United Celebrations On Hold

East Grinstead 0,
Hastings United 4;

Hastings United 0,
Haywards Heath Town 0 

It was perfect weather for a celebration: Pilot Field bathed in sunshine, if somewhat chilly for the time of year, and a crowd officially recorded as numbering 3,018, the highest in the club’s history for a league fixture –over 500 more, incidentally, than were watching League 2 leaders Forest Green Rovers (four tiers higher up the football pyramid) on the same afternoon. 

Fair weather supporters were certainly out in droves – I spotted at least two borough council cabinet members in
the throng. And why not, when victory over visitors Haywards Heath Town, after the comfortable 4-0 win at East Grinstead on the previous Saturday, would assure the team of the Isthmian League South-East Division title?

Ben Pope: fractious encounters
CREDIT: Scott White

It was not to be. The reverse league fixture at Haywards Heath was the only match this season in which Hastings had failed to score – going down 2-0 there in November – and the visitors’ defence proved equally obdurate on this occasion as they assumed the role of party-poopers and slugged out a 0-0 draw.

Fractious encounters 

There was plenty for the home supporters to admire. Finn O’Mara and Craig Stone were commanding in the Hastings defence, both in the air and on the ground. Behind them, Louis Rogers enjoyed a quiet afternoon in goal, but made a splendid save in the second half when a Haywards Heath forward took advantage of a lucky rebound to burst through. Fullbacks Tom Chalmers and Marcus Goldsmith were enterprising on the ball, while Sam Adams and Jack Dixon gradually exerted a degree of control in midfield. But neither Danny Parish nor Knory Scott, playing wide on respective wings, were able to give Ben Pope any consistent support, as he tussled in increasingly fractious encounters with tough-tackling opponents. Both he and Sam Hasler earned themselves yellow cards for overzealous interventions, and Pope risked red before manager Gary Elphick withdrew him in favour of James Hull with 15 minutes left to play.

The first half was pretty evenly contested, neither side allowing the other to settle on the ball, and Haywards Heath pushing up to catch the ‘U’s forwards offside on several occasions. Parish broke free down the left but could not steer his shot past the goalkeeper; Adams lobbed over the keeper but also over the bar; Finn O’Mara flicked a header wide. 

In the second half, Hastings had more possession of the ball and swarmed forward in greater numbers, but their opponents sat deeper, committed fouls when they had to (ending up with four or five yellow cards themselves), and held them at bay. Hasler came closest with a shot from the edge of the penalty area which the visiting keeper saved with an outstretched leg. The crowd waited patiently for the deadlock to be broken, but waited in vain.

Faversham awaits

The championship title, and promotion back to the Isthmian Premier League after nine years slumming it below, are very likely to be secured at Faversham tomorrow (Saturday). A draw there will be sufficient for the ‘U’s, even if nearest rivals Ashford United win again, as they did last Saturday. The gap is now 12 points with four games left
for each. And though it’s a shame that Pilot Field’s record crowd were unable to see their heroes triumph last Saturday, there may be at least 500 supporters coming home from the trip across Kent a week later for whom celebration may taste even sweeter by reason of its postponement. 

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