Hastings United defied a troubled start to the new year by producing an encouraging performance in defeat against the unbeaten league leaders.
The U’s considered themselves unfortunate to be edged out 2-1 at home to Burgess Hill Town in Ryman Football League Division One South this afternoon (Saturday).
Just two days after the resignation of Dom Di Paola and his management team, United were beaten by a deflected goal in the 85th minute having played the final 20 minutes a man down following the sending-off of Richard Rose.
Mark Stapley and John Masters took caretaker charge of the side in a match which went ahead thanks to the sterling efforts of groundsman Simon Rudkins helped by Pat McCrossan and Stapley himself to ensure the pitch passed a morning inspection.
There were precious few chances at either end during a first half played in near constant rain, some of which was heavy. Evan Archibald had United’s best two moments, firstly hitting a 25-yard shot which bounced up into the arms of Hill goalkeeper Josh James and then heading Taser Hassan’s cross wide of the far post.
But the visitors led at half time through their only real attempt on target of the opening period. A low 41st minute cross from the right by Neil Watts was turned home from close range by Lee Harding, who also scored the only goal when Hill won a Parafix Sussex Senior Challenge Cup third round tie at The Pilot Field just before Christmas.
The rain thankfully relented in time for the second half and Dan Perry had a couple of decent sights of the United goal within eight minutes of the restart. Perry firstly saw a low shot go wide of the far post having got goalside of the home defence and then could only shoot into the arms of goalkeeper Josh Pelling following a neat one-two with Spencer Slaughter.
Hill looked in control and Perry shot straight at Pelling when a free kick dropped to him inside the box moments before United conjured up a 73rd minute equaliser. Steve Brinkhurst’s high cross from the right was met by a cracking header from Ade Olorunda into the corner of the net.
United’s delight at scoring their first goal in all competitions for more than 270 minutes was quickly dampened when Rose was shown his second yellow card for a foul in the left-back area just a couple of minutes later.
Although Darren Budd’s right wing corner struck the home crossbar, United were standing firm until conceding an unfortunate winning goal. Dan Pearse was given space to try his luck from around 30 yards and the midfielder’s deflected shot looped over Pelling onto the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down just over the line.
Pelling held Pat Harding’s shot from outside the box, while at the other end, United had a penalty appeal turned down in added time when substitute Kenny Pogue went down in the area after tussling with an away defender.
United: Pelling, Brinkhurst, Cruttwell, Vickers, Ray, Rose, Logan (Robinson 88), Adams, Archibald (Pogue 60), A. Olorunda, Hassan. Subs not used: Phipps, Holden, Cunnington. Attendance: 363.
Standings (played-points): 1 Burgess Hill Town 24-62, 2 Faversham Town 28-62, 3 Folkestone Invicta 27-58, 4 Merstham 28-57, 5 Whyteleafe 58-45, 6 Worthing 28-43, 7 Whitstable Town 29-41, 8 South Park 24-39, 9 Sittingbourne 30-38, 10 Tooting & Mitcham United 27-37, 11 Carshalton Athletic 29-37, 12 Chipstead 27-37, 13 Herne Bay 29-37, 14 Three Bridges 27-35, 15 Corinthian-Casuals 26-34, 16 Guernsey 28-34, 17 Walton & Hersham 26-33, 18 East Grinstead Town 27-30, 19 Hythe Town 28-29, 20 HASTINGS UNITED 27-28, 21 Ramsgate 26-24, 22 Redhill 24-22, 23 Walton Casuals 25-22, 24 Horsham 24-17.