Hastings United scraped into the play-offs on a dramatic final day of the Ryman Football League Division One South season.
The U’s won 1-0 at home to Crawley Down Gatwick this afternoon (Saturday) and clinched the final play-off berth after fellow hopefuls Burgess Hill Town conceded a 90th minute goal to draw 2-2 away to Sittingbourne.
United went into the afternoon needing to win and hope that Burgess Hill dropped points. That didn’t look likely as the Hillians led 2-0 going into the final 20 minutes of their game, but Joe Taylor came to United’s rescue with a brace of goals to salvage an unlikely point for Sittingbourne.
United will visit runners-up Folkestone Invicta in the play-off semi-finals on Tuesday night, while fourth-placed Guernsey will travel to third-placed Leatherhead - who have been handed a six-point deduction for a registration irregularity - in the other tie. The two winners will go head-to-head in the final next Saturday.
The drama relating to the overall situation was in marked contrast to United’s game itself, which certainly won’t live long in the memory. Injury-hit United limped past second-bottom Crawley Down thanks to Kenny Pogue’s goal late in the first half.
United handed out their supporters’ player of the season and goal of the season awards before kick-off, and 20 minutes into the match came what must’ve been miss of the season. Frankie Sawyer’s shot following a good ball by Taser Hassan was half saved and Josh Oyinsan only had to apply any sort of touch from barely a yard out, but somehow failed to find the target.
Home goalkeeper Josh Pelling saved a low angled drive by Tom Frankland before his opposite number Zane Campbell-Rose pulled off a superb fingertip stop to divert Kenny Pogue’s sweetly struck volley onto the post.
Pogue, who replaced the cautioned Oyinsan on the half-hour, came up with what proved to be the winner in the 45th minute, forcing home a fine right wing cross by Hassan at the second attempt after his first close range effort was well stopped.
Tim Olorunda headed a Sam Adams corner over the Crawley Down crossbar from inside the six yard box in the third minute of the second half before Sawyer flashed a decent effort just too high from the edge of the D.
Although Crawley Down have conceded 139 goals this season and travelled to The Pilot Field with only one substitute, they did have their moments against a United side containing several players struggling with knocks, notably Andy Corrigan.
Pelling made a good tip over to keep out John Lansdale’s shot from the edge of the box, while Romane McCrae could only find the side-netting from what was still an inviting position despite the acuteness of the angle.
At the other end, substitute Danny Ellis fired one effort into the midriff of Campbell-Rose before clipping the outside of the post with a shot from approaching 25 yards. Crawley Down defender Ade Akandi made an important tackle as Sawyer was about to pull the trigger having latched onto a long ball over the top.
United: Pelling, Bachellier (O’Connor 63), Corrigan, Darby, Judge, Olorunda, Hassan, Adams, Oyinsan (Pogue 30), Sawyer, Ferguson (Ellis 54). Subs not used: Toney, Wade. Attendance: 492.
Ryman Division One South top six final standings (all played 46 matches): 1 Peacehaven & Telscombe 107pts (+73 goal difference), 2 Folkestone Invicta 89 (+43), 3 Leatherhead 86 (+47), 4 Guernsey 81 (+28), 5 HASTINGS UNITED 79 (+11), 6 Burgess Hill Town 77 (+21).