Hastings United comfortably dispatched second-from-bottom Ramsgate despite playing over thirty minutes with ten men.
Daniel Ajakaiye fired home after eleven minutes before Ben Pope hit a drive into the top corner on the stroke of half-time. Pope doubled his tally with a penalty at the start of the second-half and Ramsgate were unable to take advantage of Craig Stone’s second bookable offence
Top-of-the-table United took about five minutes to settle any nerves. Jack Dixon and Ajakaiye in particular were on their own wavelength in the initial stages to win United two quick corners which both came to nothing but set the tone.
After the second corner Ramsgate’s goal-kick was headed forward by Stone, Dixon flicked it on but beyond Pope. To all it seemed the opening had gone, except for Pope whose sliding tackle on the centre-half won the ball back. Dixon played in Ajakaiye and his left-footed strike into the bottom corner opened the scoring.
United moved through the gears, purring like a fine-tuned engine. Lanre Azeez danced past a couple of defenders only to be clipped on the right-side of the penalty area. With most expecting a cross, Ryan Worrall instead played a low ball to Pope, whose shot was blocked for a corner. Minutes later an Ollie Black long throw was half-cleared to Ajakaiye who shot narrowly wide.
There was controversy on twenty-five minutes. A Ramsgate back-pass was mis-controlled by the goalkeeper allowing Pope to make a challenge. Pope appeared to get there first and fell over the keeper’s leg whilst the ball rolled out for a goal-kick. No penalty. Pope booked for simulation and Stone for protesting.
It took half-an-hour for Ramsgate to create themselves a half-chance. A corner caused a scramble in the area which ended with a header well over the bar from six yards. Having done nothing in the final third the visitors almost conjured an equaliser. A reminder United were only one goal to the good.
As half-time approached United looked to double their lead. Pope collected a pass from Stone, held the ball up and crossed for Dixon whose shot was parried by the goalkeeper. An off-balance Ajakaiye hit the rebound wide.
The shortest of reprieves. From the goal-kick the ball was headed forward, collected by Pope who turned into a yard of space and had one thing in mind, thumping a twenty-five yarder into the top right-hand corner. The goalkeeper could only watch and, perhaps, admire.
Th second-half began in a similar vein and the ‘U’s increased their lead. Louis Rogers began the move with a long accurate pass from penalty area to halfway and straight onto Ajakaiye’s boot. The pass inside to Pope was turned around the corner for Ajakaiye to run onto and he pulled the ball back for Dixon to cross. A defender’s hand deflected the ball to the goalkeeper and the referee had little choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Pope and picked out his favourite part of the goal, top right-hand corner.
The game then turned a tad sour. Stone chased a clearance and just failed to keep the ball in on the touchline. The referee deemed the ball had been purposely kicked away, produced another yellow for time-wasting and United’s centre-half had to depart with thirty minutes remaining.
United shuffled their pack, replaced a midfielder with a defender and set themselves up to keep Ramsgate at bay. Even so, it was Pope again who almost added a fourth. Rogers went route one and Pope got a shot away from the edge of the area which was deflected just wide by the goalkeeper.
A Ramsgate free-kick was well saved by Rogers and a flicked header flew wide, otherwise United were untroubled. For all of Ramsgate’s neat passing they were blunt in attack, like an artist’s palette knife, and unable to create any clear-cut chances.
A seasons best attendance of 703 cheered and applauded noisily at the final whistle. Overall a comfortable performance for United and another valuable three points.
Man of the Match: Ben Pope, scored two (one of which was a belter) and was instrumental in the opening goal and winning the penalty. Show me a hard-working centre-forward and I give you Ben Pope who torments defences, holds the ball up, tackles and passes. The full works. And of course, he scores goals - hitting his fifteenth and sixteenth of the season.
United remain top of the league, four points clear of Ashford United with a game in hand. Nine home league games and nine home league wins. Next Saturday’s home game against Haywards Heath Town provides the opportunity for a perfect ten.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Stone, Elliott, Ajakaiye (80’ Pool), Pope (73’ Pogue), Adams, Worrall (60’ Beale), Azeez, Dixon (Unused subs: Barlow, White)
Ramsgate: Burns, Turner, Saunders (20’ Anidugbe), Bangura (45’ Treadwell), Thomas, Starkey, Gray, Bancroft, Rowland, Miller, Turner (67’ Mitford) Unused subs: Meade, Haidary)
Next game: Saturday 18th January at home to Haywards Heath Town, kick-off 3pm.