Hastings United Football Club kicked-off 2019 in style with a very good win away to in-form opposition on New Year’s Day.
A goal in either half from Jack Dixon and Daniel Ajakaiye gave Chris Agutter’s side a well-deserved 2-0 success against an Ashford United side which finished the Bostik League South East Division match with nine men.
The result leaves second-placed Hastings eight points behind leaders Cray Wanderers and five ahead of third-placed Whyteleafe at the midway stage in the season.
Agutter made two changes to his starting XI from the Boxing Day victory at home to Sevenoaks Town. Ajakaiye returned from suspension and played alongside Jordy Mongoy in a front two, while Sam Cruttwell - the match-winner against Sevenoaks - was promoted from the bench.
On a mild and calm afternoon in Kent, Hastings had the edge after a tight and industrious first half thanks to a well-worked goal in the 27th minute.
After Jamie Fielding chipped a good ball over the Ashford defence on the Hastings right, Ajakaiye got goalside of home defender Afolabi Coker and pulled the ball back from the byeline for Dixon to score with a first time finish.
The closest Hastings came other than that during the opening period was from a pair of 25-yard free kicks, one by Cruttwell early on which went wide and a later effort from Dixon which flew fractionally over the crossbar.
At the other end, Mohamed Kamara’s cross-shot was comfortably gathered by Hastings goalkeeper Charlie Horlock and Sam Corne skewed a shot wide from inside the box moments prior to the Hastings goal.
Hastings came flying out of the blocks after the break and completely dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second period, scoring once and going close on several other occasions.
They doubled their advantage in the 48th minute. Ajakaiye was sent clear on goal by Cruttwell’s headed throughball and he coolly slotted past home goalkeeper Sam Mott as the ball bounced up for his 25th goal of the season.
Ajakaiye was then denied by a good save from Mott at his near post after a great turn and pass by Mongoy. Two minutes later a lovely pass by Cruttwell sent Ajakaiye clear through the inside left channel, but a heavy touch allowed Mott to dive on the ball at his feet.
Mongoy, who like Ajakaiye asked plenty of questions of the home defence, struck a shot on the turn just wide of the far post from the left-hand side of the area.
Play became more even as the game turned a bit scrappy, not helped by a couple of injury stoppages, but other than Jerald Aboagye having a goalbound shot blocked in a crowded area, there was little to concern the healthy contingent of travelling supporters in a crowd of 531.
An already difficult task for Ashford became nigh on impossible after they had two players sent-off in the space of three minutes as the match entered the final 10 minutes of normal time.
Second half substitute Bode Anidugbe was the first to go after picking up two yellow cards in barely 20 minutes on the field, the second for scything down Adam Lovatt right in front of the Hastings dugout.
Lea Dawson followed him back to the changing rooms soon afterwards having been shown a straight red card for a two-footed tackle on Mongoy a few yards outside the Ashford box.
Hastings could well have added to their tally in the closing stages against a sixth-placed Ashford side which had picked up 16 points from its previous six encounters.
Mongoy got on the end of a good ball over the top from substitute Sam Adams before seeing his angled shot saved by Mott, who then denied Ajakaiye after the forward latched on to Horlock’s long kick and stepped inside Coker.
Deep into added time, Fielding was bundled over from behind by Ashford substitute Clark Woodcock in the right-hand side of the area but Youssouf Bamba’s penalty was well saved by Mott diving to his left.
Hastings: Horlock; Howlett-Mundle (Williams 90), Climpson, Tucker; Fielding, Lovatt, Cruttwell, Black; Dixon (Adams 77); Ajakaiye, Mongoy (Bamba 90). Subs not used: Walker, Azeez. Attendance: 531.