Fans are back at the Pilot Field as entertaining game is settled by a freak of a goal

Cast your minds back to March 7 2020 and the last time supporters attended a game at the Pilot Field, the home of Hastings United.
Ben Pope is action last season. Picture by Scott WhiteBen Pope is action last season. Picture by Scott White
Ben Pope is action last season. Picture by Scott White

Recall United’s two-one victory against Whitstable Town courtesy of two Ben Pope penalties.

Lanre Azeez won both penalties and the man of the match award. With Ashford United losing, the ‘U’s were propelled back to the top of the league, three points clear and with two games in hand. And with only ten games to play United were odds-on for the championship and promotion.

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As we know, those remaining ten games did not get played and the season was deemed null and void.

And so, after a hiatus of 168 days we return to the Pilot Field for a pre-season friendly between United and Folkestone Invicta. The whiteboard on the wall of the main stand still shows the faint outline of the players’ names from the United vs Whitstable game.

Saturday 22nd August is warm, dry and breezy. The swirling gusts of wind are not too strong to billow the nets but are enough to cause havoc when the ball is played above head height.

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Invicta, a step 3 club in the Isthmian Premier Division, sport a nifty yellow shirt with black vertical stripes. United meanwhile are wearing their new crisp-white shirts with maroon shorts and socks.

The ‘U’s kick-off and are immediately into their groove of retaining possession with neat passing and movement. A couple of Ollie Black long throws easily reach the area but are dealt with by the Invicta defence.

Then, after nine minutes, a straightforward back pass from Craig Stone to goalkeeper Louis Rogers resulted in the only goal of the game. The ball bobbled, perhaps the wind played a part too, either way Rogers’ miskick left Folkestone’s Draycott with a six-yard tap-in. Having not ventured forward at all, Invicta found themselves a goal to the good. The 20 visiting supporters politely muted their goal celebration.

United set about seeking an equaliser. New signing Lloyd Dawes sped onto a clever Tom Chalmers through ball but saw his shot deflected away by the on-rushing goalkeeper. Minutes later United tried route-one. Rogers’ long kick was flicked on by Chalmers to Pope and his first time pass freed Dawes who saw his shot saved low down. Excellent one touch play worthy of the crowd’s applause.

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The ‘U’s chances came and went. Dawes fired just wide from a corner before Pope’s through ball to Chalmers looked like the breakthrough only for the goalkeeper to once more make a vital one-on-one block at point-blank range.

Folkstone were fully contributing to an open game, direct and incisive at times, including a quick break down the left resulting in a low cross to the far post and only a superb challenge by Black prevented Invicta increasing their lead.

Chalmers’ height and timing (of his jump) again almost paid dividends. Another flick on was collected by Dawes who tricked his way into the area and shot into the side-netting. For a split-second a low cross toward Pope looked like an option before Invicta defenders swiftly shut the door.

And then Chalmers again, fed by Pope, drilled a low cross for Dawes who applied the merest of touches but not quite enough to divert the ball into the goal. Instead the final chance of the half slid agonisingly wide of the far post.

Half time: Hastings United 0 – 1 Folkestone Invicta

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Invicta restarted the game, but it was United who fashioned the early chances. Sam Adams’ volley from a headed clearance was saved before the industrious Dawes won a tackle on half-way, turned and almost caught the goalkeeper out with a brilliant long-range effort. A last moment grab kept the ball from crossing the line.

Ten minutes into the second half and United had solid claims for a handball penalty shout turned down before Pope battled his way through only to hammer his shot over the bar.

Not to be outdone, Invicta showed their own threat on the counter. A flick on released Horst who drifted the wrong side of Jack Steventon but shot over when well placed.

United continued to push forward and create half-chances. After successive corners Ryan Worrall pulled the ball back to Jack Dixon who, from the edge of the area, fired in a shot which was parried clear. Dawes’ follow-up shot was then well blocked by a defender’s boot.

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Twenty minutes remaining brought a raft of substitutions as both sides shuffled their packs and allowed their squads some game time.

Into the final stages and a Black long throw caused chaos in the penalty area, but the ball just would not drop to a United foot. The final chance of note fell to Chalmers who broke through the middle and stung the keeper’s gloves from distance.

Full time: Hastings United 0 – 1 Folkestone Invicta

An entertaining and open pre-season game settled by a freak of a goal. Whilst not a full-bloodied affair, both sides showed great commitment and more than enough to demonstrate their ambitions for the forthcoming season.

[Unofficial man of the match: United’s Lloyd Dawes who worked his socks off and did everything but score.]