Gary Elphick’s headed brace propels Hastings United to summit
Hastings United produced a controlled away performance to ultimately overpower mid-table opponents Whitstable and travel home with three valuable league points.
United manager, Chris Agutter, gave Davide Rodari another place in the starting line-up and was rewarded by the striker’s headed goal after six minutes. Whitstable withstood more early pressure then grew into the game enough to equalise at the start of the second half. Gary Elphick’s quick-fire double, courtesy of two powerful headers, gave United a deserved 3 – 1 victory. Irrespective of other results the win put United back on top of the league as they extended their unbeaten start to thirteen games.
On a dry cold night, Whitstable created the first chance of the game on five minutes. John Ufuah demonstrated his electric pace to break free down the right and fire in a shot which Louis Rogers parried away, from which United broke to the other end to win a corner. This was half-cleared to Lanre Azeez, who teased a cross back into the box for Rodari to leap high and thump a clinical header into the roof of the net to give United the lead.
From the restart Rodari was straight back into the action, winning a tackle in midfield to breakaway toward the penalty area before having his ankles crudely clipped. From clinical to cynical, Whitstable were sure Rodari was in the mood tonight.
United almost added a second after sixteen minutes. First Daniel Ajakaiye, using his strength in the tackle, created space to crack a twenty yard shot which Dan Eason tipped over the bar. From the resulting corner, Ryan Worrall drilled in a low cross which was diverted into his own goal by a defender’s face. The referee assistant’s flag for offside tempered celebrations.
Midway through the first-half and Whitstable stepped up their effort to try and grab a foothold in the game. This resulted in a period of end to end football with neither team holding onto possession.
On the half-hour, United used the pace and movement of Rodari again. Ollie Black released Rodari with a long ball down the left which he had to hold up whilst his teammates caught up. His cross to Azeez resulted in a corner.
Into the last five minutes of the half and Whitstable continued to battle hard but without creating any clear-cut chances. After winning successive corners the closest they came was from Tijan Jadama’s header which flew over the bar.
Half-time: Whitstable 0 – 1 Hastings United
Within three minutes of the second-half, Whitstable grabbed an equaliser. A long throw into the United area was only half cleared and played back out to the left. The resulting cross evaded Rogers, hit the underside of the crossbar and landed at the feet of Harry Stannard a couple of yards out. He couldn’t miss and didn’t.
It took United less than ten minutes to respond. Black was the instigator and creator of United’s second goal. Picking up a loose ball on half-way, he released Rodari again who won a throw-in on the left. Black’s trademark long throw was then met by the head of Elphick who leapt above everyone to power home.
United sensed an opportunity to put the game to bed. Ajakaiye broke quickly from a Whitstable corner and though his initial cross was cleared, he picked up a loose clearance from Eason. His shot from the edge of area was saved, retrieved and crossed for Rodari who also saw his shot saved. The subsequent corner was drilled toward the near post and emphatically dispatched by Elphick into the bottom right corner for his second and United’s third.
Whitstable attempted without success to haul themselves back into the game, whilst United were content to see out the final quarter of the game.
The final chance resulted from a Whitstable free-kick mid-way in United’s half. Another quick breakaway allowed Pope to put Worrall away through the middle. His initial shot was blocked by the chest of Eason and his follow up header was cleared off the line.
Full-time: Whitstable 1 – 3 Hastings United
A controlled, professional outing for United against opposition renowned for being tough to break-down. Playing on a pitch a tad narrower, United had to adapt their natural game of controlled possession playing from the back. But with the opportunity to regain top spot they still took full advantage.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Stone, Elliott, Rodari (80’ Pope), Ajakaiye (85’ Pogue), Adam, Worrall, Lovatt, Azeez (76’ Beale) (Unused subs: Hull, Pool)
Whitstable: Eason, Mackenzie, Brown, Girt, Sanders, Bryant, Stannard (71’ Wratten), Gillies (74’ Elliott), Millbank, Jadama, Ufuah (Unused subs: Dickson, Mazzone, Spencer)
Next game: Saturday 7th December, at home to Chichester City in the league, kick-off 3pm.