Hastings United were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Merstham this afternoon (Saturday).
Frankie Sawyer twice put United ahead on his first start since his recent return to the club, but twice Merstham came back to earn a deserved share of the spoils at a windy Pilot Field.
The Ryman Football League Division One South fixture went ahead thanks to the hard work of United groundsman Simon Rudkins and assistants to clear the pitch of surface water following all the rain of yesterday and earlier in the week.
And United made the perfect start with a goal after barely 90 seconds. Tom Vickers let fly from outside the box following a third successive United corner and his shot deflected into the net off Sawyer, who became United’s 17th different scorer this season.
United came close to a second in the 19th minute when a nice interchange between Josh Jirbandey and Sam Adams down the right ended with the latter’s cross being swept just over by Trevor McCreadie.
Fabio Saraiva fired just wide of the near post for a Merstham side which levelled in the 35th minute. Taurean Roberts crossed from a free kick on the left and Tutu Henriques glanced a header into the far corner.
United were back in front within two minutes. Sawyer latched onto a Vickers pass and slotted first time past Merstham goalkeeper Brannon Daly from inside the penalty area.
Merstham almost levelled again when Jirbandey made an important block at the near post to deny Aaron Rhule, who had rounded goalkeeper Josh Pelling. Rhule headed wide from the resulting corner, while at the other end, McCreadie burst into the right-hand side of the box only to be foiled by Daly.
Rather like in their previous game against Walton & Hersham, United struggled to get going after the break and mid-table Merstham - 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture - had the better of the play.
Pelling fingertipped Rhule’s header onto the crossbar from a Roberts cross within five minutes of the restart. Moments later at the other end, Sawyer got to Vickers’ long ball over the top before the outrushing Daly but couldn’t keep his finish down.
Pelling made a great save from Tommy Hutchings to preserve United’s lead after the Merstham forward turned Sean Kelly. Roberts then had the ball in United’s net, although the offside flag had long since been raised.
Merstham bagged themselves a point with a second equaliser in the 80th minute. Pelling did well to save from a clean through Hutchings, but Saraiva rolled home the rebound from outside the box.
Deep into stoppage time, United were glad to see an offside flag raised against Hutchings at the end of a dangerous-looking Merstham counter-attack. Adams nearly won it for United in the dying seconds with a low free kick from just outside the box which struck the post.
United: Pelling, Jirbandey, Cruttwell, Olorunda (Oyinsan 86), Judge, Kelly, Ellis (O’Connor 72), Adams, Sawyer, McCreadie (Pogue 64), Vickers. Subs not used: Henson, Camara. Attendance: 319.
Ryman Division One South top six (played-points): 1 Peacehaven & Telscombe 28-64, 2 Guernsey 32-59, 3 Leatherhead 28-58, 4 Folkestone Invicta 29-53, 5 HASTINGS UNITED 27-53, 6 Faversham Town 30-48.