Hastings United’s footballers were narrowly beaten away to top three opposition this afternoon (Saturday) despite leading at half time.
Evan Archibald put the U’s ahead against Merstham in Ryman Football League Division One South only for the hosts to strike twice after the break for a 2-1 victory, the winner coming following a deflection off the referee.
The result sees United drop a place to 18th in the table, although they did produce a decent performance on a cold afternoon in Surrey.
On a heavy and slippery pitch which passed a morning inspection, United came close to taking an early lead when Harvey Hanifan’s header from a corner was clawed out by home goalkeeper Brannon Daly.
Dean Gunner headed narrowly over from a Tommy Hutchings corner for Merstham before United hit the front in the 27th minute. Kyle Holden and Ade Olorunda combined, and the latter’s backheel set up Archibald to fire into the top corner.
United captain Sean Ray blocked a Marc-Anthony Okoye shot before full-back Steve Brinkhurst got in the way of an effort from the well-placed Hutchings as Merstham went in search of an equaliser.
Away goalkeeper Josh Pelling pulled off a fine save after a run and shot by Hutchings, and Aaron Rhule’s follow-up was disallowed for offside. Pelling again did well to palm a Rhule shot wide, ensuring United reached the interval ahead.
Merstham were level, however, within 10 minutes of the restart. Omar Folkes hit the post from 20 yards and although Pelling did brilliantly to keep out the rebound from Peter Adeniyi, Hutchings drove the ball home at the third attempt.
Hanifan headed away a driven Hutchings free kick, while at the other end, Sam Adams wasn’t far away with an attempt from distance. With the game becoming increasingly stretched, three United players unsuccessfully tried to force the ball home in a scramble.
Merstham grabbed an 81st minute winner in cruel fashion. Bright Temba’s clearance after a quick home break struck the referee and dropped invitingly for Folkes to find the net.
Pelling produced another good stop to palm over Osa Obamwonyi’s header. Kyle Holden and Taser Hassan blasted well wide, and Adams blazed a free kick from a good position over the top as United came up short in their pursuit of an equaliser.
United: Pelling, Brinkhurst, Rose, Holden, Ray, Hanifan, Adams, T. Olorunda, A. Olorunda (Temba), Archibald, Hassan. Subs not used: Foster, Richardson-Brown, Robertson, Rose.
Standings (played-points): 1 Burgess Hill Town 28-74, 2 Faversham Town 33-71, 3 Merstham 32-66, 4 Folkestone Invicta 31-64, 5 Worthing 33-52, 6 Whitstable Town 33-48, 7 Whyteleafe 31-47, 8 Herne Bay 33-47, 9 Guernsey 31-43, 10 Chipstead 32-42, 11 Three Bridges 31-42, 12 Tooting & Mitcham United 33-41, 13 Carshalton Athletic 31-40, 14 South Park 27-39, 15 Sittingbourne 33-39, 16 Walton & Hersham 31-36, 17 Hythe Town 31-34, 18 HASTINGS UNITED 32-34, 19 Corinthian-Casuals 28-34, 20 Walton Casuals 32-34, 21 East Grinstead Town 32-33, 22 Redhill 28-29, 23 Horsham 31-29, 24 Ramsgate 31-27.