Hastings United Football Club suffered a first home league defeat for nearly two-and-a-half months this afternoon (Saturday).
Chris Agutter’s side saw a 2-1 lead turn into a 5-2 loss at the hands of a useful fourth-placed Greenwich Borough outfit in Bostik League Division One South.
Agutter made two changes to his starting line-up from the New Year’s Day win at home to East Grinstead Town. There was no Sam Beale so Jamie Fielding started in midfield and Sam Cruttwell moved to left-back, while Daniel Ajakaiye - a new loan signing from Kingstonian - went straight into the starting line-up as a right-sided attacking player.
Playing for the first time since the sudden resignation of manager Gary Alexander, Greenwich possessed some accomplished players, with Jack Barham - who not long ago had a trial at Millwall - and Tom Beere particularly impressive.
Those two, in fact, combined for the opening goal after just 53 seconds. Beere delivered an inviting cross from the Greenwich right which Barham powerfully headed home from close range, to his obvious delight judging by the celebration.
Barham - who scored twice for Phoenix Sports against Hastings back in September - saw a header and an angled shot saved by home goalkeeper Charlie Horlock before Hastings hit back with two goals in six minutes.
The equaliser came in the 18th minute when Ajakaiye got goalside of Greenwich full-back Kaka Dembele and scored via the underside of the crossbar. That was the final act of a short-lived debut for Ajakaiye, who was immediately substituted having taken a heavy knock early on.
Davide Rodari ballooned a shot well over following a lovely build-up involving Calum Davies and Ansu Janneh, but made amends by putting Hastings 2-1 ahead moments later.
Rodari this time played a neat one-two with Davies and went clear on goal. Greenwich goalkeeper George Kamurasi got a foot to his shot, but not enough to keep it out.
Sam Corne blasted over from inside the home box seconds before Hastings rather gifted Greenwich a 30th minute equaliser. Janneh gave the ball away in his own box and with Horlock out of position, Corne pulled it back for Barham to make it 2-2 with a low left-footed shot.
Hastings almost retook the lead when Rodari skipped past two players on a solo run and saw a powerful angled drive parried by Kamurasi before dragging the follow-up wide of the near post.
Instead it was Greenwich who hit the front in the 43rd minute. After Tom Climpson was booked for a trip on Chinedu McKenzie, Dembele unleashed a superb 25-yard free kick which Horlock fingertipped onto the crossbar but Travis Gregory reacted quickest to nod in the rebound.
After a richly entertaining first half packed with attacking football - rather like the Ramsgate game shortly before Christmas - the match got away from Hastings somewhat during the second period as Greenwich struck twice more to in the end run out comfortable winners.
Hastings had a decent chance to make it 3-3 within four minutes of the restart, but Janneh steered his shot just wide having been picked out by Rodari at the end of an attack which he started himself.
Five minutes later it was 4-2. A throw-in from the Greenwich left was laid off for Beere to score with a well-struck first time shot from inside the area.
Hastings fashioned a couple of half-chances, Ollie Rowe and Dayshonne Golding both firing over from inside the box, the latter after Janneh did well to get to the byeline on the left.
Any hope Hastings still harboured was firmly extinguished by a fifth Greenwich goal in the 70th minute. Gregory somehow squirmed through the home defence with a wonderful piece of skill and poked the ball past Horlock for McKenzie to tap home from a yard out.
Hastings almost pulled one back when a header by substitute Kenny Pogue from Janneh’s right wing cross struck the post.
At the other end, Barham - on a hat-trick - shot straight at Horlock after stepping inside Climpson and in added time Horlock pulled off a good save from Joshua Shonibare at his near post.
In the dying seconds Kamurasi made a reflex stop to deny Davies as Hastings were beaten at home in the league for the first time since the last gasp 2-1 reverse against Thamesmead Town on Tuesday October 24.
The crowd of 416, incidentally, was the highest at The Pilot Field since the East Sussex derby against Lewes back in August.
Hastings: Horlock, Pritchard (Pogue 72), Cruttwell, Fielding (Ebuzoene 55), Rowe, Climpson, Rodari, Golding, Davies, Janneh, Ajakaiye (Adams 19). Subs not used: Lovatt, Kieran. Attendance: 416.
Bostik League Division One South top half (played-points): 1 Lewes 28-60, 2 Corinthian-Casuals 29-56, 3 Cray Wanderers 26-55, 4 Greenwich Borough 29-55, 5 Carshalton Athletic 28-55, 6 Walton Casuals 28-52, 7 Phoenix Sports 29-47, 8 Hythe Town 28-45, 9 HASTINGS UNITED 28-41, 10 Whyteleafe 28-40, 11 Horsham 29-39, 12 Thamesmead Town 26-37.