Hastings United's footballers defied their striker crisis to ease through in the FA Cup this afternoon (Sunday).
The U's booked their place in first round qualifying with a comfortable 2-0 preliminary round victory away to lower grade Cray Valley (PM).
A goal in either half from Steve Watt and Sam Cole got the job done for Ryman Football League Division One South side United against opposition from the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division.
With United missing four forwards - Frannie Collin, Jack Harris and Bright Temba through injury, and loanee Jay May being prevented from playing by parent club Maidstone United - central defender Watt was pressed into action as an emergency striker. Ryan Nicholls made his competitive debut in goal in the absence of Lenny Pidgeley.
United played down the slope and into the wind during the first half on a sunny but breezy afternoon in Eltham. After a quiet opening 20 minutes, the first real attempt at goal came from Cray Valley as Leigh Bremner's low shot brought a fine save out of Nicholls low to his left.
On a very good playing surface, the visitors drew first blood in the 24th minute. Wayne Wilson delivered an inswinging free kick from the left and Watt stuck out a leg to guide the ball in via the underside of the crossbar, the ball bouncing down just over the goal-line.
United seemed in control for much of the remainder of the first half, although there were a couple of nervous moments. Bremner got on the end of Peter Smith's ball over the top and lobbed onto to the roof of the net with Nicholls out of his goal, and a few minutes later Reece Butler had to hack the ball clear after it had bounced over the head of Nicholls.
The U's had a decent chance to double their advantage shortly before the break. Richard Davies played an inviting ball across the face of goal from the right and Sam Cruttwell's shot at the far post was kept out by a reflex save from Colin Barnes.
United stamped their authority on the contest early in the second half and did go two-up in the 54th minute. Watt laid the ball off for Cole to find the bottom corner with a delightful curling shot from outside the box.
Matt Bodkin clipped the top of the crossbar with a tremendous strike from more than 30 yards just a couple of minutes later, while Cruttwell was later not far away with a well-struck long range attempt of his own.
The game became a bit scrappy for a while, but United were pretty solid in defence, with Ollie Rowe enjoying a particularly steady game, and Nicholls wasn't required to make a save of note during the entire second half.
Towards the end, Watt was thwarted by a good block from Cray Valley defender Joe Matthews at the end of a good move involving Davies and Bodkin, and Barnes had to make a reaction stop to prevent an own goal following more good play on the right by Bodkin and Davies.
United's reward for knocking out Cray Valley for the second successive season is £1,925 from the FA's prize fund and another away tie, against Bishop's Cleeve or Camberley Town, on Saturday September 3.
United: Nicholls, Davies, Butler (Stannard 70), Wilson, Rowe, Smith, Cruttwell (Pritchard 87), Johnson, Bodkin, Watt, Cole. Subs not used: Foster, Black.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make this website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex
3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!