BATTLING Hastings United claimed a fully deserved goalless draw at home to Ryman Premier leaders Billericay Town.
The U’s had to do it the hard way after having midfielder Jamie Crellin sent-off inside the opening half-an-hour at The Pilot Field.
Despite being a man short for more than two-thirds of the match, Hastings still tried to play football by keeping the ball on the ground and, for the most part, managed to keep the division’s leading scorers at arm’s length.
In the build-up to the game player-manager Sean Ray had been hopeful of bringing in a new player to help shake-up a side which had slipped to one place above the relegation zone. Things obviously hadn’t quite panned out as he would have liked as the squad took on a very familiar look with the return of Nick Whitehead being the only change to the XI which started in the midweek defeat against Bury Town in the Alan Boon Cup.
There was, however, a league debut for recent signing Tamer Tuna who had a good game, as did so many of his team-mates.
Hastings had the first effort on goal inside two minutes when Zac Attwood’s shot on the turn was held by Dale Brightly.
Not long after, Tuna gathered the ball wide on the left, cut infield and forced a decent save out of Brightly who was then called on to once again deny Attwood after the Hastings forward had so nearly punished some more tentative Billericay defending.
The hosts suffered a huge blow on 26 minutes when midfield enforcer Crellin was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Richard Halle. Many in the crowd felt the Billericay player should also have been dismissed for a stamp on Crellin but he was shown only a yellow card for the original foul.
Hastings refused to feel sorry for themselves and continued to make life difficult for opponents who were clearly rattled.
Billericay made a double substitution at the start of the second half in an effort to make better use of their extra man.
They still struggled to make much of an impression as superb defending from Jirbandey, Ray and Ross Sutton kept them at bay.
On the rare occasions when the backline was breached Matt Armstrong-Ford pulled off a couple of good saves, with the standout being a plunging one-handed parry to deny Harrison Chatting’s goalbound effort.
Hastings: Armstrong-Ford, Manning (Sutton 63), Whitehead, Carey, Ray, Jirbandey, Ellis, Crellin, Tuna, Attwood, Davisson (Gonsalves 90+3). Subs not used: Pogue, Dixon.
Referee: Ian Gosling (Sittingbourne). Attendance: 368.