Hastings United Football Club’s relegation fears were heightened by defeat at home to bottom-of-the-table opposition this afternoon (Saturday).
The U’s conceded a goal in either half as they slumped to a dreadful 2-0 reverse against a Horsham side which had lost its previous seven Ryman Football League Division One South matches.
To make matters even worse, key striker Ade Olorunda was sent-off in the dying seconds and is likely to be suspended for at least half of United’s remaining six games.
The U’s remain 20th in the 24-team division, but they are now only one point above second-bottom Redhill and the three clubs immediately below United all have a game in hand. There are three relegation places in theory, although generally in recent seasons at least one side has earned a reprieve.
Olalekan Bankole went straight into United’s starting line-up following his return to the club from Sittingbourne, while youngster Liam Foster was given his first start in a midfield again missing Sam Adams.
United had the game’s first chance in the seventh minute when Luke Turner met Tyrell Richardson-Brown’s driven low cross from the right, but couldn’t direct his shot wide of Horsham goalkeeper Gareth Williams in what turned out to be a rare attempt on target.
Home stopper Josh Pelling tipped over a shot from the onrushing Tom Howard-Bold a minute later before Horsham opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Tony Nwachukwu outpaced Richard Rose to get on the end of a ball over the top and slotted past Pelling for the Hornets’ first goal in four outings.
There was little action of note during the remainder of the first half. Turner chipped a free kick tamely over the crossbar and Foster couldn’t direct an effort on target, while Howard-Bold’s deflected shot at the other end went just wide of the far post.
Horsham looked comfortable for much of the second half. Although they showed plenty of willing, United lacked the quality, drive and, seemingly, belief to find a way back into the match against a side which arrived at The Pilot Field having picked up one point from a possible 27.
United full-back Steve Brinkhurst fired off target from distance and Olorunda headed wide from a cross by brother Tim, while at the other end, a corner from former United midfielder Tom Vickers was missed at the near post and almost crept in at the far.
Howard-Bold fired over from outside the box at another Vickers corner, while Williams made easy saves from Sean Ray and Ade Olorunda prior to Horsham doubling their advantage in the 82nd minute.
Gregg Berry had only been on the field a matter of seconds when he squared from near the byeline in the right-hand side of the box and Bailo Camara tapped home against his former club.
Matt Maclean headed wide of the far post from a cross by fellow United substitute Matt Caley, who was making his debut, while Nwachukwu’s cross-cum-shot from wide on the right was fisted out by Pelling, who then kept out Trevor McCreadie’s shot-on-the-turn at his near post.
A thoroughly miserable afternoon for United was topped off in the last of five minutes of added time when Ade Olorunda was shown a straight red card for serious foul play as several players from both sides converged on the ball.
There were boos at the final whistle from United supporters who’ve witnessed only three home league wins all season. United have now picked up just three points from their last nine games and have scored only once in their last five as their plight becomes increasingly worrying.
United: Pelling, Brinkhurst, Rose, Holden (Caley 34), Ray, T. Olorunda, Richardson-Brown (Ugbene 82), Bankole, A. Olorunda, Foster (Maclean 54), Turner. Subs not used: Logan, Cruttwell. Attendance: 368.
Ryman Division One South bottom five (played-points): 20 HASTINGS UNITED 40-37, 21 Ramsgate 39-37, 22 East Grinstead Town 39-37, 23 Redhill 39-36, 24 Horsham 40-33.