FOOTBALL: Peaking For the Play-Offs?
Hastings United notched a fourth successive Bostik League victory at Pilot Field last Saturday, overcoming tidy but limited opposition from visitors Ramsgate to win 3-0. This followed a 3-1 away win the previous Saturday at Three Bridges, where the ‘U’s conceded an early goal but took advantage of the red card dismissal of a home defender to ease into a lead by halftime that was rarely threatened thereafter.
Now second in the league table with four games to go, they won’t catch leaders Cray Wanderers. But the play-offs beckon. Retention of second place would ensure home ties in both the semifinal and final, and probably a sufficient points ratio to secure promotion if both were won.
In recent weeks manager Chris Agutter has had his team selections hampered by injuries and suspensions, forced to do without key players or field them when less than fully fit. But these problems have gradually eased. And indeed, having signed former Brighton central defender Gary Elphick and negotiated the return of two Gillingham loanees, Brad Stevenson and Jack Tucker, for the remainder of the season, while welcoming the recovery of Italian striker Davide Rodari from long term injury, Agutter now has almost a surfeit of options in most positions to cover the run-in. Youssef Bamba, a midfielder introduced with much fanfare earlier in the season, has been released back to his former club Walton Casuals, while young defender Tom Climpson has been loaned to Eastbourne Town “in pursuit of more game time and experience” . Even so, the substitutes’ bench last Saturday consisted of Sam Cruttwell, Davide Rodari, Jamal Howlett-Mundle, Jordy Mongoy and Charlie Horlock, all of whom could consider themselves unfortunate to be sidelined, and who will compete for places in the next starting line-up. It is ironic, then, that the ‘U’s have no fixture this coming weekend. They will not play again until they entertain Hythe Town at Pilot Field on 13th April.
After that they travel to Sittingbourne on the 20th, then come back home on Easter Monday (the 22nd) to host Ashford United, who lie fourth in the table, one point behind with a game in hand. Peaking for the play-offs? Hastings will need to raise their game a little sooner.
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