Hastings United suffered an agonising exit from the FA Cup this afternoon (Saturday).
The U’s were edged out 1-0 away to Grays Athletic in second round qualifying with the only goal coming from the rebound off a 90th minute penalty.
United are lying 36 places below their opponents in the non-league pyramid, but you wouldn’t have known it because they held their own during a pretty even contest and were unfortunate not to earn a replay.
That said, Grays spurned two decent chances in the opening three minutes. Christopher Bryan couldn’t make telling contact with a right wing cross when unmarked just outside the six yard box inside 70 seconds and Kenny Beaney then shot straight at away goalkeeper Josh Pelling from an inviting position inside the area.
With Nigel Kane taking charge of the side in a caretaker capacity following the resignation of Terry White on Monday night, United grew into the game during the remainder of a first half littered with free kicks on a bobbly pitch at Aveley FC which was so far removed from the immaculate surface United are used to at The Pilot Field.
Pelling pushed aside Bryan’s 25-yard free kick, while at the other end, Frankie Sawyer poked past outrushing Grays goalkeeper Conor Gough only for home defender Immanuel Parry to get back and clear. Gough then made a good save low to his left to keep out a Sam Adams shot from outside the box after the resulting corner was only half cleared.
Sawyer had a shot saved by Gough after a nice interchange between Ade Olorunda and Ronnie Dolan. Pelling produced a great stop with his right foot to thwart Frederick Ladapo after Sam Cruttwell made a hash of his back pass, and then in added time a more comfortable one from Ladapo’s deflected effort.
Into the second half and Adams wasn’t far away with a curler towards the far post. Sawyer’s chip was well tipped over by Gough in between Pelling producing a fine save from Ladapo and Jamie Guy firing an overhead kick into the side-netting.
United then had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 64th minute. The again impressive Olorunda chested down an Adams cross to Sawyer, who turned his man nicely only to shoot narrowly wide with just Gough to beat.
There was controversy two minutes later as Pelling appeared to bundle over Ladapo outside his box, but the referee chose to wave play on with Grays appealing for a free kick and the United goalkeeper to be sent-off. Moments after that Pelling made a good save low to his right from Ladapo’s volley.
Grays had the bulk of the play during the final quarter, but United defended resolutely until Jahmahl King was caught the wrong side of his man from a long ball over the top and the referee pointed to the spot after spotting an infringement as several players converged on the ball. Pelling saved Ladapo’s penalty to his left, but the rebound fell kindly for Ladapo to touch the ball home.
United still had one last chance when Olorunda headed just over from Dolan’s left wing cross. The fact that the game didn’t go to a replay means that United will host Folkestone Invicta in Ryman Football League Division One South, as planned, on Monday night.
United: Pelling, Rose, Cruttwell (Masters 52), T. Olorunda, King, Adams, Cook, Dolan, A. Olorunda, Sawyer, Hassan. Subs not used: Temba, Bankole, Ray.