The Hillians hadn’t ventured to the Pilot Field for a while, with the COVID curtailments preventing us from heading to the seaside. With the U’s rocking and rolling at the top of the league it was a game that Jay Lovett’s men knew they would have to be at their very best to get any sort of result.
If Mr Lovett had asked for a fast start from the boys in green, a fast start is what he got! Barely 3 minutes had been ticking on the referees watch before Lewis Finney caught the Hastings back line sleeping, his wicked dipping effort gave Louis Rogers all sorts of problems and he could only parry the ball straight into the path of Tom Chalaye who gobbled up the early chance to stun the 1500 strong crowd in East Sussex. Hastings looked to respond quickly, Andrew Sesay broke down the left, rode a couple of challenges before setting up Sam Hasler, who was denied by Tommy Reid – with the young Hill stopper also thwarting Sam Adams on the rebound. Sesay then won a free kick which ended up flicking the crossbar as the U’s went close again. Nowadays, Hastings have former Hillian defender Gary Elphick at the helm. I would hedge my bets that Mr Elphick instructed his team to ‘focus play down the left’ as the following wave of attack saw left back Ryan Worrall try his luck after being found by Knory Scott, the shot was of no concern for Reid however. Midway through the first half, the hosts were deservedly level. It came from a set piece which I’m sure will frustrate the Hill management. Sam Hasler whipped it in and we failed to clear our lines in the box which lead to Ollie Black poking the ball in from close range. Hastings almost had a quick fire second, the dangerous Sesay whipped a lovely ball in and all Knory Scott had to do was tap it home but to the surprise of all, he managed to miss it. A big let off for the Hill. Since the very early Tom Chalaye goal, Hastings had seen a lot more of the ball than the Greens it’s fair to say. However, Chalaye was a constant thorn in the U’s side and he almost set up Pat Harding to fire the Hillians back in front. Chalaye danced down the left, skipping past a couple of challenges and picked out Super Pat, a good first touch allowed him to shoot but he fired straight into the arms of Rogers. Back down the other end, Tom Chalmers should’ve done better with a free header from a corner before Tommy Reid once again came to the Hill’s rescue, saving from Finn O’Mara. Hastings were beginning to get frustrated at their lack of cutting edge, Sam Hasler tried to take matters into his own hands with a shot from distance but once again, there was no way past Tommy Reid. As the clock ticked into one minute of added time, Martyn Box won a free kick on the left wing which Lewis Finney whipped in perfectly for Tom Chalaye to nip ahead of Rogers and flick his header into the net to spark jubilant scenes in the away end!
The men in green started the second half how we finished the first, on the front foot. Lewis Finney had a great chance to add a third, as the ball came to him on the edge of the box, centre of goal but he dragged his effort wide of the post. Luckily for the Hillians, that third goal was just around the corner. A long throw from Nic D’Arienzo was flicked on by Pat Harding and arriving like an absolute freight train was Martyn Box to smash his effort past Rogers to get his first goal for the club. Our 2 goal lead was short lived unfortunately, it was a very similar goal to the first, a Hastings corner which we failed to clear and Ollie Black once again was jogging on the spot to scramble it home. With Hastings pressing higher and higher searching for that elusive equaliser, chances were coming at the other end for Hill, Conrad Honore dispossessed a tired U, with the ball falling to Lewis Finney on the edge and his fierce low strike was going in until Rogers got down ever so quickly to stick a paw out and tip it around the upright. Both keepers were earning their keep in this enthralling encounter, some neat football from Hastings saw the ball drop to Kenny Pogue and the normally deadly striker saw his effort wonderfully tipped away by a full stretch Reid. The last 15 minutes of this contest resembled a basketball match, Martyn Box won the ball high up, he played a delightful give and go with Pat before curling an effort which Rogers could only watch and pray and luckily for him the ball landed just past his far post. The hearts of the strong contingent of Hillians were going like the clappers as the umpteenth Ollie Black long throw launched into Tommy Reid’s box, Kenny Pogue got his head to it and he must’ve thought it was in until the Sussex Kitten flung himself to his right to turn it away. Added time sure felt like an eternity but eventually at almost 5pm, the sacred full time whistle blew and the Hill had held on.
Jay Lovett is certainly getting some tune out of his band of boys. Goals flowing and last ditch committed defending normally is a good combination for winning games and it’s proving true in Mid Sussex.
Next up, it’s a long Tuesday night trek to Kent where we play Sittingbourne for the first time this season!