On Tuesday 20th July, a first-half hat-trick by Ben Pope and a late stunner from young Freddie Warren ensured United bounced back to winning ways as they continue their preparations for the start of the new season. Now only a little over three weeks away. Game five of pre-season took Hastings United back along the A259, this time to take on neighbours Eastbourne Town. And the short journey home was more than satisfying after a four – one victory.
Following defeat to Alresford Town last Saturday, the ‘U’s are close to full strength on a warm and pleasant evening in the lovely surroundings of The Saffrons. With the sun setting on a flawless manicured pitch and only a slight breeze, conditions are perfect. United have returned to their home colours of claret shirts with white shorts and socks, with Town adorned in their own home strip of yellow shirts with royal blue shorts and socks.
The match is being played in memory of Town’s goalkeeping coach Roger Lee, who sadly passed away in April. Kick-off is preceded by a minute’s enthusiastic applause from a good turn-out.
Town get the game underway, but it is United who start strongly, and in particular Sam Hasler in centre-midfield. A powerful tackle, a driving run and left-footed shot dragged wide is followed by his 25-yard free-kick being parried behind by the goalkeeper. Five minutes on the clock and there is a lot of chatter on the pitch. This may be advertised as a friendly, but it is clear both sides are up for this one.
United look keen to blow away Saturday’s cobwebs and take the lead a minute later with an emphatic ‘one end of the pitch to the other’ move. Goalkeeper Louis Rogers punts a stunning pass down the right flank for full-back Marcus Goldsmith to sprint onto, outstrip his opposite number, and deliver a low cross into the area which is slammed home by the onrushing Pope.
Six minutes later and the lead is doubled, and it’s another quality piece of play. Gary Elphick goes wide to Goldsmith who plays in Tom Chalmers, again down the right flank. His low cross into the area bypasses Pope to reach the arriving Hasler who gets there a fraction ahead of the defender and is clipped. The referee has no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Pope clearly heard Hasler’s shout and duly stepped over the ball to create confusion in the defence. Pope properly dispatches the penalty into the top corner giving the goalkeeper no chance.
The fully buoyant ‘U’s are immediately back on the attack. Chalmers fires over from eight yards, following good work again by Goldsmith, before another Hasler free-kick is parried into the path of the prowling Pope who thrashes the ball into the roof of the net, only for the referee’s assistant to rule the ‘goal’ out for offside. Boo!
It is a temporary reprieve for Town, and after being denied a hat-trick inside twenty minutes, Pope is soon celebrating one inside thirty-five minutes instead. Hasler and Kenny Pogue play head tennis in the centre circle which eventually lands at the feet of Chalmers. He immediately runs at the heart of the defence and around the last defender who makes a last-ditch tackle but only succeeds in conceding another penalty. Pope steps up and again thumps home with a minimum of fuss.
Yet, one minute later Town pull a goal back. What appears to be straight-forward long ball onto Elphick’s head is nodded out of Rogers’ reach and into the path of Town’s Aaron Capon. It is easier than a penalty for the former ‘U’ to stroke into an empty net.
With half-time approaching there is still time for Pope to control a long pass and deftly loft the ball over the goalkeeper, only to find the whistle has been blown for a slight nudge in the back of the centre-half. Probably the correct decision but with three goals to his name and two goals chalked off, all from five attempts, Pope’s first half performance has been that of a classic centre-forward.
Half-time: Eastbourne Town 1 – 3 Hastings United
With the sun disappearing the floodlights are on when United kick us off for the second half. Pogue has a shot half-blocked allowing the goalkeeper to make a comfortable save, then Hasler continues his campaign to get himself on the scoresheet but shoots over. The ‘U’s continue to press, and a Pogue flick on from an Ollie Black long throw gives Sam Adams a look at goal only for his header to float over the bar.
As the half progresses, both sides have made and continue to make changes as they give their bench time on the pitch, and the second half doesn’t reach the heights of the first. There’s still frequently good interplay though and both teams are on the hunt for another goal, with the only final ball lacking. In a repeat of the opening to the half, Pogue’s has a shot saved again and Hasler shoots wide again.
The final five minutes prove to be worth the wait.
From a United corner Elphick’s header is cleared by the defender guarding the near the post before Town break and Elphick returns the favour by blocking a goal bound shot off the line at the other end. From this clearance the ball is hit long down the right, Freddie Legg is third favourite to get there first but switches on his afterburners to leave defenders in his wake. His low cross is met by the arriving Warren who clips a shot toward the top corner, it smacks against the inside of the post and drops into the opposite corner. The two youngsters combining brilliantly to conclude the scoring. Though there’s even time for a Knory Scott last minute shot to be tipped over the bar before the referee blows the final whistle.
Full-time: Eastbourne Town 1 – 4 Hastings United
Hastings United: Rogers, Black (84’ Simmons), Worrall (77’ Walker), Elphick, Stone (46’ Huckle), Chalmers (64’ Scott), Pope (50’ Dixon), Adams (84’ Lubanga), Hasler (70’ Warren), Goldsmith (84’ Greig), Pogue (64’ Legg)
Goals: 6′, 12′(pen) 34′(pen) Pope, 90′ Warren