Hastings United suffer agonising extra-time play-off loss

Hastings United Football Club suffered an agonising extra-time defeat in tonight’s (Monday’s) play-off semi-final.
Davide Rodari scored his seventh goal in nine games since returning from a major knee injury but Hastings United lost 3-2 after extra-time at home to Ashford United. Picture courtesy Scott WhiteDavide Rodari scored his seventh goal in nine games since returning from a major knee injury but Hastings United lost 3-2 after extra-time at home to Ashford United. Picture courtesy Scott White
Davide Rodari scored his seventh goal in nine games since returning from a major knee injury but Hastings United lost 3-2 after extra-time at home to Ashford United. Picture courtesy Scott White

A 119th minute penalty condemned Chris Agutter’s side to a 3-2 loss at home to Ashford United in the Bostik League South East Division third versus fourth play-off semi-final.

Hastings had earlier twice gone ahead during the second half of normal time only to be pegged back quickly on both occasions in front of a bumper Pilot Field crowd of 1,123.

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See also: * Hastings United all set for first ever home play-off tie* Hastings United secure third place with final day win* 10-man Hastings United draw with fellow play-off hopefuls* Hastings United pair perform ‘really well’ at Leicester CityJust two points separated Hastings and Ashford in the league table at the end of the regular season, and tonight’s game was similarly close.

Hastings made three changes to their starting line-up from the 2-2 league draw between the clubs at the same venue seven days previously and Ashford two alterations.

As is often the case in big games, the first half was tight and tense. Both sides tried to get the ball down and play, but defences were on top and neither goalkeeper was forced into a save.

In Hastings’ best moments, Bradley Stevenson flashed a low drive just wide from 25 yards, while Davide Rodari volleyed well over from a narrow angle and later drove narrowly wide from 20 yards at the end of a good move.

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At the other end, Danny Parish struck a 25-yard free kick just wide, having scored from a similar situation in last week’s league game, while Jack Tucker and Jamie Fielding made important blocks inside Hastings’ box in the same Ashford attack.

After a first half which was more intriguing than thrilling, the game exploded into life early in the second period.

Hastings broke the deadlock with a fabulous goal in the 47th minute. Lanre Azeez made an incredible run down the right, beating several opponents, before pulling the ball back for Rodari to sweep a low first-time shot into the net from just outside the penalty spot.

Jack Dixon brought a diving stop out of Ashford goalkeeper Sam Mott with a well-struck shot barely a minute later, but Ashford were back on terms in the 50th minute.

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Parish got the better of Tucker on the Ashford right and his cross was met by strike partner Jay May, whose header was saved by Hastings goalkeeper Charlie Horlock, but May drove in the rebound.

Hastings supporters might remember May scoring seven goals in six games, including a hat-trick at Chipstead, during a spell at The Pilot Field on loan from Maidstone United at the start of the 2016/17 campaign.

The home side hit the front again in the 62nd minute. Ashford never totally cleared their defensive lines after Sam Beale’s great run into the left-hand side of the box and Azeez played the ball back into the area for Dixon to steer his finish past Mott.

As with earlier in the half and the preceding league fixture, however, Ashford were swift to respond. Left-back Laurent Mendy did well to send over a good cross from the left and captain Sam Corne, playing at the top of the midfield diamond, guided his header inside the near post.

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There was no further scoring, or indeed noteworthy attempts at goal, during the remainder of normal time, although Ashford probably had the better of the play.

Hastings seemed to gain slightly the upper hand in the first period of extra-time as both sets of players continued to work admirably hard and show plenty of energy, despite playing for the second time in three days.

Dixon’s powerful 30-yard drive was parried up in the air and gathered at the second attempt by Mott before the same player’s effort from even further out was blocked by Mohammed Kamara with Mott out of position having challenged Azeez.

Ashford came on strong in the second period of extra-time and Parish, fresh off a hat-trick against Haywards Heath Town at the weekend, couldn’t direct his header on target from Bode Anidugbe’s cross.

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Parish then delivered a ball across the face of goal which was well cleared by Hastings right-back Fielding and Josh Wisson blasted over after Toby Ajala’s resulting corner dropped inviting for him inside the box.

With the prospect of penalties looming, Ashford landed the decisive blow. Parish got goal side of Hastings defender Gary Elphick, who had a decent game, following a ball down the away left and was bundled over inside the box.

The referee pointed to the spot and Corne calmly rolled home the penalty, much to the delight of the Ashford players - and their travelling supporters in The Cole Warren Stand behind the goal.

Hastings tried to respond - Horlock even came up for a corner during three minutes of added time - and Stevenson’s curler towards the far post was headed away by Kamara as a jubilant Ashford saw the game out.

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Ashford will go on to visit Horsham in the play-off final on Friday night. Horsham were 3-0 winners at home to Haywards Heath Town in the second versus fifth semi-final, which was also played tonight.

For Hastings it was a third painful play-off semi-final defeat in six seasons following an extra-time loss at Folkestone Invicta in 2014 and a penalty shoot-out reverse away to Dorking Wanderers three years later.

Hastings: Horlock; Fielding, Elphick, Tucker, Beale (Mongoy 120+1); Azeez, Lovatt, Adams (Cruttwell 79), Dixon, Stevenson; Rodari (Ajakaiye 69). Subs not used: Black, Howlett-Mundle. Yellow cards: Cruttwell.

Ashford: Mott; Aboagye (McIntyre 115), Coker, Kamara, Mendy; Anidugbe, Wisson, Corne, Ajala; Parish, May (Williams 83). Subs not used: Hook, Munyama, Woodcock.

Attendance: 1,123.