Captain Jack Dixon delivered a midfield masterclass enabling Hastings United to maintain their 100% home league record.
Dixon opened the scoring on 15 minutes and hit the woodwork before Jeff Duah-Kessie equalised for Phoenix Sports on the stroke of half-time. After the break, a quick-fire double from Jake Elliott and Dixon’s second put United firmly in control to secure a valuable three points.
A day of thick cloud but no rain meant the floodlights were on but this year’s highest attendance were kept dry for United’s return to league action against Phoenix Sports.
All in red, Phoenix kicked the match off playing toward the Elphinstone Road end. Three minutes in and Dixon set the tone for his superb performance. United moved from one wing to the other, then after neat play between Craig Stone and Elliott, Dixon held the ball until the last moment before releasing Lanre Azeez to cross for Daniel Ajakaiye. His shot was blocked for an early corner. Minutes later Adam Lovatt and Dixon released Ajakaiye to cross for Azeez, his header was blocked and his follow up shot was fired inches wide of the top corner.
This positive start from United saw them grab the lead after 15 minutes. Stone played the ball into the feet of Azeez and onto Elliott on halfway. In characteristic fashion, Elliott galloped past players to the edge of the area. A smart pass inside gave Dixon the chance to step onto his left foot and fire home into the bottom right corner. An excellent finish from what was only a half chance.
From the restart, Stone played a wonderful pass down the line to Elliott. His cross was cleverly stepped over by Ryan Worrall for Dixon to collect on the edge of the area, only to be fouled. Ben Pope’s free-kick, on the edge of the D, lacked height and was saved by Steve Phillips.
Phoenix almost got back into the game a few minutes later. A free-kick won in a similar position to United’s was struck toward the top corner by Ben Allen. Louis Rogers leapt to his right and clawed the ball out. A top-drawer save to maintain the lead. Stung into action, United headed back down the other end where a long throw into the area landed at the feet of Dixon who’s attempt hit the crossbar.
And then Phoenix hauled themselves level. A deep cross from the left gave Duah-Kessie a shooting chance, initially blocked but straight back to him and blasted in from eight yards. An unstoppable strike and a good goal, even if against the run of play.
With half-time approaching, United continued to push forward and were so close to regaining the lead immediately. Dixon started the move with a clever turn through a number of bodies in midfield before Pope teed up Worrall to hit a booming strike from 20 yards. Hit so flush against the crossbar it bounced back the same 20 yards.
Half-time: Hastings United 1 – 1 Phoenix Sports
Into the second-half, the temperature was dropping but United were soon putting Phoenix under pressure. A long kick by Rogers was controlled by Pope’s thigh for Dixon to give Ajakaiye an opening, his shot deflected for a corner. Ten minutes in and Dixon exchanged passes with Sam Beale before giving a subtle pass inside the full-back for Ajakaiye to cross for Pope, whose header was saved.
As United pressed for the next goal, Phoenix tried numerous times to hit them on the break. It was a good ploy, their forward players looked very quick but each time United’s defence repelled all advances. Stone and Ollie Black remained secure at the back.
After 20 minutes of the second-half, two goals in as many minutes put United in control. First, Stone’s lofted ball into Pope was held up and fed to Elliott who cut inside and the right-back expertly dispatched into the corner from eight yards. United 2 – 1 ahead. Then, not content with a one goal lead, from the restart, Azeez and Pope exchanged passes to win a corner which was half-cleared. The ball was returned by Worrall and fell to Dixon who cleared his feet and fired home from six yards for his second goal.
Those quick goals knocked the stuffing out of Phoenix. United could have extended their lead when Elliott’s whipped cross was met by Dixon’s diving header, which flew just wide. And then another chance for his hat-trick running onto Davide Rodari’s flick on. Dixon rounded the keeper but from a tight angle sliced a shot wide.
United comfortably played out the remainder of the game. They continue their unbeaten start and stay second in the league, now only two points behind Cray Valley with a game in hand.
Full-time: Hastings United 3 – 1 Phoenix Sports
Man of the Match: For the second home match running Jake Elliott wins the award for another barnstorming game. Defender, attacker, goal-scorer.
Overall this was a stellar team performance which did not give Phoenix any opportunity to get into the game. Special mention for Jack Dixon, his passing, strength and guile were absolutely stunning, not to mention his two goals. A real captain’s performance.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Stone, Elliott, Ajakaiye (83’ Chalmers), Pope (73’ Rodari), Beale, Worall, Lovatt (21’ Pool), Azeez, Dixon (Unused subs: Hull, Pogue)
Phoenix Sports: Phillips, Andrews, Clark, Hopkins (88’ Dythe), Young, Barry, Chin (’69 Whitlock), Bird, Duah-Kessie, Allen, Alireu (88’ Juma) (Unused subs: Probets, Andrew)
Next game: Tuesday 19th November, home to Brighton & Hove Albion U23s in the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup, kick-off 7:45pm.