United took their winning run to six games after coming out on top of a typically hard-fought encounter with Whitehawk, neither side giving even one inch from start to finish. Second-half goals from Kenny Pogue and Ben Pope put the ‘U’s two goals clear before Lloyd Cotton pulled a goal back for the Hawks with six minutes remaining. Whitehawk struck the post with the game goalless and Pope did the same before adding United’s second. Aaron Capon could have sealed the game, but his shot was cleared off the line in the final minute of added time. Nonetheless it was United who took the evening’s spoils and maintained their unbeaten start to the season.

Tuesday 27th October, the afternoon’s rain and wind has eased leaving the evening dry and relatively still. Even so, conditions are certainly damp underfoot with the ball skidding across the surface. United are familiar in their claret shirts with white shorts and socks. Whitehawk are all in blue.

With Ollie Black starting a three-match suspension, United have Marcus Goldsmith at left-back otherwise they are unchanged. Except the game is only a few minutes old when Gary Elphick has to be replaced meaning a more widespread shuffle for the home side. Jake Elliott moves from right-back to centre-half, Goldsmith switches to right-back, Benn Ward drops back into the left-back position and substitute Jack Dixon takes Ward’s place in midfield. Phew!

United need to quickly become accustomed to a new formation but Whitehawk are far too savvy not to try and seek an advantage. Yet it is the ‘U’s who fashion the first chance on thirteen minutes. Goldsmith cuts out a pass and United work their way down the left through Ward and Craig Stone who’s cross is deep onto Pope’s head but easily saved by James Broadbent in the Hawks goal.

Minutes later and it is the visitors on the offensive. A freekick in a dangerous area is wasted but the subsequent corner is crossed low and Lucas Rodrigues swivels and shoots in the blink of an eye. It’s brilliantly blocked, the ball loops up and lands on the cross bar before dropping over for another corner.

As ever, Rodrigues is looking sharp and after he wins a tackle in midfield his next shot requires Louis Rogers to make the save. And then Whitehawk break up a United attack and Rodrigues displays his lightening pace to stretch the defence and clip a shot across Rogers and narrowly wide of the far post. Unlike other visiting teams there’s nothing cagey about the Hawks and it’s providing an open and exciting end-to-end game.

With thirty minutes on the clock it is the home side who go close to opening the scoring. First Sam Adams collects a half-clearance and curls a shot a fraction over the bar from twenty yards. The goal-kick is not struck properly allowing Tom Chalmers to intercept and play the ball immediately forward. Pope wins his race with the defender and tries to lift the ball over Broadbent, who does well to stay tall and block.

United have taken the sting out of the game and play patient football for ten minutes, recycling the ball rather than risking giving up possession. In the final minute of added time Stone and Ryan Worrall combine for Stone to hit another deep cross which Dixon meets at the far post, his header back across goal drops wide. The half-time whistle sounds with the game goalless, and on reflection the opening 45 minutes was nothing less than expected.

Half time: Hastings United 0 – 0 Whitehawk

The ‘U’s get the second-half underway, but it is the Hawks who come flying out of the blocks. Two minutes gone and they switch play from left to right and then back central from where Connor Tighe thrashes a 20-yarder against the post and away. A minute later they catch United playing out from the back, Rodrigues wins the ball and somehow his low cross misses everyone inside the six-yard box.

Then, having themselves just forced United into a mistake, they fall victim to the same. Broadbent passes to Marvin Hamilton at right-back and Pogue is on him in a flash. A strong tackle wins the ball on the edge of the area and he lifts a shot over the goalkeeper who gets in a half-block but not enough to stop the ball crossing the line. The breakthrough for United and that’s Pogue’s fifth goal of a very impressive season so far.

The goal knocks the wind out of Whitehawk’s sails, and it is United who are controlling the game. There’s a chance of a second. Pogue does superbly to head a bouncing ball inside for Dixon who drifts a ball down the line for the ever-willing Pope to chase into the corner. He’s second favourite but somehow gets past the defender, nicks the ball off the toes of Broadbent who has dashed out of his goal, and from the goal-line Pope almost curls in an ingenious shot.

Five minutes later and Pope goes even closer with Chalmers the instigator. He starts off out wide against the touchline but tricks his way out of a tight situation then purposely stands on the ball and pirouettes in the centre-circle. Everyone is flummoxed, except for Chalmers and Goldsmith who has made a fantastic run down the right. Chalmers finds him, Goldsmith crosses low and Pope hits it first time which smacks the post and bounces away.

The second goal does arrive with less than fifteen minutes remaining. Rogers’ long kick is headed back into midfield by Pope who ends up on the floor, yet he’s immediately up and off running to receive a tremendous through ball, beating the offside and making no mistake. Broadbent is helpless as Pope smashes the ball high into the net from 15 yards.

Despite the limited attendance it’s a raucous atmosphere with both sets of fans doing their clubs proud with constant singing and, for United, the beating of the club’s bass drum.

And anyone thinking the game was done and dusted is soon proved wrong. With six minutes left Whitehawk win a corner, and this is dropped into the heart of the six-yard box where Cotton nods in from close range to set up an enthralling finish.

The Hawks throw bodies forward and in the final minute of added time win another corner on the same side they scored from. This time United head clear and Worrall releases Capon through the middle. Capon is so quick his glides outside the on-rushing Broadbent and fires goalward only to be denied by a defender’s last-ditch goal line clearance. The final action of a marvellous game.

Full time: Hastings United 2 – 1 Whitehawk

United vs Whitehawk never fails to disappoint, both teams go hammer and tongs at each other from first whistle to last. United though are on a roll, six straight wins sets them up nicely for their cup game on Saturday. Whitehawk belied their current league position and may feel they deserved something from the game. On this display, for certain, they’ll soon be climbing the table.

Man of the match: Tom Chalmers, the young man worked his socks off all evening. Add a sprinkle of outrageous skill and a barrelful of talent. At times he glides across the turf with the ball tied to his boot, or so it seems.

Hastings United: Rogers, Worrall, Elphick (6’ Dixon), Stone, Elliott, Pope (89’ Capon), Adams, Chalmers, Goldsmith, Pogue (78’ Rodari), Ward (Unused subs: Greig, Scott)

Whitehawk: Broadbent, Hamilton, Emberson, Muggeridge, Chappell, El-Abd, Rodrigues, Sobowale (76’ Fraser), Tighe (67’ Cotton), Martin (Unused subs: Unwin, Okorougo, Blackmore)

Next game: Home to Ashford Town (Middx) in the FA Trophy third qualifying round on Saturday 31st October, kick off at 3pm. United vs Ashford Town tickets

Bob Quinn @BobJQuinn