Hastings United’s footballers suffered a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat in a thrilling play-off semi-final tonight (Tuesday).
United were edged out 4-3 on spot-kicks away to Dorking Wanderers after the Ryman Football League Division One South play-off semi-final had finished 1-1 at the end of normal and extra-time.
In truth it was a shame there had to be a loser in a terrific contest between two very good sides who gave their all and both would surely grace the next level up.
Dorking finished the regular season three places and 23 points above United having beaten them twice, but this time United pushed them all the way in a match which was closely contested throughout and could have gone either way.
With the Surrey Hills providing an attractive backdrop on a chilly late April evening, United started encouragingly. A Harry Stannard shot was well held by Dorking goalkeeper Slavomir Huk and Frannie Collin had the ball in the net following a tremendous run and cross by Sam Cruttwell only to be flagged offside.
United goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, who made a welcome return despite appearing to still be hampered by the back injury which has sidelined him of late, denied Tom Tolfrey at the near post and Kiernan Hughes-Mason drove wide at the other end seconds later.
Pidgeley later pulled off a splendid save low to his left to turn Jake Beecroft’s well-struck 20 yard drive round the post, while Collin’s whipped in free kick from near the byeline on the away left was palmed away by Huk.
The best chance of the first half fell to Dorking. Tolfrey got clear of United’s defence and pulled the ball back for James McShane, who blazed wide from an inviting position inside the area.
Into the second half and the dangerous Matthew Briggs drove wide at the end of a surging run for Dorking before Hughes-Mason’s goalbound shot from a great position inside the box was blocked.
Danny Leonard was thwarted by Huk as he tried to round him at the end of a fine solo run, while at the other end, Callum Emptage made a crucial block from McShane and Tolfrey steered his shot wide of the near post after a another good run from Briggs.
Bradley Stevenson’s 20-yard strike was pushed away by Huk before United drew first blood in the 73rd minute. Matt Bodkin delivered an excellent cross from the right and Collin planted his header beyond the goalkeeper.
Stevenson flashed a long range effort just wide as United dominated the next five minutes, but Dorking’s attacking quality was such that they were always going to come back at United and Pidgeley produced a vital stop at the feet of a clean through Briggs.
Dorking, who by now had made a double substitution, levelled things up in the 85th minute. One of the replacements, Guiseppe Sole, drilled a thunderbolt of a shot against the underside of the crossbar from the edge of the box and after it bounced down on the line, McShane nodded in.
With the scores level after 90 minutes, the game went into extra-time. Although United substitute Shomari Barnwell couldn’t quite turn home a low ball across goal early on, Dorking gradually got on top during the first additional period and only a good save by Pidgeley’s foot kept out an angled shot from Briggs.
Both sides will feel they might have won it during the second additional period. Barnwell ballooned his shot over when closed down quickly in the box.
Dorking then went close as Briggs got goalside of United’s defence only to see his shot saved by Pidgeley and Tolfrey’s follow-up was flicked away by defender Jerrome Sobers.
United had a glorious chance to win it in the 119th minute when Stevenson received a Bradley Pritchard pass and skilfully beat the last defender, but saw his shot saved by the feet of Huk. Bodkin’s volley from the resulting corner was blocked on the line.
And so to penalties it went. Both teams converted their first kicks, Sole for Dorking and Simon Johnson for United. United then went 2-1 up as Pidgeley diverted McShane’s shot against the post and Ollie Rowe - who had another resolute game in defence - scored.
But parity was quickly restored as Dean Gunner netted Dorking’s third kick and Sam Cruttwell - quite possibly United’s best player on the night having done superbly up against the threat of Briggs - saw his strike brilliantly saved.
Both sides scored their fourth kicks, Beecroft for Dorking and Bodkin for United. Tolfrey tucked away Dorking’s fifth attempt, which meant United had to score theirs to stay alive and Pidgeley - having performed admirably throughout - blasted wide.
An impressive Dorking side will go on to host Corinthian-Casuals in the final on Saturday. Corinthian won 4-3 away to Greenwich Borough in the other semi-final despite playing for 70 minutes with 10 men.
United: Pidgeley, Emptage, Cruttwell, Leonard, Sobers, Rowe, Bodkin, Johnson, Hughes-Mason (Stevenson 65), Collin (Barnwell 81), Stannard (Pritchard 98). Subs not used: Black, Nicholls. Attendance: 597.
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