Sussex Senior Cup win just the tonic for Hastings United
The Sussex Senior Cup may be low on Hastings United’s priorities, but a much-changed side delivered a morale-boosting 1-0 victory in a thoroughly entertaining game at Burgess Hill Town on Tuesday evening.
Captain Sam Adams’ strike five minutes before half-time gave United a deserved lead which they doggedly held onto despite a Burgess Hill onslaught in the final 25 minutes. A strong defensive display typified by Louis Rogers preventing a penalty shoot-out with a tremendous save in added time.
Tuesday 16th November, it’s a chilly hat and scarf evening but thankfully dry and clear. There’s no hint of the foggy conditions faced at the league game in September, which United won 3 – 2. The ‘U’s have made wholesale changes with only five players starting from Saturday’s defeat to Cray Valley. Perhaps mindful of their unrelenting Saturday/Tuesday playing schedule, especially with their primary focus being on gaining promotion. United are in their changed kit of sky-blue shirts and socks with white shorts. The home sides strip is forest green and black shirts with black shorts and socks.
Burgess Hill gets us underway, concede possession and United immediately set the tone for their first half display. Sharp in the tackle and swift on the attack. Just two minutes in Kenny Pogue controls a long pass from Rogers and frees Knory Scott down the left. His shot from the angle is comfortably saved. Minutes later more good interplay results in Lanre Azeez appearing to be fouled in the area but the referee isn’t interested.
On 11 minutes Ryan Worrall and Jack Bates cleverly pass their way out of trouble and Bates breaks over halfway before giving Pogue the chance to chase a pass. A defender gets there first but under hits a back pass and Pogue is able to toe-poke a shot which is saved.
15 minutes in and its been a composed start by the ‘U’s, bossing possession and making inroads down the left through Scott and Kane Penn. Bates too is busy in midfield, collecting anything loose and darting forward when the opportunity arises. As it does on 18 minutes, he collects a throw, smartly turns away from his marker and is fouled some 25 yards from goal. Bates takes the freekick himself and narrowly misses the bottom left-hand corner with the goalkeeper scrambling.
The home side have struggled for time on the ball in the opening quarter, but a chance appears out of nowhere. An interception in midfield gives Connor Tighe space to shoot, on target and saved by the legs of Rogers. United then go close themselves after Worrall’s sweeping pass out to the left gives Scott space to cut inside and then find room on his left foot to shoot. Having already made two straightforward saves, Taylor Seymour in the Burgess Hill goal makes the first of several excellent saves, tipping the shot over the bar.
As the half progresses the visitors continue to dominate. Tom Chalmers breaks through a bank of tackles and unleashes a shot which Seymour parries to safety. Ollie Black then delivers the pass of the night, 50 yards over the top of the defence and into the path of a great Scott run. The forward controls on his chest and volleys goalward only for Seymour to somehow go full length and claw the ball away for a corner. Excellent play all round.
Adams is next to go close for United, getting his head to a freekick swung in from the right only to be thwarted by Seymour going full stretch again to palm the ball away. The goal United have threatened finally arrives five minutes before half-time. As he’s done numerous times already Bates comes out on top of a midfield tussle, darts forward and passes to the feet of Pogue who instantly touches the ball onto Scott down the left flank. Scott’s enticing low cross finds its way to the opposite side of the area where it is sent back whence it came by Adams, who thwacks a low shot along the deck and into the bottom corner. Seymour finally beaten.
There’s still time for Tighe to strike a long-range effort wide of the post but this has been United’s half. A great performance played at a good tempo with excellent movement, sees them with their noses in front at the break.
United are in charge of the restart and for the opening 10 minutes there’s no difference from the first-half. The visitors are in control making good use of the flanks. A Burgess Hill corner is cleared by Freddie Legg and Bates plays a wonderful pass into the path of the scampering Scott who travels into the area and shoots but is thwarted again by Seymour.
Legg is making a nuisance of himself down the right and is a tad unlucky that each of four crosses evades a United player or is blocked. There is a crowd of some two hundred and the two sets of supporters housed behind the goal at each end swap friendly banter.
It is midway through the second half when the home side switch up a few gears, realising they are on their way out and without yet having seriously troubled the United goal. Two deep crosses present heading opportunities but neither is cleanly taken. Pressure on the ‘U’s defence then offers a shooting chance, but the shot hits their own man and is deflected wide. A penalty claim is then turned down and Hill’s Michael Campbell is given a lecture for questioning the decision.
Even so, the game was been turned around if not the scoreline. Burgess Hill are on top and United are having to defend for the first time in the game. With 15 minutes remaining another Hill penalty claim is waved away and the referee compounds his attempts to make friends with the home team by giving United a freekick moments later.
Burgess Hill maintain the pressure, two corners come and go then a freekick in their own half results in winning a freekick in the United half some 40 yards out. Scott Kirkwood lines up a shot and rather predictably shoots high and wide. The United fans sing a song which asks him to explain himself, or words to that effect!
With full-time getting nearer the home side don’t give up. A low cross requires Rogers bravery to beat the ball away and then a Hill freekick has every player in the United half. The cross is half-cleared, and the follow-up shot is blocked and there’s another claim for a penalty this time for a handball. A Scrooge Christmas bonus appears more likely than tonight’s referee awarding a penalty and he is unmoved. He then receives a verbal volley from Harry Pollard and in return Pollard receives a red card. The Hillian begrudgingly trudges off to start running the bath.
Down to ten men but not yet down and out. In the second minute of added time Burgess Hill force their way down the left. The low cross is met by Charlie Kelly in the six-yard box, side footed goalward and it requires a breath-taking full-length, strong wrists save by Rogers to prevent the equaliser.
A really entertaining game is brought to a stop by the final whistle. A United team missing a number of regulars have demonstrated two sides to their make-up. Hungry and energetic with composure and alacrity in the first-half, defensive steel in the final third when Burgess Hill ramped up the pressure.