Less than 48 hours have passed since the sad and shock resignation of United’s much loved and respected manager Chris Agutter. The mood in the ground is somewhere between sombre and excited, and there are many good wishes for Assistant Manager Andrew ‘Browny’ Brown who is leading the team tonight.
The ‘U’s were rewarded for a quick start when Sam Hasler fired home a pass from Ben Pope on eight minutes. Yet despite dominating they were pegged back 10 minutes into the second half through an opportunist goal from the visitor’s striker Harry Goodger. United retook the lead within two minutes, Pope scoring from the penalty spot following a foul on Hasler in the box. Tom Chalmers soon headed a third before Pope scored United’s fourth, another penalty after Chalmers was tripped from behind as he bore down on goal.
How it unfolded...
Tuesday 2nd November, a 7:45pm kick-off on what feels like the coldest evening of the year so far. Most supporters are togged up in bobble hats, scarves, and gloves, though there is one hardy chap underdressed in shorts and flip-flops. Gary Elphick is still missing for United but there is a welcome return for Marcus Goldsmith. United are wearing their home kit of claret shirts with white shorts and socks while Whitstable are in yellow shirts (with an impossible to read white number) with black shorts and socks.
Whitstable start the game, but it is United who immediately assume control. There is some moisture on the pitch and a couple of players slip over in the early exchanges, though the conditions are perfect for pinging passes around which is what United are doing.
The ‘U’s create the first chance. A deep corner in just the fourth minute is headed into the six-yard box where Craig Stone toe-pokes goalward and hits the bar. A let-off for the visitors but it is a short reprieve. Ollie Black sends Pope chasing a long pass which he catches just before the ball reaches the by-line. Hasler is arriving fast, and Pope plays the ball back to him on the edge of the area, Hasler takes a touch then slams into the far corner to open the scoring.
A minute later Whitstable almost equalise. They move the ball right to left and Muhammed Cham is through on goal, his shot is brilliantly saved by the on-rushing Louis Rogers and the rebound is blazed well over the bar. You are never more vulnerable than when you’ve just scored, somebody once said!
As the game progresses, Hasler has a shot deflected for a corner before an interception ricochets into the path of Pope and his snapshot is saved. Chalmers then picks up a loose ball, plays a one-two with Hasler and is away but he’s running so quickly he overruns the ball, and the goalkeeper closes him down and saves.
Midway through the first-half and United are passing the ball quickly and to feet, Chalmers and Lanre Azeez are making headway down the flanks and the midfield are looking to get the ball into the final third as soon as they can. This approach is not always successful but the ‘U’s are playing good football, are first to the second ball, and if they lose possession, they are winning it back almost immediately.
There’s then a quiet period for 15 minutes as United are repelled. The visitors don’t want to concede again and set themselves up as a bank of six in midfield and four across the back. This is finally broken when Pope sets Sam Adams free down the right and his pull back allows Hasler to get a shot away, it’s on target but deflected for a corner. Pope then tries his luck from the angle, but his low shot flies a yard wide before Black gets his head to a freekick but can only divert the ball wide of the post. The home side go in at half-time having to settle for a single goal advantage.
Half-time: Hastings United 1 – 0 Whitstable Town
United get the game back underway and both sides enjoy brief periods of possession. At times Whitstable knock the ball around nicely, only their final pass is lacking. No sooner than this observation is written down the visitors bring themselves level and it is Goodger who does the damage. A cross to the edge of the United area is not dealt with allowing Goodger to pick up the pieces, find a yard of space and slot into the bottom corner from 10 yards. United have dominated possession but this is not reflected in the scoreline.
Parity does not last long. United go straight down the other end and are awarded a penalty. Adams gets the ball to Pope who looks to be tripped in the area, but the referee waves play on. Azeez keeps the ball alive and gives the ball to Hasler who is also tripped, and this time the referee does point to the spot. There’s little difference between the challenges and the visitors surround the referee to ‘discuss’ the decision. Pope waits patiently then buries the spot-kick in the roof of the net.
Having let the lead slip once United are not in the mood to let this happen again. Chalmers canters down the left and passes inside to Adams who plays onto an arriving Ryan Worrall who shoots low from 25 yards, saved for a corner. Hasler sends over and in-swinging cross, which is met by the head of Chalmers, his downward header bounces into the back of the net at the far post to give the ‘U’s a two-goal cushion.
The game is now firmly in United’s control and they go looking for more goals. Adams fires wide from 20 yards before Hasler intercepts the goalkeepers clearance and attempts to break the net but only succeeds in disrupting the side-netting. Chalmers, on a crusade down the left-wing, wins a battle with the full-back and gallops into the area. He has options but elects to shoot straight at the goalkeeper who saves comfortably.
A fourth goal is coming though, and it is Chalmers again who is the instigator as once more he escapes the attention of the full-back down the left. Chalmers is on the fast-track while the defender is running through treacle. There’s no catching the United man but he’s clipped from behind for the clearest of penalties. Nothing to ‘discuss’ this time and the visitors accept their medicine as Pope emphatically dispatches again to conclude the scoring.
The crowd in the Steve Smith Stand have been in good voice all game, giving United’s Assistant Manager plenty of support. “Andrew Brown, he’s one of our own,” they sing.
An impressive attendance of 790 witnessed an excellent response from the team having lost the last two games and their manager. For certain there are much sterner tests in the coming weeks but with four goals, plenty of crisp and fast passing, a win, and three valuable points, it all adds up to a decent audition for Browny.
Full-time: Hastings United 4 – 1 Whitstable Town
Man of the match: Ben Pope. Scored two, set up the first goal and led the line superbly all night. Tom Chalmers must have run him mighty close though.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Worrall, Stone, Chalmers, Dixon, Pope, Adams [c], Hasler (Pogue 80’), Goldsmith (Martin 83’), Azeez (Penn 72’)
Whitstable Town: Eason, Mackenzie, Brown, Walder, Gray (Griffiths 73’), Mills, Barnes, Illsley (Woodhouse 73’), Goodger, Carlton, Cham (Thomas 83’)
United goals: Hasler (8’), Pope (58’, 77’), Chalmers (65’)
Whitstable goal: Goodger (56’)