Hastings United 2, Whitehawk 2

Playing in drenching rain for the second successive Saturday at Pilot Field, Hastings United fought out an entertaining FA Trophy tie with visitors Whitehawk, which will have been replayed on Tuesday if weather has allowed. The ‘U’s were in the ascendant for much of the earlier match, but in the first half misfortune and missed chances deprived them of goals to show for it. Jack Elliott and Daniel Ajakaiye eventually put them 2-1 up, but they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes, and Whitehawk probably deserved their draw by the end. 

Hastings had the satisfaction of maintaining their unbeaten home record this season, albeit against a side they had beaten here in the league in September. However, potentially overshadowing the result was a serious-looking injury sustained by defender Gary Elphick, who limped painfully off near the end of the first half. The central partnership between Elphick and Craig Stone has been key to the team’s defensive solidity throughout the early season, and if he must be side-lined for some time, that could prove a damaging blow to the ‘U’s league campaign.

In customary style, Hastings had dominated possession from the start with patient build-ups and many a backward pass. Ryan Worrall, deputising competently in midfield for the absent Sam Adams, had a shot rebound off the corner of post and bar; Jack Dixon, Ajakaiye and Stone all went close. But Whitehawk were dangerous from set plays. As Hastings played out again from the back, Lanre Azeez was caught in possession, a free-kick was dubiously awarded 30 yards out, and Whitehawk marksman Connor Tighe scored from it, his shot flicking off the top of the defensive wall and over ‘U’s goalkeeper Louis Rogers. 

United footballers celebrate goal scored in FA Trophy win at AFC Dunstable
PICTURE: Scott White

Ollie Black came on to replace Elphick after his injury; Elliott equalised for Hastings from a Sam Beale corner on the stroke of half time, and Ajakaiye rifled in a second goal after Ben Pope’s initial shot was blocked. But as the game wore on the visitors pushed their hosts back, filled the penalty area for free kicks and corners, and it was no surprise when one corner was headed in at the far post. 

United manager Chris Agutter brought on youngsters James Pool and Tommy Chalmers as substitutes rather than the more experienced Davide Rodari, as if he was more interested in giving them game time than wholly concerned to get a win. However, he will probably have been less than thrilled with the draw: that meant having to take his team off to the suburbs of Brighton on Tuesday night for the replay, instead of hosting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Sussex Senior Cup as previously scheduled. 

He had already given a press interview in the preceding week suggesting that he regards his team’s cup schedules as distractions from league concerns. “As I’ve always maintained, I’d rather it be for some points. The players seem to be quite excited about the idea of progressing and going relatively deep in the competition…The only long term view I have with any competition is the league. Everything else is just a bonus,” he said. 

Just to emphasise Agutter’s priority, while Hastings were being held in the FA Trophy, Betvictor South-East League leaders Cray Valley PM were playing for points and extending the gap at the top to four with a 2-0 win at Ramsgate. The ‘U’s will be very keen to return to winning ways in the league tomorrow (Saturday) when they entertain Phoenix Sports.

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