After an eventful night of drama, Hastings United remain unbeaten after five league games and moved into second place following a three-nil win over Three Bridges. Ben Pope scored twice before substitute David Rodari completed the scoring in the final ten minutes. Both teams were down to ten men before the end of the first-half, with the visitors further reduced to nine men with twenty minutes remaining.

Tuesday 20th October, the evening is dry and unseasonably warm with only a gentle breeze to ruffle the surrounding trees. The ‘U’s are in their home shirts of claret together with white shorts and socks. The Bridges meanwhile are wearing impressive gold shirts with black shorts and socks.

United begin with the same starting eleven as last Saturday with Kenny Pogue making his 200th appearance. Three Bridges get us underway forcing a corner in the opening minutes but when they don’t have possession there’s no doubt their game plan is to put every player behind the ball. As it is, United create the first half-chance through Pope’s resolve in chasing down a through ball into the area, he drags back a low cross which Sam Adams comes racing onto. Perhaps he should hit it first-time but takes a touch and the opportunity is gone.

Even after ten minutes it feels like this will be a night for patience, except United have other ideas. Craig Stone fires a long ball deep into the left-hand corner, Pogue is second favourite but does brilliantly to win the ball. His first cross is blocked but his second is plumb onto the head of Pope who doesn’t have to jump and there’s not a defender in sight. He steers a header wide of the goalkeeper and the ‘U’s are in front.

And repeat. Stone again with a glorious pass directly into the path of Pogue’s run but his low cross is hit a tad too hard and Pope cannot wrap a foot around the ball.

Sixteen minutes in and the game takes an unexpected turn. United’s Ollie Black makes a firm challenge for a bouncing ball and catches the player. It looks a yellow card at worst, but the referee sees it differently and shows a straight red. United down to ten men with plenty of the game remaining.

Immediately Three Bridges begin to press, and Louis Rogers is brought into action. A long deep cross is pinpoint for the onrushing striker’s head, only six yards out, nine times out of ten it’s a goal, yet Rogers makes a superb point-blank reaction save to maintain the lead. The Bridges waste two corners and their bench is vocal, urging their team forward and pushing them higher up the pitch.

The game then twists again. Toward the half-hour mark Pope is caught late in midfield by Brannon O’Neill who is cautioned, and minutes later O’Neill cynically trips Jake Elliott as he breaks down the right and is shown a second yellow. The man advantage is short-lived with no benefit gained. The Bridges bench is quiet, their team back to all men behind the ball.

It’s now United’s turn to keep possession and as half-time approaches they create chances. First Adams with a shot wide following more good work from Pogue. And Adams again a few minutes later, curling a free-kick narrowly over from 25 yards, aiming for the top corner. Benn Ward is then into the action, he’s wide out on the left and drops a superb 40 yard cross straight to Pogue who cushions a header to Tom Chalmers on the edge of the area. The shot is dragged the wrong side of the post but the pass from Ward deserved the applause.

There’s one final piece of action. Gary Elphick marauds down the right and slips a pass into Pope, who has again lost his man. His low driven cross is deflected over his own bar by a defender’s outstretched boot. The ball could have gone anywhere. There’s no time for the corner and a hectic first-half comes to a close.

Half time: Hastings United 1 – 0 Three Bridges

United kick-off for the second-half and are immediately deep into Three Bridges territory. Three long throws from Stone are repelled, then a corner is drilled over by Worrall toward Pogue, a flicked header drops just over the bar.

With two players missing there is a little more room on the pitch and Three Bridges are no longer sitting back but have decided to come out and be positive. They’re playing the ball around nicely but without making inroads. United make a couple of changes with Rodari coming on for Pogue and Jack Dixon for Adams.

The brief period of calm is broken on sixty-seven minutes. It starts with a Three Bridges free-kick on half-way which United clear and Pope battles to win the ball in midfield. He holds play up then frees Rodari who steams toward the area, his attempted pass ricochets back into his path and he’s free in the area only for Steve Smith to shove him in the back. Smith has already been booked and so sees yellow for the second time and the inevitable red.

Three Bridges down to nine men and it’s a double whammy because Pope dispatches the penalty high to the right, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Chalmers almost makes it three after he saunters past two challenges and suddenly, he’s one on one with the goalkeeper who does extremely well to block the shot.

Inside the last ten minutes and United are not to be thwarted from a third. Rodari starts it off, doing well in midfield to win the ball which is moved onto Chalmers. He could easily pass right but instead switches play cleverly by turning and going left for Dixon who shimmies into the area and hits a low cross. And arriving at the back post is Rodari to tap home and complete the scoring.

Full time: Hastings United 3 – 0 Three Bridges

Two more for Pope to go with his opener last Saturday and his goal-scoring door is most certainly ajar. After his long absence Rodari looks sharp as a tack and is, if anything, even faster across the turf than before. Despite being down to ten men at such an early stage, United kept their nerve as the visitors attempted to make the most of their extra man. Plus, another clean-sheet for the defence including Ward who had a sterling game slotting in at left-back after Black’s early bath. And last, but not least, how important was Rogers’ save? A goal at that point and the game could have been entirely different.

Man of the match: Ryan Worrall, he’s had a great start to the season pulling the strings in midfield and doing much of the dirty work, often breaking up the oppositions play and then turning defence into attack.

Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Worrall, Elphick, Stone, Elliott (75’ Goldsmith), Pope, Adams (62’ Dixon), Chalmers, Pogue (57’ Rodari), Ward (Unused subs: Scott, Capon)

Three Bridges: Thorp, Williams, Lovegrove, Gayler, O’Neill, Smith, Docherty (45’ Sesay), Hall, Donaghey, Barbary, Tolfrey (Unused subs: Ashley, Bacon, Skerry, Lansdale)

Next game: Away to Sevenoaks Town in the league on Saturday 24th October, kick off at 3pm. Tickets are available here... Sevenoaks vs United

Bob Quinn @BobJQuinn