Hastings United manager Chris Agutter says the football club must learn from its mistakes and react as it heads into a key week.
Agutter’s side saw a run of 16 Bostik League South East Division points from a possible 18 end with a 4-1 defeat at Herne Bay last weekend - their heaviest league loss of the season.
Second-placed Hastings are now preparing for two games in four days, with a home match against Guernsey today (Saturday, kick-off 1pm) followed by a trip to fourth-placed Horsham on Tuesday night.
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Agutter said: “We need to learn from the mistakes against Herne Bay and reproduce the home form we’ve shown all season. Other than the spell at the end of November, whenever we’ve had a poor result, we’ve always reacted well and we’re in a good run of form.
“There’s no point being too negative and downbeat because we need to react to it. Before 3 o’clock on Saturday we were sitting top of the form guide so we must’ve been doing something right.
“I think we’ve got the best home form in the league (Hastings have won 10 of their 11 home league fixtures so far this season). One of the priorities was to make The Pilot Field a fortress and I feel like we’ve done that.”
Hastings are 11 points behind leaders Cray Wanderers, two ahead of third-placed Ashford United and eight above Haywards Heath Town - the team just outside the play-off spots in sixth.
“It’s a completely new situation for everyone,” continued Agutter. “I’ve not been in a promotion chase as a manager and we’ve only got two players in the dressing room who have been in this situation as well.
“It’s all new territory and credit to the players; they’re learning on the job and I feel like we’re coping with it pretty well.
“We’re there to be shot at, which is credit to the players in terms of how well we’ve done this season. On our day we’re as good as anyone; we’ve just got to keep working hard, keep doing the right things and I’m sure there will be a positive end to the season.”
Agutter felt that his team adopted the wrong mentality during last weekend’s defeat, which was their first league loss since December 8.
“I think we thought we would rock up and it would be a given,” he admitted. “But as we’ve realised, there’s no easy games in this league. I thought we had the wrong mentality, wrong mindset, approached the game in the wrong way and got punished.
“We said to the players that the first 15 minutes is massive in terms of setting the tone. What we didn’t want to do was give the underdog the initiative and we did just that.
“Every five or six games this season we’ve had that sixth or seventh game where we’ve come unstuck. As brutal as it sounds, the only thing that’s consistent with young players is inconsistency.
“It’s another opportunity to learn, both on and off the pitch. I do think we need to take it as a learning curve all the time.”
Lanre Azeez is expected to miss the Guernsey game with a pulled hamstring, while Hassan Ibrahiym is considered touch and go. Agutter added that five or six players have been a bit under the weather.
Long-term injury victim Davide Rodari is in full training and Agutter says he’s had no issues with his knee.
Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 22-55 (+27 goal difference), 2 HASTINGS UNITED 22-44 (+22), 3 Ashford United 22-42 (+26), 4 Horsham 22-41 (+14), 5 Whyteleafe 22-38 (+17), 6 Haywards Heath Town 22-36 (+9), 7 VCD Athletic 22-35 (+2), 8 Hythe Town 22-33 (+5), 9 Phoenix Sports 21-29 (+1), 10 Sevenoaks Town 22-29 (-1).