HASTINGS United just about avoided relegation from the Premier Division of the Ryman Football League on a dramatic last day of the season.
The U’s suffered a nerve-shredding 3-2 defeat at home to Aveley but they were let off the hook by Maidstone United’s 2-0 loss away to AFC Hornchurch.
It meant Hastings finished outside the bottom four on goal difference with Aveley and Maidstone joining Croydon Athletic and Folkestone Invicta in the drop zone.
Bottom five final standings (all played 42 games): Hastings Utd 38pts (-15 goal difference), Aveley 38 (-27), Maidstone Utd 37 (-32), Croydon Athletic 31 (-51), Folkestone Invicta 27 (-34).
The first half was a largely forgettable affair in which Hastings seemed gripped by nerves as they struggled to impose any authority against opposition which needed to win by eight goals to give them any chance of avoiding a bottom four finish.
It was Aveley who took the game by the scruff of the neck with two goals in five minutes early in the second period. Ryan Stalley grabbed the opener after Seb Barton had done well to block his initial attempt and Sherwin Stanley doubled the lead with an easy header after the Hastings defence had failed to deal with a corner.
Mid-way through the half most of the players were involved in a skirmish near the Aveley dugout which resulted in a yellow card for each side and the visiting manager being sent to the stands.
The incident seemed to finally spark Hastings into life and substitute Arron Hopkinson volleyed home from close range and - just a couple of minutes later - Josh Jirbandey headed home after Aveley had been caught out by a short corner routine.
Harry Beautyman then headed against the post, and at that stage Hastings looked the most likely to go on and grab the win.
There was a sting in the tail, however, when Aveley launched a quick counter-attack and Kenny Beaney took advantage of Scott Manning’s failure to clear the danger to score what proved to be the winner.
Hastings (4-5-1): Barton; Rowe, Ray, Jirbandey, Manning; Adams, Olorunda (Billings 56), Beautyman, Carey, Eldridge (Pogue 56); Porter (Hopkinson 66).
Referee: Dean Treleaven (Fareham). Attendance: 737.