Hastings United saved by Pope's last kick of the game

Ben Pope’s 98th minute penalty kept United from defeat away to Sevenoaks Town.

Ben Pope. Picture by Scott White
Ben Pope. Picture by Scott White

Trailing by two excellent strikes from outside the area, United’s rescue act began when Kenny Pogue pulled a goal back with seven minutes remaining. And with time up Sevenoaks conceded a penalty for handball, from which Pope powered home.

United put new signing Jerald Aboagye straight into their starting line-up in place of Jake Elliott. On another 3G pitch the league-leaders started the game on the offensive. After just two minutes Craig Stone found Lanre Azeez in space, the ball eventually finding Daniel Ajakaiye whose cross was blocked for a corner as Pope fell in the area. Pope’s claims for a penalty were waved away. It was the first of six corners United would earn in the first half.

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Fifteen minutes in and neither side had created a chance of note. United though were retaining possession and in control of the game, and chances finally arrived.

A quick freekick by Ajakaiye to Jack Dixon was returned and Ajakaiye cut inside, his shot was diverted for a corner by the goalkeeper’s body. Gary Elphick’s head met the resulting corner only for his effort to be cleared off the line. The ball was recycled for Pope whose shot was deflected wide for another corner. United’s pressure was building.

Aboagye started the best move of the game with a pass into Pope’s feet on halfway. The ball was played back to Dixon who spotted Aboagye’s great run into space and found him with a threaded pass, the cross was headed narrowly over by a diving Pope.

The breakthrough came on thirty-eight minutes, but not for United. For the first time Sevenoaks worked their way down the left and Frankie Sawyer’s pass to Alec Fiddes on the edge of the area was powerfully volleyed home by the midfielder. For once the extra bounce of the artificial pitch benefited the player.

The ‘U’s headed into half-time a goal behind, paying the price for all their possession and chances coming to nought.

United were out early for the second-half whilst Sevenoaks sauntered out a few minutes later. And from the hosts kick-off Pope’s tackle won the ball back in the blink of an eye. A sign of a fast start for the visitors?

Instead the game had turned upside down, and it was Sevenoaks who began the half on the front-foot. Joe Tennett headed wide from a freekick and then Fiddes, again benefiting from the bounce, lofted a shot which landed on top of the crossbar.

Midway through the half and little was coming to fruition for United. Sevenoaks repeatedly mopped up the loose ball and created half-chances for Fiddes and then Tommy Whitnell. Sam Adam’s freekick fired over the bar, the only clear sight of goal for United.

With less than 15 minutes to go Sevenoaks doubled their lead with another strike from distance. Tyrell Richardson-Brown found space twenty-five yards out, the defence backed off and he needed no second invitation to hammer a shot into the corner. Once again Louis Rogers in the United goal had little chance.

This was only the second time this season United had conceded twice in a league game and the first time they’d found themselves two goals down.

With nothing to lose United threw caution to the wind. Centre-half Stone pushed on into midfield and Pogue replaced Azeez to join Pope leading the line, changes which immediately paid dividends. A freekick to the far post was nodded back by Elphick for Pogue, who shot against the bar and scored from the rebound.

Elphick then had a shot deflected for a corner from which he saw another header cleared off the line. United sensed an unlikely turnaround but time was running out. Though repeated delays in getting the ball back in play and numerous hold-ups for treatment resulted in eight minutes of added time.

Into the final seconds of the 98th minute, a long Ollie Black throw into the area turned into a game of head-tennis, and a panicked clearance hit a Sevenoaks hand. Accidental but no matter, a penalty.

The goalkeeper performed a jig as Pope lined up his spot-kick. Not put-off in the slightest, United’s centre-forward thrashed the ball into the roof of the net. With no time to restart it literally was the final kick of the game.

A thrilling end to the contest. United were in control until conceding the opening goal after which the hosts had their dander up. However, this Hastings team never know when they’re beaten and full credit to them for staging a remarkable recovery to earn a valuable point. With Ashford United losing, United extend their lead at the top to five points with a game in hand.

Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Aboagye, Elphick, Stone, Ajakaiye, Pope, Adams, Worrall (74’ Elliott), Azeez (81’ Pogue), Dixon (Unused subs: Beale, Chalmers, Pool)

Sevenoaks Town: Lee, Walker, Taylor, Parkinson, Tennett, Ripley (71’ Gorham), De Silva, Fiddes, Whitnell (75’ King), Sawyer (82’ Stone), Richardson-Brown (Unused subs: Fowler, Miles)

Attendance: 342

Next game: Tuesday 28th January at home to Herne Bay, kick-off 7:45pm.