Hastings United overcame a tenacious Haywards Heath Town to maintain their 100% home league record and secure their tenth victory from ten games.
Jack Dixon’s clinical volley in the twenty-fifth minute proved to be the only goal of another hard-fought encounter with the visitors. Equally important was Louis Rogers’ penalty save midway through the second-half to preserve United’s lead.
If United had thoughts of a comfortable afternoon they were soon dispelled as Haywards Heath began the game at full speed, snapping into tackles and allowing no time on the ball. Heath, in an away kit which can be best described as rhubarb and custard, are a much better team than their 12th position in the league suggests.
See Grahame Lehkyj's pictures from the game here
The opening quarter was cagey, both teams testing each other out with only Tom Summerfield’s tantalising low cross, which could not find a teammate, offering a half-chance.
United then cranked up the pressure. Sam Beale’s in swinging corner flew over everyone and was cleared off the line by a flying header at the far post. Ollie Black’s long throw was then parried by Heath’s goalkeeper which Dixon retrieved and saw his shot blocked for another corner.
Heath also offered a threat in attack. A shot from the edge of the area was deflected for a corner before a header by Trevor McCreadie was easily saved by Rogers.
The ‘U’s took the lead on twenty-five minutes with a clever move straight off the training ground. Ryan Worrall shaped to strike a freekick which looked too far out for a shot on goal and proved to be a decoy. Beale made a late overlapping run, collected a short pass in his stride and whipped over a tantalising cross for Dixon, who finished expertly into the roof of the net with a left foot volley.
Both sides continued to battle hard and often cancelled each other out. Dixon fired straight at the keeper from the edge of the area for United before Heath’s McCreadie flicked a half-chance into the side-netting. United then put together a move of seventeen passes eventually winning a corner which fell to Ben Pope, back to goal, clever swivel but fired over. This proved to be the last action of a tetchy first-half, as close as anticipated.
The second-half began much like the first ended with both teams creating half-chances. McCreadie broke down the left and saw his cross-shot deflected for a corner. Then Dixon skilfully tapped the ball around an opponent before releasing Daniel Ajakaiye whose shot was saved when he could have passed. Though so quick was his break only Pope had made ground into the area.
Heath cranked up the pressure winning successive corners and almost forcing an equaliser. Right-back Hamish Morrison, playing as a right-winger, found himself in acres of space. His low cross was cleverly dummied allowing Ryan Warwick to fire in a shot which struck a United arm for a penalty.
McCreadie struck his spot-kick hard to the left but Rogers flung himself to his right and with strong wrists deflected the ball away. A nice height for the United number one but still a superb save given the game situation.
Minutes later Rogers was called into action again, tipping away a powerful shot from Heath’s captain Lloyd Cotton.
Summerfield was then given a straight red for what appeared to be a stamp on Azeez after a brief tussle between the pair.
With five minutes remaining Heath won a free-kick just inside the United half. As the ball was knocked into the mixer, Heath’s goalkeeper, the aptly named Luke Glover, was all alone in their half of the pitch. It seemed ripe for a United counter-attack and so it proved. The clearance landed with Dixon who instantly freed Ajakaiye only for him to be unceremoniously upended by the roving keeper.
Fifty yards from where he should be, the goal unguarded, hacking down the quickest player on the pitch. Glover was so far off-piste he’d lost his skis and all the snow had melted. A very lenient booking saved him from joining Summerfield for early après ski.
The teams exchanged one final chance apiece. Warwick struck a free-kick a foot over the bar before Ajakaiye shot into the side-netting.
At the final whistle, another seasons best attendance of 759 paid homage to the home side for a battling victory.
Man of the Match: Louis Rogers was called into action a number of times in the second-half and was equal to everything thrown at him. Punches clear, bravely gathering low crosses, tipping shots over the bar, and last but not least, a terrific penalty save.
Also, a mention in dispatches for a magnificent display by Ollie Black, who put not one foot wrong after stepping into the gap left by the suspended Craig Stone.
The new year has yet to see United drop a point with four wins from four games. They remain top of the league; four points clear of Ashford United with a game in hand. With Whitehawk dropping points there is a gap opening between the top two and the other teams.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Elliott, Beale, Ajakaiye, Pope (75’ Pogue), Adams, Worrall (84’ Pool), Azeez, Dixon (Unused subs: Barlow, Chalmers, White)
Haywards Heath Town: Glover, Morrison, Summerfield, L Cotton, Cooper, Spinks, Rowe (86’ Robinson), Napper, McCreadie, N Cotton (70’ Anderson), Warwick (Unused subs: Akinwande, Powell)
Next game: Saturday 25th January away to Sevenoaks Town, kick-off 3pm.