On Saturday Ben Pope scored with 10 minutes remaining but on Tuesday night the clock had ticked into the red when Jack Dixon drilled home the winner to send the crowd into raptures.
Earlier Sittingbourne had opened the scoring through Duane Ofori-Acheampong then had Marvin Hamilton-Omole dismissed for a wild foul on Pope, even so they led 1 – 0 at half-time.
Tom Chalmers’ header brought United level within three minutes of the restart yet despite the majority of possession it looked increasingly like the visitors would hold on. Then up popped Captain Jack to secure the three points.
Tuesday 23rd November, a dry cloudy evening but it’s as cold as you like or your money back. The playing surface is immaculate with a patchwork quilt pattern. Sam Adams is still suspended while loanee Finn O’Mara makes his home debut.
United are sporting their home kit of claret shirts with white shorts and socks. The visitors are in yellow shirts with blue stripes, yellow shorts, and yellow socks with blue hoops.
The visitors kick off and during the early minutes both sides settle into the game. O’Mara then shows his passing abilities with a 40-yard ball over the top of the defence and into the path of Dixon, who has made a run from midfield. There’s no flag until Dixon puts the ball into the back of the net, and then the flag is raised for offside. The ‘actively involved in play’ aspect of the offside rule continues to baffle.
Pope is soon involved collecting a deep cross beating a defender and hammering in a shot toward the near post, saved well by the goalkeeper at the expense of a corner. To which O’Mara gets his head and there’s a mad scramble in the six-yard area with neither attacker nor defender able to get a clean boot to the ball before the goalkeeper tidies up.
Sam Hasler’s first contribution is a superb 50-yard cross field pass straight to Kane Penn’s feet wide on the left, and the full-back strides into the area before shooting. The effort is blocked to the edge of the area and back to Hasler who fires over the bar.
Sittingbourne, also known as the Brickies, have already shown some adventure in breaking forward but without causing any concern, until just after the 20-minute mark. The visitors move the ball left to right and have a two on one situation. Chalmers does well to block a shot though the ball deflects into the six-yard area where Ofori-Acheampong is waiting, from a few yards out he cannot miss and doesn’t. Having controlled the game so far the ‘U’s find themselves behind.
It almost gets worse. Minutes later the ball is lost in midfield and Sittingbourne come again. This time Penn gets back to make a good challenge but in doing so he inadvertently diverts the ball goalward and it requires Louis Rogers to go full length to push the ball away.
The Brickies then do themselves no favours. Pope is stopped in his tracks by a Hamilton-Omole challenge which is both reckless and high. While Pope receives treatment and the referee consults his assistant, Hamilton-Omole does his best to ‘hide’ in the background. It doesn’t help him and though it takes three minutes for Pope to get back on his feet, the referee’s top pocket is subsequently opened, and the red card is out. For successive games the ‘U’s are a goal down with the opposition a man down.
The ball is now firmly in United’s court and they set about seeking an equaliser. Pope’s header from Lanre Azeez’s cross lacks power before Dixon’s shot lacks direction. O’Mara then launches himself at a corner with the goalkeeper making a fine reaction save to tip the header over the bar. Pope then glances a header wide from another Azeez cross.
There are four minutes of added time and in pushing forward the ‘U’s are almost caught out. Sittingbourne break down the right and release goal scorer Ofori-Acheampong who brings out another fine save by Rogers.
Half-time: Hastings United 0 – 1 Sittingbourne
United are out early, they have work to do and while they can expect to hog the ball, they know Sittingbourne will be looking to break at pace. With that in mind the ‘U’s win an early corner which is hit deep toward Craig Stone. The ball drops to Pope who shoots on the turn, it beats the goalkeeper but is cleared off the line. A second corner is cleared, and the pressure finally tells when the third corner is crossed into the heart of the area, the goalkeeper comes to claim but gets nowhere near the ball, while Chalmers leaps salmonesque to head in and equalise.
We then have the second lengthy delay of the evening, which is not ideal for the players on an increasingly freezing cold evening. A long ball toward the United goal ends with an accidental collision between Rogers and Harry Stannard. Rogers is able to continue but Stannard has to be helped off and receives applause from the crowd.
The pattern of the game continues with United utilising the flanks. A Knory Scott cross is met by the head of Pope which grazes the crossbar. Penn then crosses for Dixon but he’s jumping from a standing start and cannot direct his header on target. Scott’s next cross skims the studs of Pope’s outstretched leg as the ball flashes past him. Midway through the second-half the match can best be described as a game of attack versus defence yet the score remains 1 – 1.
At this point the visitors do their level best to start slowing the game down to eat up some time. The goalkeeper strolling to take goal kicks while outfield players dilly-dally over throw-ins. Twice Samuel Okoye-Ahaneku picks up the ball to take a throw-in but then implies he’s just keeping the ball warm while another player ambles over. On the third occasion he’s finally booked.
Time though is running out. Kenny Pogue throws himself at a Chalmers cross but can only graze a header wide, then Dixon is dispossessed lining up a shot and complains he didn’t get a shout from his teammates. O’Mara goes the closest of all with a downward header from Hasler’s cross which lands a whisker the wrong side of the post.
With the 90 minutes up there are five minutes of added time and bar Rogers every player is in the Sittingbourne half. Substitute Ollie Black flings a long throw into the area and over the head of the first defender. O’Mara challenges and the ball is hacked clear but straight to the feet of Dixon who instinctively fires hard and low into the bottom corner to win the game.
Yellow shirted players put hands to heads, some are on their backs, others on their haunches. They have defended manfully but fallen at the final hurdle. In the meantime Dixon and his teammates are mobbed by the crowd behind the goal. It hasn’t been easy but somehow the ‘U’s have found a way to win.
Full-time: Hastings United 2 – 1 Sittingbourne
Man of the match: Lanre Azeez. A constant threat down the right flank delivering some excellent crosses.
Hastings United: Rogers, Worrall, O’Mara, Stone, Chalmers, Dixon, Pope, Hasler, Penn (Black 79’), Azeez (Pogue 68’), Scott (Martin 63’)
Sittingbourne: Brooks, Okoye-Ahaneku, Fisher, Christian-Law (Caney-Bryan 90’), Ofori-Acheampong, Stannard (Bancroft 53’), Smith (Akin 90’), Rowland, Abdulla, Dasho
United goals: Chalmers (48’), Dixon (90’)
Sittingbourne goal: Ofori-Acheampong (22’)