No Promotion – But ‘U’s Board Backs Players
So the bravura season of goals and more goals ended short of its promotion target. Agonising defeat in a penalty shoot-out at Dorking in the play-off semifinal on 25 April leaves Hastings United anchored in the Ryman League South for at least another year.
The ‘U’s had lost both at home and away against their hosts during the regular league season, and finished three places and 23 points behind them in the final table. However in a high quality play-off encounter, spurred on by vociferous travelling support, they looked the more complete team for long periods. Leading 1-0 through a Franny Collin header until five minutes from the end of normal time and then taking an early advantage in the shoot-out after the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate, they must have believed it would be their night. It wasn’t to be. Subsequent Twitter feeds set out the repetitious litany of “heartbreaking” and “gutted” sentiments which accompanies all such disappointments.
Manager Darren Hare graciously conceded that, given the disparity in performances over the league season as a whole, it was fair that any luck in the penalties “lottery” should have favoured Dorking – as it did again four days later in the final when they overcame Corinthian Casuals in the same fashion to secure their promotion. He has also been keen in the aftermath to show that both he and the team can build on the achievements of the season in a positive way.
“I am mindful that this is just the start”, he told the Observer’s Simon Newstead. “It’s been my first year as a manager at this level. I’ve made a few mistakes, but I’ve learnt an awful lot and I think I’m better for it. I know what we need to get, what players I need to sign”.
Encouraged by Darren’s unequivocal message that he intends to stay at Pilot Field for the long haul, unlike a year ago when his predecessor Garry Wilson resigned immediately after a final day defeat that dissipated similar promotion hopes, the United Board has also responded positively. The content of contractual commitments between the club and individual players is generally kept confidential. But the club has released a statement disclosing that options to retain six of this season’s key players – defenders Ollie Rowe and Sam Cruttwell, midfielder Simon Johnson, and forwards Jack Harris, Franny Collin and Matt Bodkin – have been triggered, while negotiations are also under way to offer new contracts to others, including midfielder Sam Cole who missed most of the season through a serious knee injury.
Turnover of players at the club, as well as of managers, has been notoriously high over recent seasons. The aim of more continuity is thus in itself to be applauded. The Board and manager are also revealed as having identified, with commendable judgment, those players whom most observers would select as worthy of long term commitment.
Ollie and Simon established themselves as home favourites under previous management, while Franny and Matt, both introduced by Darren at the start of his tenure last summer, have enjoyed outstanding seasons. Sam Cruttwell, whose talent on the ball and passing abilities would seem to make him a natural midfielder, was deployed in defence by Darren in the season’s latter stages. Still under 21, many would rate him the most exciting prospect playing in Hastings colours and wonder how long the club can avoid the covetous grasp of more prestigious clubs for his services. Well, it appears that he remains under contract here, so at least any transfer should command what could be a sizeable fee.
In the meantime all ‘U’s supporters can lend their sporting allegiances elsewhere for the next three months or so. They should be confident that the club is looking forward to a renewed campaign in August, not back to what might have been.