It was a foggy affair in Sussex as West hosted East in the battle of the county. Hastings had the first effort of the game, nice play by Tom Chalmers in midfield to get away from Jordi Ndozid but he lashed his effort way over Taylor Seymour’s crossbar. The Hill’s first chance came just after, Max Miller making his return to the line-up stung the palms of Louis Rogers in the U’s goal. In the 13th minute there was very nearly a horror moment for Rogers. There seemed to be no danger when he received the ball in his area but as he went to clear it he missed the ball and that let Reece Williams-Bowers in but he slipped at the vital moment to let the keeper off the hook. Williams-Bowers had another half chance not long after as a free kick fell to him but he didn’t connect cleanly and it didn’t trouble Rogers. Ben Pope was a familiar name around Mid Sussex and he had 2 chances in quick succession to open the scoring. Firstly, he latched onto a Chalmers nod down before flashing a drive across the face of goal before sloppy work from Kirkwood in midfield presented the dangerous number 9 with the ball but he lacked composure when he smashed a left footed effort over the bar. Hastings were starting to get a bit of control, especially in midfield. Sam Hasler won the ball back in a dangerous position before he unleashed a fierce drive which Seymour did well to keep hold of on the wet surface. Seymour was getting busier, moments later he had to be alert to hold on to a Jack Dixon header from a corner. On the stroke of half-time, Hastings opened the scoring. A lovely move from right to left involving 4 U’s led to the ball ending up at the feet of Dave Martin who fired across Seymour and into the bottom corner. Only 3 minutes were added at the end of the first half but somehow Hastings scored another. Good hold up play from Pope as he lay the ball down the line to Sam Hasler, he cut inside Josh Luther far to easily and he fired across Seymour and into the bottom corner in a carbon copy of the first goal.
Hastings started the second half as they finished the first, on top. Good play from substitute Lanre Azeez, as he found Hasler but this time his effort went wide. A succession of Hastings corners led to Ollie Black thinking he had scored a third but Reggie Ward cleared his header off the line. The chances kept coming for the U’s as they looked to finish off the Hill, the impressive Chalmers burst through but Seymour tipped his effort around the post. Another corner threatened on the hour mark as a wicked ball fell to former Hillian Elphick but Seymour somehow managed to tip his effort onto the bar with a quite outstanding save. The third goal which had been coming all second half eventually arrived in the 68th minute as a free kick was whipped to the back post where Craig Stone nodded it back for Ollie Black to stab home. All far too easy. It was almost 4-0 as Ben Pope found himself one on one but another excellent point blank Seymour save stopped the score from getting out of hand. With 11 minutes remaining and with the first effort of the second half, the Hillians clawed one back. Substitute Lewis Finney stepped up to whip a delightful free kick into the top corner in a real moment of quality. That goal gave the Hill a boost and not long after, they had a second. Reggie Ward has been the standout player this season and the 18-year-old created this goal, doing brilliantly down the left to twist and turn before crossing for Max Miller to nod home with aplomb. It was all Hill now as you would imagine and Hastings suddenly were panicking, a long ball wasn’t dealt with and it dropped for Miller to hit on the volley, it took a slight deflection and with Rogers rooted it flashed inches wide. So close to the most unlikely equaliser.
A good fightback but another ‘what if’ for the Hillians. Next up, we turn our attention onto the FA Cup as we welcome National League South outfit Dorking Wanderers.