Crunch time in survival mission

Hastings United full-back Elliott Cox in action against Hendon last weekend. Picture by Terry S. Blackman
Hastings United full-back Elliott Cox in action against Hendon last weekend. Picture by Terry S. Blackman

Hastings United assistant manager Mark Stapley says the football club will be treating the crunch clash at home to Carshalton Athletic tonight (Thursday) as if it were a cup final.

Second-bottom United face the only side below them in the Ryman Football League Premier Division in what is a must-win match. “We must get three points,” Stapley said. “We’re 100 per cent going out to win it. It’s like a cup final for both teams.”

United are a point behind Lewes, who occupy the final safe spot of third-from-bottom, with two games in hand. Victory tonight would lift United up at least three places and possibly even four if Thurrock lose at home to high-riding Lowestoft Town.

Defeat, however, would plunge them to the bottom with their next three games all away to sides in the top nine. Carshalton’s form has improved of late and they have the advantage of not having played since Saturday.

The U’s were downed 2-0 at Hendon on Tuesday night after having four players red carded in the final 20 minutes, two of whom were substitutes that hadn’t even entered the field of play.

But Stapley has been encouraged by recent performances. United won back-to-back games against Kingstonian and Harrow Borough last week, and were very unfortunate to lose 2-1 at home to Hendon on Saturday.

“The way we’ve been playing lately, there’s nothing to stop me thinking we can’t go unbeaten until the end of the season,” Stapley continued. “We’ve been unlucky - as you often seem to be when you’re at the bottom - and hopefully tonight we can start making our own luck.

“The lads have been fighting tooth and nail, which is appreciated because it’s difficult with the amount of games we’ve played and everybody having to earn a living at the same time.”

Zac Attwood came through Tuesday’s game unscathed, but Gareth Williams has a knock and is a doubt. The suspensions for the four players red carded - Jamie Crellin, Danny Ellis, Tom Vickers and Sean Ray - are not expected to kick in until next season. Kick-off at The Pilot Field is 7.45pm and you can get regular updates by following @SimonNewstead on Twitter.

The area’s two Sussex County League Division One clubs are also in action tonight. In-form Rye United will seek to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches when they host fellow high-flyers East Preston. Kick-off at The Salts is 7.30pm.

Sidley United will be targeting a sixth win in eight matches as they entertain relegation threatened Shoreham. The Blues were fixtureless on Tuesday, whereas Shoreham contested a John O’Hara League Challenge Cup semi-final against Peacehaven & Telscombe. Kick-off at Gullivers is 7.45pm.