Hastings United vs Herne Bay – Isthmian League (South East Division)
Hastings United’s first game of the new 2021/22 season brought Herne Bay to the Pilot Field. The visitors are likely to be one of the teams challenging the ‘U’s for top spot and automatic promotion. United handed new signing Dave Martin a place in the starting line-up, and he demonstrated why he warranted selection by opening the scoring after only four minutes. Stung into action Bay grabbed an equaliser on nineteen minutes after Louis Rogers could only palm Adem Ramadan’s powerfully struck free-kick onto the bar and in. Both sides had early chances in the second-half but in the end appeared content with a point each.
3pm on Saturday 14th August 2021. For once the weather forecast is accurate and there is a cloudless blue sky with the temperature in the mid-twenties to usher in the new campaign. There’s a huge buoyant crowd too, with all sides of the ground teeming with spectators including quite a few visiting fans crammed into the Steve Smith Stand.
Before the game there is a minute’s applause for Mick Gibson who passed away recently. Mick served on the Isthmian League board for more than 20 years and was life president of Heybridge Swifts FC.
United are wearing their home colours of claret shirts with white shorts and socks, with Herne Bay in gold shirts and shorts with black socks. Jack Dixon is United’s captain with Sam Adams on the bench. The ‘U’s team includes new signings Sam Hasler and Martin.
Herne Bay get the game underway, but it is United who set the early pace. Ollie Black delivers a couple of trademark long throws which are repelled before Hasler’s free-kick is driven into the area and somehow evades everyone. This early pressure pays early dividends. Bay have the ball among their own back four but play a sloppy pass across the penalty area which is pounced on by Ben Pope. He slides the ball onto Martin who takes a touch and left-footed caresses the ball into the bottom corner from twelve yards. A dream start for both United and their new player. If Herne Bay’s plan was to soak up pressure for ten minutes then ease their way into the game, that plan had just failed.
It seemed though that United had kicked a hornet’s nest. Having conceded, Bay put themselves on the front foot, swarming all over the pitch. Laurence Harvey shoots over from 25-yards and left-back Jack Parter marauds down the left wing more than once. Tom Phipp then shoots from 30-yards which Rogers throws his cap on, before Abdul Aniduere fires straight at Rogers. United may be in front but Herne Bay are more than in this game and win a free-kick in a good position some 25-yards out. Ramadan strikes it sweetly toward the top corner, touched onto the underside of the crossbar by a diving Rogers but down over the line. United pegged back.
Minutes later the visitors conjure up a chance to take the lead. Kieron Campbell and Parter manoeuvre their way down the left allowing Campbell to shimmy past two defenders and into the area only to shoot wide of the near post.
Half an hour has passed, the pace has been relentless, and the tackles have been flying in. Both teams take a short breather, indeed there is a definite lull in Bay’s energy levels and United look to take advantage. Craig Stone has a shot saved when a deep corner lands at his feet before an off-balance Hasler shoots well over, then repeats the same a couple of minutes later.
The first-half extends to 50 minutes taking into account stoppages for treatment. It’s been a blood and thunder opening to the new season. Oh how we have missed it!
Half-time: Hastings United 1 – 1 Herne Bay
There are no changes in personnel when United kick-off for the second-half, though the supporters behind the goals have exchanged ends.
Inside the first five minutes and the ‘U’s put together their best passing move of the game. It begins with Gary Elphick’s pass into Pope’s feet, to Ryan Worrall, onto Dixon then Hasler and out wide to Martin who instantly crosses deep. Tom Chalmers leaps high and heads back across goal for Pope. It’s a half-chance and Pope is immediately closed down and cannot get a decent shot away.
This is closely followed by The Bay’s best chance of the game. A United pass is cut out in midfield and there’s a big whole to be exploited. Parter and Campbell combine on the edge of the area and Parter is only denied a goal by an outstanding Rogers save.
Adams enters the fray just after the hour and in doing so breaks the all-time appearance record for Hastings United. 570 and counting for the club captain. He attempts to mark the occasion with a cheeky long-range effort from halfway, the goalkeeper was off his line but Adams’ effort floats over the bar.
After the cut and thrust of the first-half it is little surprise the second-half cannot match the intensity. This has no impact on the two sets of raucous supporters who continue to make a racket for their team and exchange the usual banter.
There’s more stopping than starting with substitutions and injuries. There’s a long delay for Worrall who is stretchered off with what looks like an ankle injury.
Both sides go in search of what would surely be the winner. Chalmers heads wide from a free-kick before the visitors twice break quickly but are disarmed by the ‘U’s defence. In the final action, United want a penalty in the 97th minute when Freddie Legg is manhandled in the area, but their protests are waved away by the referee who brings the game to a conclusion. For the third season running United begin with a hard-earned point.
Full-time: Hastings United 1 – 1 Herne Bay
Man of the match: Ryan Worrall. Covered every blade of grass, was tenacious in the tackle and as always displayed a great range of passing. Crossed fingers his injury is not too serious.
The Manager’s View: Chris Agutter spoke to me after the game. “I’m happy to be up and running with a point on the board and minutes in the bank, and to have taken a point off a team I believe will be up there for promotion. We haven’t played for a couple of weeks and some of our players haven’t played for a month. Herne Bay were very good today, and we were short of where we can be, but we’ve got the scoreboard off and running and it’s important you don’t get beat when not at your best. The league will take ten to fifteen games to take shape.”
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Worrall (81’ Jenkins), Elphick, Stone, Chalmers, Dixon [c], Pope (67’ Legg), Hasler (62’ Adams), Goldsmith, Martin
Herne Bay: Perrin, Cooper, Parter, Harvey, Johnson, Phipp (79’ Lawrence), Aniduere, Antonio, Ansah, Ramadan (77’ McKenzie), Campbell (68’ Naiwo)
United goal: 4’ Martin
Herne Bay goal: 19’ Ramadan