elphick in the aftermath. The club announced two days later that the dismissed forward would be leaving Pilot Field with immediate effect to join Isthmian Premier side Merstham. That would seem to leave the ‘U’s potentially short of forwards at a crucial stage of the season. However, a promising replacement Ismaila Diallo, who has been on the books of Arsenal and Burnley, and is aged just 20, has already been identified and signed on.

Last Saturday, back at Pilot Field in the aftermath of Storm Eunice, Hastings hosted Phoenix Sports under another barrage of wind and rain. The visitors, 19th out of 20th in the league but on a run of much improved form lately, kept the game goalless in the first half and took a shock lead ten minutes into the second. This seemed to sting their hosts into greater resolve. Sam Adams and Jack Dixon scored two quick goals to put them 2-1 up, and Ben Pope – restored to the line-up – added a late penalty when James Hull was brought down.

Next up are two matches against mid-table opposition: away to Chichester City tomorrow (Saturday), then home to Corinthian the following week. 

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