TWO goals in a minute - midway through the first half - went a long way to condemning Hastings United to a 3-1 defeat at home to high-flying AFC Hornchurch.
From then on the U’s had it all to do and although they created some decent opportunities, it was always going to be a tough ask to peg back one of the strongest teams in the Ryman Premier.
Player-manager Sean Ray, who was sidelined through injury, was also sent to the stand late on for comments made to the linesman after his decision to award a throw-in to the visitors had paved the way for their killer third goal.
It was Hastings who had the first real chance of the afternoon when captain Josh Jirbandey failed to make the most of Ryan Thomson’s inviting cross and his header was saved by goalkeeper Joe Woolley who not long after denied Zac Attwood.
The Urchins took the lead on 22 minutes when right back Jack Dixon compounded his initial mistake with a loose pass along the touchline, and following an exchange of passes Martin Tuohy was presented with the simplest of finishes.
Seconds later Tuohy turned provider with a centre from the left which was met by the head of strike partner Lewis Smith.
Hastings offered a spirited response towards the end of the first half and went close through Kenny Pogue, Scott Manning and Jordan Woodley.
Hornchurch continued to play some slick football, however, and only a decent parry by Lloyd Anderson prevented them from scoring what would have been a contender for goal of the season at The Pilot Field. Tuohy had the final effort on goal with a well-struck volley after a build-up which had featured a backheel from Smith and first time cross by Les Thompson.
Woodley and Dixon went close to pulling a goal back, while, at the other end, Anderson saved from Tuohy before Jonathan Hunt lobbed Hornchurch’s third with 20 minutes remaining.
Either side of the goal Ray made it clear he wasn’t happy with the decision of the linesman who had deemed the ball had gone out of play, and on the second occasion he was ordered from the dugout.
Hastings did get on the scoresheet in the 86th minute when Attwood’s free kick squirmed under the body of Woolley who then made amends with a fine save to deny Jamie Crellin.
The home side also had a couple of efforts blocked during a rousing finish but it was too little too late to really trouble a very good Hornchurch side.
Hastings (4-3-3): Anderson; Dixon, Manning, Jirbandey, Sutton; Carey, Crellin, Thomson (Whitehead 57); Woodley, Pogue (Barham 57), Attwood. Subs not used: Bolwell, Ellis, Armstrong-Ford.
Referee: Graeme Ions (Westerham). Attendance: 399.