Hastings United emerged narrow winners as the Hawks slipped to a 2-1 defeat at The Pilot Field on a chilly evening.
The U’s took a fifty-first minute lead courtesy of a Kenny Pogue strike, and later doubled their advantage through Ben Pope. Lloyd Cotton pulled one back for the visitors with six minutes remaining, but the hosts dug deep to condemn the Hawks to their third away league defeat of the season.
Jude Macdonald made two changes to the side that drew with Faversham Town on Saturday, as Connor Tighe and David Martin came into the starting XI in place of Lloyd Cotton and Lewis Unwin respectively.
The hosts started proceedings on the front-foot, and caused the Hawks an early scare as Jake Elliot sent a fierce, low cross into the box, which evaded everybody, and sailed away to safety. The early exchanges were rather quiet, as the home side were enjoying more of the ball, but failed to create any meaningful attacks.
Pope registered the first shot on-target in the match thirteen minutes in, as the frontman climbed highest in the box to connect with a floated cross, but his header was a weak one, and it was an easy take for James Broadbent. That chance appeared to invigorate the Hawks, as Lucas Rodrigues came to life down the left-hand side, before eventually being fouled just outside the box, but Martin’s resulting free-kick was cleared at the first attempt.
Rodrigues came within inches of giving his Hawks side the lead just moments after. The ball was played into the box, and it fell to the Whitehawk man in a good position, but his effort at goal was blocked, and the ball looped onto the crossbar, and bounced over for a corner. The visiting pressure continued to mount as the lively Rodrigues was involved again, but his shot was weak, as Louis Rogers was able to make a comfortable save.
It was one-way traffic as Rodrigues was causing the Hastings defence major issues. The ball was cleared from Whitehawk’s box as far as Rodrigues, who held the ball up perfectly, before knocking it into space as the forward showed eye-catching pace to take it past his man. He drove into the box and, although the angle was slightly against him, opted for the shot, which flew narrowly wide of the far post.
In response to the Whitehawk bombardment, Sam Adams tried his luck from long distance, but his effort from 25-yards was just a bit too high. That appeared to swing the momentum of the game, as the hosts looked to take a first-half lead. Pogue was slipped in on the right-side of the box, and Broadbent rushed out to try and clear it, but the heavy rainfall meant that the pitch was slow, and the Hastings forward was able to control it well before Broadbent had reached it. His shot, however, was a weak one, and the ‘keeper was able to turn it away to safety.
At the other end of the pitch, Henry Muggeridge saw his name flash up in headlines as he struck the ball from 30-yards. His strike was powerful, but Rogers was able to collect at the second attempt. As the game approached half-time, the Hawks continued to be resolute in defence, and dangerous in attack, but could find no way through. Dixon did have the chance to send his team into half-time with a one-goal advantage, as he headed back across goal, looking to find the far corner, but it narrowly eluded the post, as both sides headed in scoreless.
Having started on the bench in recent matches, Tighe was evidently eager to make a difference in the match, and he came within inches of giving his side the lead immediately after the restart. The forward picked the ball up a fair distance from goal, and he attempted to make an angle for himself. He let fly from 25-yards, only to see the ball take a slight deflection, as the ball smacked off the right-post, and out for a corner. Rodrigues followed that up with a goal-bound effort from inside the box soon after, but that too took a slight deflection to take it away from goal.
Despite the Hawks having the better of the chances in the opening fifty-minutes, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock. Marvin Hamilton was robbed of possession by Pogue in a dangerous area, and the forward drove towards goal on the left-hand side of the box. Broadbent came out to meet him, but Pogue’s shot squirmed under the ‘keeper, and spun into the empty net.
In search of an equaliser, Rodrigues was almost presented with a gift as Rogers’ poor clearance found the feet of the number seven. The Hawks forward took a heavy touch, however, and the U’s defence recovered just in time. Minutes later, and on the stroke of the hour, Martin whipped in a dangerous looking cross which had just a bit too much pace on it, and it dribbled away to safety.
The game soon came to life with chances at both ends of the pitch. Pope had a glorious chance to double his side’s lead as Broadbent came out to try and clear, but he misjudged the speed of the ball, and the forward was able to take it past him. From a very tight angle, Pope decided to shoot and, almost slow-motion like, the ball looked to be curling in, but it evaded the far post by a matter of inches.
That attack prompted Macdonald to make a change, as Cotton replaced Tighe with twenty-five minutes remaining. The hosts, meanwhile, were starting to get the better of their opponents, and had another chance to find the net as the game dwindled into its final phase. Tom Chalmers sprinted with the ball towards goal, and played it to the right-hand side. With space and time, the ball was sent into the box where it found the dangerous Pope, but he can only guide his effort against the post, as the Hawks survive another Hastings wave of attack.
The Whitehawk resistance was broken again shortly after, however, as Pope found the net with twelve-minutes of the match remaining. Almost out of nothing, the striker found himself clean-through on goal following a simple, defence-splitting pass. With just Broadbent to beat, Pope fired his side into a two-goal lead, as he powered the ball home from inside the box. Pope, seemingly involved in every attack, could have made it a third minutes later, but Broadbent did well to put off the forward at the back-post, as the forward could only send it wide.
As the contest appeared to be all but over, Cotton pulled one back for the visitors six minutes from time. A simple goal, as an in-swinging Martin corner was played into the box, where Cotton rose highest to connect, steering it into the net to set up a tense finish. In a desperate attempt to rescue a point, Hamilton floated a hopeful ball into the box, but Rogers did well to collect.
As the game descended deep into stoppage time, the hosts were presented with a brilliant chance to kill the game off, but Aaron Capon’s effort from inside the box, having already taken it past Broadbent, was heroically blocked on the line by Luke Emberson. That was to be the last attack of the game, as referee Ian Fissenden blew his whistle to end the Hawks’ three-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
A frustrating evening for the Hawks, who for large parts of the game more than held their own, and probably deserved something from the match. Plenty of positives, however, to take into Saturday’s FA Trophy home clash with Cray Wanderers, as the Hawks look to progress to the Fourth Qualifying Round.
Hawks: Broadbent, Hamilton, Emberson, Muggeridge (c), Chappell, El-Abd, Rodrigues, Abdulla, Sobowale (Fraser 76’), Tighe (Cotton 67’), Martin
Not used: Unwin, Okorougo, Blackmore
Hastings: Rogers, Worrall, Elphick (Dixon 6’), Stone, Elliot, Pope (Capon 89’), Adams, Chalmers, Goldsmith, Pogue (Rodari 78’), Ward
Not used: Greig, Scott
Bookings: Hamilton, El-Abd (Hawks), Adams, Pogue, Ward (Hastings)