Hastings United’s promotion dreams were dashed in cruel fashion tonight (Tuesday).
The U’s were edged out 3-2 after extra-time away to Folkestone Invicta in a thrilling Ryman Football League Division One South play-off semi-final with the winner coming in the form of a freak own goal.
United should take great credit for a splendid performance in which they twice came from behind to get back on level terms through Tim Olorunda and Sam Adams, but it’s Folkestone who will entertain Leatherhead in the final on Saturday with a place in the Premier Division up for grabs.
The formbook going into the game was very much against United, who had lost more games in April than Folkestone had since early December. And the hosts duly took less than eight minutes to draw first blood, Dane Luchford delivering an inviting cross for Frankie Chappell to head past Josh Pelling in the United goal.
Folkestone looked firmly in control for a while thereafter and Hull City-bound striker Johan Ter Horst spurned a glorious chance to double their advantage, blazing over when one-on-one with Pelling after latching on to Luchford’s ball over the top.
United started to get into the game as the first half wore on. Little Common player-manager Russell Eldridge, playing his first game for United in three years, fired wide, Tristan Toney was denied by an important intervention and Adams shot straight at the goalkeeper. At the other end, Pelling saved from Paul Booth.
The visitors got back on level terms less than four minutes into the second half. A dangerous low cross from the right by Adams was bundled home by Olorunda with the aid of a deflection - much to the delight of United’s sizeable travelling support behind the goal.
Folkestone then got back on top with Luchford slicing wide and then being thwarted by a fine tackle from Pelling before delivering a free kick which Chappell headed just over. The hosts went 2-1 up in the 67th minute when Ter Horst made a great run down the left and squared for Luchford to slot past Pelling.
United brought on striker Kenny Pogue for defender Charlie Bachellier in the 73rd minute, and switched from a 5-4-1 formation to 4-4-2. Two minutes later they restored parity again through a great strike by Adams from outside the box which may also have taken a slight deflection.
Pelling made one more good save diving to his right, but the scores remained level after 90 minutes so the excellent crowd of 951 got an extra half-hour to enjoy. There was little incident during the first additional period before United got on top in the second.
With United looking the more likely winners, Folkestone broke and grabbed that aforementioned bizarre winning goal in the 113th minute. United substitute Nathan Ferguson stuck out a leg to intercept a Folkestone pass outside his own penalty area and the ball looped agonisingly over Pelling into the net.
United kept pushing for an equaliser with supporters’ player of the season Pelling coming forward for a couple of set-pieces, but it wasn’t to be and they will find themselves lining up in the same division again next term.
United: Pelling, Darby, Cruttwell (O’Connor 104), Olorunda, Judge, Toney (Ferguson 99), Hassan, Bachellier (Pogue 73), Sawyer, Adams, Eldridge. Subs not used: Oyinsan, Nessling. Attendance: 951.