Hastings United Football Club all but secured a play-off place after a thrilling 4-4 draw away to Lewes this afternoon (Easter Monday).
The result keeps United in the final Ryman Football League Division One South play-off spot of fifth - three points ahead of sixth-placed Carshalton Athletic, who lost 1-0 away to leaders Tooting & Mitcham United, and with a vastly superior goal difference heading into the final game of the season.
Only a defeat at home to Chipstead and a Carshalton victory over East Grinstead Town, plus a 30-goal swing in the goal difference, can deny United a play-off spot.
United’s afternoon got off to a bad start as Stephen Butcher and Danny Leonard - both of whom were listed in the starting XI on the teamsheet - withdrew in the warm-up.
But they shrugged off that disruption to open the scoring inside three minutes. Bradley Stevenson stood up a lovely cross from near the byeline for Shomari Barnwell to head home at the far post.
Kiernan Hughes-Mason then saw a well-struck drive parried by home goalkeeper Chris Winterton, but Lewes levelled in the sixth minute. A cross from the home right was headed in by Jonte Smith.
United suffered a further injury setback when Jerrome Sobers hobbled off in the 17th minute to be replaced by academy prospect Ollie Black, who did a decent job at left-back.
Lewes went 2-1 up through a spectacular goal by former United midfielder Jack Dixon two minutes later. A long free kick was headed down straight to Dixon, who unleashed a magnificent strike from 25 yards right into the top corner.
Lloyd Harrington flicked Ghassimu Sow’s free kick just wide of United’s near post before United made it 2-2 in the 35th minute. A decent cross from the right by Matt Bodkin was glanced into the far corner by the head of Barnwell for his second.
After Harry Stannard’s well-timed volley flashed inches over the Lewes crossbar, United fell behind again in the 40th minute. A free kick from the Lewes left was headed back across United goalkeeper Ryan Nicholls and into the net by Alex Malins.
Ollie Rowe thought he had brought United level once more late in the first half, but his close range header after Hughes-Mason flicked on Stevenson’s free kick was disallowed for offside.
More goals looked inevitable in the second half and Lewes came agonisingly close within three minutes of the restart, Smith’s angled shot striking the base of the far post. Rowe was then denied by Winterton following a scramble in the box at the other end.
Malins headed into the side-netting at the far post from Sow’s corner and United went down the other end to make it 3-3 in the 55th minute. Hughes-Mason slotted low past Winterton having been played in by a lovely touch from Stannard.
Ronnie Conlon headed over at the far post from another Sow set-piece prior to Lewes going 4-3 up in the 66th minute. Nicholls got a hand to Dixon’s header diving to his right, but the ball had just enough pace on it to cross the line.
Nicholls made a good stop diving to his right from Conlon to keep United in it and they went on to grab an 80th minute equaliser. Frannie Collin’s free kick was hooked goalwards by Stannard against a Lewes defender and Rowe slid in to turn it home.
There were many happy faces at the end of United’s third 4-4 draw of the season, although the release of half-a-dozen explosives at various points in the afternoon - seemingly by United supporters - spoiled things somewhat.
United: Nicholls, Hughes-Mason, Cruttwell, Emptage, Sobers (Black 17), Rowe, Bodkin, Johnson, Barnwell (Collin 65), Stevenson, Stannard. Subs not used: Akoto, Rose. Attendance: 771.
Ryman Division One South top 10 (all played 45 matches, 1 remaining): 1 Tooting & Mitcham United 105pts (+67 goal difference), 2 Dorking Wanderers 102 (+58), 3 Greenwich Borough 92 (+46), 4 Corinthian-Casuals 90 (+36), 5 HASTINGS UNITED 81 (+64), 6 Carshalton Athletic 78 (+35), 7 Hythe Town 75 (+21), 8 Lewes 75 (+13), 9 Faversham Town 73 (+31), 10 South Park 73 (+13).
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