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Impressive Hastings offer much-needed footy fix

Hastings United 4 Greenwich Borough 0, Bostik League One South East, Tuesday 31st October 2018

On Saturday, at 3pm, while hundreds of thousands of people the length and breadth of the UK were standing and sitting at football grounds, eagerly anticipating the 90 minutes ahead, I was getting ready to spend the next hour bouncing around an inflatable theme park with my wife and kids.

I’m not complaining. Well… not much. After all, it was the first Saturday afternoon this season that I wasn’t at a game, and it had been my idea to spend some family time together. Sort of. And anyway, the inflatable theme park was quite good fun (if not extremely knackering – for me and the wife, at least; the kids were fine).

Yet I can’t deny that there was a part of me that was pining for a lost Saturday afternoon at the football. I think I may be becoming worryingly addicted to this groundhopping lark.

Thankfully, due to Brighton council’s somewhat baffling decision to have a two-week half-term holiday in October, there’s still no training for my son’s football team, so Tuesday would give me a chance to make-up on the game I missed out on. In truth, it was this knowledge which had originally prompted my offer of a family afternoon on Saturday. How was I to know that she’d take me up on it?

Anyway, after a quick scan of the Tuesday night fixtures I narrowed my choice of games down to three. And after a Twitter poll it was ultimately decided by my followers (my Twitter followers I mean, I don’t have disciples or anything) that I should attend the Bostik League One South East match between Hastings United and Greenwich Borough.

As a side note, the poll victory for Hastings was by far and away the largest winning margin that I’ve had to any such Twitter poll so far. Interestingly, of the six teams involved in the three matches, Greenwich Borough were the only team who retweeted the poll. Whether this directly affected the outcome or not I’ll obviously never know, but it does seem a trend from the three polls I’ve done so far, that the clubs who get behind these things do tend to come out on top. This translates to a bit of extra gate money for them and some free publicity via this blog. Maybe just something to think about for clubs desperately trying to attract more people to games. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity!

So it was to Hastings I travelled on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening. After a longer than expected drive to their Pilot Field ground – seriously, what is it with already slow night drivers, slowing down even more the moment they see headlights on the opposite side of the road?! – I managed to park on a road a short walk from the stadium, pay my £10 entrance fee (then £2.50 for yet another decent program) and be in place just in time for the one-minute silence that preceded kick-off.

While the impeccable silence was obviously in honour of the horrific events which occurred outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium on Saturday evening, it seems likely that United would probably have held one regardless due to the recent death of a long-term club stalwart and father of a current player. My wishes go out to all his family at this difficult time.

The Pilot Field is an impressive, old fashioned ground, with a lovely looking 1920’s-built main stand dominating one touchline, and two covered terraced areas behind each goal. Unfortunately, according to the program, the Pilot Field may not be around much longer, due partly to expensive structural repairs needed on the aforementioned main stand, and the general running costs associated with maintaining an old ground. With United clearly being an ambitious club, this could require a move away from their long-term home to a more modern purpose-built stadium. While this is no doubt an exciting and necessary step, it will be sad to lose the Pilot Field from the Sussex football scene (providing no other club moves in, of course).

The first-half of the game was extremely open with both teams attacking with real purpose. There were plenty of chances for both teams and could easily have been more than the one goal which separated the teams at half-time. The only goal of the half was scored by United’s Youssuf Bamba midway through it, when he finished off a chance from inside the area following good work on the right wing.

In truth, Borough will have felt a bit aggrieved to have been trailing at the break. While United also had numerous chances, were it not for an inspired performance frim Charlie Horlock in the Hastings goal, Borough could easily have gone in at the interval level – or even ahead. The fact, Horlock was later named the sponsor’s man of the match probably says everything that needs to be said about his first-half performance. Borough’s TeShaune Tyreece Walters was probably the away team’s stand-out performer, with most of the danger coming through the pacey wideman.

The second-half was a completely different story. Hastings upped the pace and Greenwich simply couldn’t live with them. I have to say, that the speed with which United moved the ball in the second half and pressed their opponents into making mistakes was a joy to watch. They doubled the lead early in the second half through a thumping Sam Adams strike, and had many chances to further their lead after that.

On the rare occasions that Borough did threaten their strikers were either denied by Horlock, increasingly playing as a sweeper keeper as the match wore on, or caught offside. Towards the end of the match it was becoming harder to fathom if the Borough strikers had been told to intentionally play on the shoulder of the last defender or just didn’t know the offside rules. I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many obvious offsides by one team in a single game – and the referee’s assistant missed a fair number of equally obvious ones in the first half.

As Hastings’ dominance on the pitch grew, the crowd standing on the side opposite to the main stand were increasingly entertained by the antics of the two young ball boys manning (boyying?!? – generer-neutralling?!?) that touchline. Well, I say ball boys. While I think this was their official roll, they spent more time doing flips, wrestling and, as I said, generally entertaining the crowd, than they did actually fetching stray balls. In fact, on a handful of occasions players were left a little bemused as the ball boys stepped aside to let them get their own ball. That said on the one occasion the younger of the two did get a ball, he then kicked it in the air before instructing the intended recipient to ‘head it’. Still it made me chuckle. I personally think Wimbledon would be far more entertaining if the robotic ball boys and girls behaved in such a manner.
Somewhat randomly I may even have spotted German comedian Henning Wehn at the game during the second half. No idea if it was actually him, or simply a case of mistaken identity, but if it was him then this marks by first celebrity spot of the season. if anyone can confirm or deny his attendance then that would be great.

Back to the game. Hastings continued to carve out chances, but couldn’t capitalise any further. The Greenwich left-back was doubtless pleased to see the end of United debutant Lanre Azeez, who was exciting to watch thoughout, only to discover that his replacement, Dayshonne Golding was equally as tricky!

Two late strikes, both from the home side’s top scorer Daniel Ajakaiye, gave a more realistic gloss to the scoreline (at last as far as the second half was concerned). That said, Ajakaiye’s attempt at the famous Ronaldo celebration which greeted his second goal clearly needs some work – unfortunately I haven’t yet noticed CR7 lose his balance upon landing and tumble onto his backside… yet.

So, with my son due back to training next week, this should be my last Tuesday night match for a while. But it’s not. Thanks to the wonders of working away I’ll be at a game next Tuesday, too. And back at one this Saturday as well.

Can someone dig out the phone number for groundhoppers anonymous. I think I’m going to need it!


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