Hastings United won a penalty shoot-out (4-2) to overcome a spirited Ashford Town who held the home side to a 1-1 draw in normal time. United controlled the first-half but had to wait for Ryan Worrall to open the scoring with a well-struck low shot on the cusp of half-time. Matt Bunyan, Ashford’s main threat throughout the match, equalised with a clinical far post header just after the hour mark. Despite best efforts neither side was able to find a winner, and so to penalties. United struck all four successfully while Ashford fired two over the crossbar to end the shoot-out early.

Saturday 31st October, lots of wind and lots of rain sums up the weather though the pitch looks in fine fettle despite. United are once more resplendent in their claret shirts with white shorts and socks. Ashford Town are turned out in a combination of white shirts with orange stripes, black shorts and orange socks.

Before the game there is a minute’s applause for the late Bill Harrison, former chairman of Bexhill United who passed away earlier this week. Fittingly, as the applause begins, the sun makes a welcome appearance brightening the turf and casting shadows across the pitch.

Ashford Town start the game, but it is United who begin the sharpest. Two long throws into the area put the visitors under pressure, the second of which results in a Kenny Pogue cross onto Tom Chalmer’s head, guided goalward and on target but easily saved by Paul McCarthy in the Ashford goal.

It’s a false dawn in terms of clear-cut chances. Pogue and Jack Dixon both hit shots from distance which are blocked, perhaps looking to take advantage of the conditions with the ball skidding on. Dixon then heads wide from Worrall’s deep cross before Ashford’s Bunyan begins to make his mark on the game. As United move the ball across the back four Bunyan intercepts and drives to the edge of the area, his clipped shot fails to beat Louis Rogers but stands as a warning even if it is a half-chance at best.

United control the remainder of the first-half but conditions are tricky. There is some surface water and passes need to be hit firmly. Even with the majority of possession the ‘U’s face a compact Ashford intent on defending and despite constant probing there are no gaps to exploit. During this period Marcus Goldsmith, up from right back, has two shots blocked.

The home side has little choice but to be patient. They string together thirty (30) passes which ends with a Tom Chalmers flick, aimed at Ben Pope, running through to the goalkeeper. There’s some disappointment at the end result of the move but this epitomises United’s philosophy, if they have the ball then the opposition do not.

With half-time approaching Ashford have offered little in attack but they’ve defended well, soaking up pressure and putting the onus on United. And just when a goalless first-half looks on the cards Ashford break down the left and for once leave themselves exposed. The attack is repelled and Craig Stone releases Pogue down the left, his cross falls to Worrall on the edge of the area, a touch to control and then a shot hit low from twenty yards. McCarthy gets a hand to the strike, but the ball hits the base of the post and slides over the line to open the scoring.

Half time: Hastings United 1 – 0 Ashford Town

United restart the game, the temperature is dropping, and the players kit is mud-splattered. Except of course for Stone who looks unruffled and pristine as always.

Sam Adams fires an early free-kick a foot over of the bar, but it is the away team who start the second-half on the front foot. A goal down they are showing the attacking intent missing from their first half display. A corner causes an almighty scramble in the United area which they just about manage to escape from. At the other end Dixon goes close after McCarthy drops a cross but his shot on the turn flies wide.

Ten minutes into the second-half and Ashford’s Bunyan collects a long goal-kick and shoots from 25 yards which is saved by Rogers. Five minutes later Bunyan continues his shoot on sight policy with another long-range effort which Rogers tips over the bar. The first corner is cleared but a second is hit deep to the far post where Bunyan is unmarked, and he nods into the bottom corner to equalise.

United find themselves level with twenty minutes remaining and penalties looming. After more good work from Tom Chalmers, Adams fires just wide and minutes later goes even closer. Stone retrieves a corner and finds him in space twenty yards out. Adams switches the ball from right foot to left and curls a shot inches wide.

And now Ashford are also prepared to push for a winner. They break down the left, James Cottee cuts inside and shoots powerfully which needs an athletic Rogers to palm out. United then lay siege for the final few minutes. Dixon heads wide, Worrall has a shot blocked and then Rodari’s shot is saved by the feet of the goalkeeper. Try as they might the home side are unable to find a way through and the final whistle ends proceedings. With no replays in this year’s competition the game moves directly to penalties.

Full time: Hastings United 1 – 1 Ashford Town

Penalties: For the third time this season United are involved in a penalty shoot-out. Pope opens for United but Cottee fires over for Ashford and from this position there is no recovery for the visitors. United score all four (Pope, Adams, Worrall, Rodari) and Ashford miss twice. United win 4-2 without the need for a fifth penalty.

Man of the match: Louis Rogers. Brilliant save from Cottee with ten minutes to go and altogether solid when called upon, could do nothing about Ashford's goal.

Credit to both sides for performing in the difficult circumstances. The second-half especially, once the visitors decided to give it go, was an edgy affair which could have gone either way. The upshot though is United are in the draw for the next round which is due to be published at 1pm on Monday 2nd November. The first round proper is set to be played in two weeks, on Saturday 14th November.

Hastings United: Rogers, Worrall, Stone, Elliott, Dixon, Pope, Adams, Chalmers (87’ Scott), Goldsmith, Pogue (70’ Rodari), Ward (Unused subs: Barlow, Greig, Capon)

Ashford Town: McCarthy, Woodward, Mngadi, Spiers, Burnham, Harrison, Humphreys, French, Cottee, Bunyan, Duff (54’ Fitzgerald) (Unused subs: Carlisle-Smith, Greenwood, Sweeney, Wilson)

Next game: Away to Hythe Town in the league on Saturday 7th November, kick off at 3pm.

Bob Quinn @BobJQuinn