The hard work of Hastings United Football Club groundsman Simon Rudkins to get The Pilot Field pitch playable after all the wet weather was rewarded with a victory.
Goals from Davide Rodari, Calum Davies and Dayshonne Golding earned Chris Agutter’s side a 3-1 win at home to East Grinstead Town this afternoon (New Year’s Day).
The result strengthened Hastings’ hold on ninth place in Bostik League Division One South and extended their good run of form to one defeat in their last 13 league matches.
While Hastings never hit the heights of their excellent 3-0 success at Herne Bay on Saturday, they did enough to see off a fourth-from-bottom East Grinstead side which had a player sent-off during the second half.
Agutter made two enforced changes to his starting line-up from the Herne Bay match. Jack Dixon and Antonio Walker were injured, but Bradley Pritchard and Golding returned to take their places, and Hastings this time possessed a full substitutes’ bench.
With the sun making a rare but welcome appearance, the opening exchanges were fairly open and end-to-end with Grinstead fashioning most of the chances.
Hastings survived an early scare when defender Ollie Rowe blocked Alex Gaggin’s powerful goalbound shot and goalkeeper Charlie Horlock kept out the follow-up from Will Hoare. Davies then went through on goal at the other end, but his shot was saved by goalkeeper Dan Smith.
The ever-impressive Horlock produced two fine saves in quick succession, firstly using his feet to repel Marcus Elliot’s shot from an inviting central position and then fingertipping a Jack Meeres effort from the right-hand corner of the box onto the crossbar.
The game then settled down into a fairly even contest until, almost from nowhere, Hastings struck twice in a key three-minute period.
They opened the scoring in the 25th minute. Rowe’s ball forward went over Davies and Golding latched onto it. He was denied by a good piece of last ditch defending, but the ball popped back to Rodari, who lifted a cool finish over the goalkeeper.
One soon became two as Sam Adams produced a great first touch to take the ball nicely in his stride before unleashing a shot which Smith parried and Davies tapped in the rebound, joining Rodari on eight goals as the club’s leading scorers this season.
Hastings almost had a third goal just a minute later as Golding cut in from the left and struck a shot which wasn’t far away from the far corner.
The hosts would have hoped to take control of the contest thereafter, but were unable to do so, not helped by Sam Beale coming off injured and being replaced by Adam Lovatt with Sam Cruttwell moving into Beale’s left-back role.
Gaggin could only direct a free header from Oliver Boulding’s cross straight at Horlock before Grinstead deservedly pulled one back in the 43rd minute. A good cross from the away left by Leo Mazzone was headed home by Elliot, who got free of Hastings defender Tom Climpson.
The opening 15 minutes of the second period were again very open and end-to-end - too much so from a Hastings perspective - and Horlock was once more the busier of the two goalkeepers.
He firstly pulled off a fine save to deny Mazzone at the near post following a low cross from the away left and later did well to save Hoare’s free kick from a yard outside the box low to his right.
In between times, Davies went down under the challenge of Grinstead defender CJ Williams as he was bearing down on goal from an Adams pass, but didn’t get the free kick he was after.
Grinstead were reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Meeres was shown a straight red card for an ugly lunge on Cruttwell near the touchline in Hastings’ half of the field.
Hastings began to take charge thereafter as they finally dominated possession the way they like to, although Grinstead didn’t give up the fight and remained in with a chance all the while the score stayed at 2-1.
A well-struck low drive by Hastings substitute Jamie Fielding from five yards outside the area was gathered by Smith and a couple of minutes later Davies blazed over with his left foot having been put through by another good pass from Adams, who had a strong game in midfield.
Hastings effectively killed the game off with a third goal in the 87th minute. Golding’s low cross from the left at the end of a nicely-worked move was half cut out by an away defender, but the ball came back to Golding, whose angled shot had too much on it for Smith to keep out.
The hosts might have added to their tally in added time. An Adams free kick, which he won himself, flashed just wide from inside the D of the penalty area before Smith kept out Adam Lovatt’s shot with his feet and then pulled off a tremendous save from Kenny Pogue.
A Grinstead player was stretchered off following a fairly lengthy delay in the aftermath of that save and a skirmish broke out as Hastings held the ball in the corner from the resulting set-piece before the final whistle sounded nearly 12 minutes into added time.
Hastings: Horlock, Pritchard, Beale (Lovatt 36), Cruttwell, Rowe, Climpson, Rodari, Adams, Davies (Pogue 89), Janneh (Fielding 73), Golding. Subs not used: Scrafton, Rogers. Attendance: 329.
Bostik League Division One South top half (played-points): 1 Lewes 27-57, 2 Cray Wanderers 26-55, 3 Corinthian-Casuals 28-53, 4 Greenwich Borough 28-52, 5 Walton Casuals 28-52, 6 Carshalton Athletic 27-52, 7 Phoenix Sports 28-44, 8 Hythe Town 27-42, 9 HASTINGS UNITED 27-41, 10 Thamesmead Town 25-37, 11 Whyteleafe 27-37, 12 South Park 23-36.