Hastings United suffered their first home defeat of the season in an entertaining clash against Brighton & Hove Albion U23s in the Sussex Senior Cup.
In this second round tie, David Rodari’s header equalised for United within two minutes of Kasper Lopata’s close-range opener.
Stefan Vukoje restored Brighton’s lead with a breakaway and near post finish.
United drew level in the second-half when Lanre Azeez crossed for Ben Pope to cleverly flick a header in off the far post.
With 15 minutes remaining, Bojan Radulovic lifted a through ball over Louis Rogers to score Brighton’s third and decisive goal.
Brighton held on to their lead despite a late United offensive and a strong penalty claim.
United manager, Chris Agutter, made three changes from Saturday’s team. Bringing in Dan Hull and Rodari from the bench and giving Leon Greig another opportunity after his impressive display against Whitehawk in the recent FA Trophy replay win.
Brighton made a confident start keeping the ball well and showing glimpses of speed in attack. Vukoje in particular looked lively, having a shot deflected for a corner in the opening exchanges.
It was United though who engineered the first chance after 11 minutes. Rogers sent a long pass down the line for Grieg to run onto from which Azeez’s cross was blocked for a throw-in.
Ollie Black’s trademark long throw was crossed back in by Pope to Dixon whose header was well saved by a diving Adam Desbois and hacked clear by a defender.
Vukoje created Brighton’s first opportunity all on his own. With Hull attempting to shield the ball out of play, Vukoje nipped in and managed to fire off a shot which hit the side-netting.
Brighton took the lead a few minutes later. A free-kick was whipped in, half-cleared then headed against the bar by Lopata who reacted quickest to head in from almost on the line.
Before Brighton could consolidate their lead United responded immediately. A long throw into the area by Black was headed home by Rodari and United were back level.
The action continued to flow end to end. Brighton’s Ayo Tanimowo freed Vukoje to cross for Radulovic. His header from inside the six-yard area was blocked by Rogers who pounced on the loose ball before Radulovic could get his follow-up shot away.
That proved to be a temporary reprieve. Another Brighton free-kick was cleared by United to half-way but instantly fed out to Vukoje on the left-wing. He made inroads to the area, cut inside onto his right foot and fired home at the near post from eight yards. A clinical finish to a rapid breakaway.
As the half progressed, United’s midfield began to settle into their task, getting closer to their counterparts and increasing their time on the ball.
Toward the end of the first-half Black’s long throw again caused havoc in the Brighton defence. The ball was headed behind with some in the crowd believing United had scored when the back of the net rippled.
United started the second-half on the front-foot. Jack Dixon and James Pool fashioned an opportunity for Grieg to swing in a cross. Rodari leapt at the far post, hung in the air for an age but headed just wide.
Although Brighton continued to look sharp on the break, it was United applying the pressure and this paid off on sixty-three minutes.
Dixon freed Azeez down the left-wing to speed toward the area then turned this way and the other to create space. His clipped cross was met by Pope who flicked a header backward and in off the far post. The skills of Azeez and the ingenuity of Pope brought United deservedly level.
Within minutes both Rodari and Pope had shots wide after long balls out from Rogers fell to United’s midfield. A ploy perhaps to unsettle the Brighton defence. Though it was Vukoje again who went closest to scoring next with a hard low shot which Rogers did well to push away for a corner.
On 75 minutes Kenny Pogue replaced Pope with almost instant success. Azeez slid a pass through which Pogue hit first-time, his shot saved by Desbois feet. What an introduction it would have been.
After another period of United pressure, it was Brighton who regained the lead. Desbois hit a long accurate pass to Vukoje on the right-wing. He played a neat one-two in midfield then threaded a pass to Radulovic to lift the ball over the onrushing Rogers. A good goal cleverly worked and ruthlessly finished.
United pressed forward in search of another equaliser. Rodari and Azeez both had shots blocked before a Worrall corner was headed goalward and Desbois made the save of the night, flying to his right to tip the ball over the bar.
There was still time for one more attack. In the final minute of added time Jake Elliott released Azeez down the right. He sped away from the full-back but as he entered the area he was seemingly clipped or pushed over. The referee though was unmoved by the penalty appeals and moments later blew the final whistle.
Whilst disappointing for United to lose a game they fully contributed to, they can take great heart from their performance.
A match which could have gone either way and United certainly created enough chances to win against a talented Brighton side.
Hasting's next game: sees them away to Weymouth in the FA Trophy third qualifying round on Saturday, kick-off 3pm.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Hull, Greig, Elliott, Rodari, Pope (Pogue 75), Worrall, Pool, Azeez, Dixon. Unused: Clarke, Ajakaiye, Chalmers, Clark.