Pope double helps uproot Sevenoaks

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Sevenoaks vs Hastings United – Isthmian League

Hastings United made it three wins on the bounce with an emphatic 4 – 1 dismantling of Sevenoaks on their home ‘turf’. Before the game manager Chris Agutter described the surface as a ‘tight 3G pitch which I hate.’ Even so, the United players seemed to enjoy playing on it. Gary Elphick opened the scoring from close-range after 10 minutes before Ben Pope headed the first of his brace midway through the first-half. The ‘U’s created numerous chances but reached half-time only two goals to the good. Sevenoaks tried to get themselves back into the game but Sam Hasler’s free-kick and Pope’s second either side of Hayden Skerry’s consolation completed the scoring.

Saturday 11th September, a 3pm kick-off in warm sunshine and beneath azure skies. The ‘heatwave’ aftermath serving up a complete contrast to the rainathon of United’s last visit to this ground. The home side are in blue/black striped shirts with black shorts and socks, while United are in their home kit of claret shirts with white shorts and socks.

Under the September sun United start brightly. Dave Martin runs past two defenders and wins an early corner which is hit deep to the far post, Elphick stretches and hooks a shot just wide. Minutes later Hasler’s free-kick is parried by the goalkeeper before Pope’s shot is deflected for a corner. After a positive opening 10 minutes United earn their reward. Martin’s inswinging corner is met by Tom Chalmers’ header which is well blocked by the goalkeeper, but that man Elphick is quickest to react, thrashing the ball into the roof of the net.

From the restart United win the ball back and Pope’s shot has the sting taken out of it allowing the ‘keeper to save but the bit is well and truly between the visitors teeth. Hasler’s pass and movement with Martin creates a shooting opportunity which flies a yard wide. Hasler and Pope repeat the dose only for Hasler to stand on the ball inside the area with only the ‘keeper in front of him.

At this point Sevenoaks have managed a header wide and a spurious penalty claim for handball, otherwise it’s been all United. The home side do then break down the left and Louis Collins gets a shot away, on target but easily saved by Louis Rogers. Back come the ‘U’s and Sam Adams fires over from eight yards after the Oaks’ goalkeeper fluffs his punch. Three good chances have come and gone for United to double their advantage, will they regret it? No, is the answer. Adams is rapidly into a tackle in midfield and frees Martin down the left, his first-time cross is simply perfect for the arriving Pope who clinically heads into the bottom corner.

Midway through the first-half and United are more than worthy of their two-goal cushion. They’re in control, their movement is excellent, and chances are being created. Sevenoaks are being restricted to scraps. On the half-hour we even have a drinks break, it is that warm.

The impromptu team-talk almost has an immediate impact on the Oaks. For the first time they keep the ball down and to feet and play their way down the right. A flick-on releases Stefan Wright and he slips a shot past Rogers, but Marcus Goldsmith is well-placed to clear the danger from inside the six-yard area.

Shaken by this, United look keen for a third, something to make the half-time oranges taste sweeter. Chalmers flicks a shot over the bar after Ollie Black’s long throw lands at his feet. Martin then delivers another quality cross which Chalmers heads over. Perhaps he jumped a fraction too early and was on his way down when the ball arrived. Still there’s time for one final chance. Pope wins a header before playing a one-two with Hasler whose shot is saved.

The whistle blows. An excellent 45 minutes from the ‘U’s who are leading by two albeit they’ve also left half a dozen good chances off the scoresheet.

Half-time: Sevenoaks 0 – 2 Hastings United

Sevenoaks are out early, their ears ringing no doubt and United can surely expect a response from a home side hoping there’s a way back into the game. Hopes quickly extinguished. Pope is fouled a yard outside the penalty area which is prime Hasler territory. Struck magnificently left-footed, curled over the wall and high into the goal. Not quite postage stamp top corner but sufficiently out of the goalkeepers reach.

The United fans are thoroughly enjoying their day out in the sunshine and those behind the goal absolutely loved watching Hasler’s shot bulge the net. Not our good friend George though, who has chosen the wrong game to miss!

There’s then an opportunity to put the game to bed. Chalmers superbly controls a long ball on his chest and into the path of Pope who blasts a foot over from 12 yards. Sevenoaks seem to realise it’s now or never and fashion a chance for Kyle De Silva to shoot from 10 yards. He doesn’t quite catch it and Rogers is able to save. Moments later another shot is deflected for a corner. The Oaks keep coming forward, down the left they travel, and the ball is pulled back to the edge of the area for Skerry to fire home left-footed into the top corner. An excellent finish giving Rogers no chance.

Suddenly there’s belief. In their midweek FA Cup replay Sevenoaks were 3 – 0 up with 30 minutes remaining and still lost 3 – 4, so they know first-hand the game is not yet up. A mad scramble in the United area requires two blocks and a last-ditch tackle to prevent the Oaks reducing the arrears to just one goal.

A few minutes of end-to-end follows with neither side troubling the penalty area. Martin is booked for an innocuous foul in the centre-circle and quite rightly questions the difference when Chalmers is fouled in the identical manner without even a free-kick being awarded. To add insult, the referee ticks Martin off for his protest.

The Sevenoaks revival has not materialised and the final nail in the coffin is hammered in by Pope. A trademark Black long throw finds Kenny Pogue who heads across the goal, Adams helps it onto Pope who, seemingly in one movement, controls with his back to goal, turns, finds half a yard and scores low in the corner. In the blink of an eye United have their fourth.

The game ends on a slightly sour note when Wright suffers a head injury in the final moments. The referee sensibly ends the game so he can receive proper attention, and thankfully the word is he’s OK.

Full-time: Sevenoaks 1 – 4 Hastings United

Man of the match: The whole team! Back to front everyone was top drawer. Passing with alacrity and precision they created enough chances to win two or three games. The replacements too slotted in without disrupting United’s shape or ascendency. Also worthy of a mention is Hasler and Pope have now scored for the third consecutive game and are joint top scorers with five goals.

Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Chalmers, Dixon, Pope (Hull 84’), Adams, Hasler (Azeez 73’), Goldsmith, Jenkins, Martin (Pogue 75’)

Sevenoaks: Bridle-Card, Divine, Cooney, Cabune, Tennent, Gunner (Skerry 59’), De Silva, Wright, Thompson (Bah 78’), Collins, Davisson (Walsh 34’)

United goals: Elphick (10’), Pope (22’, 80’), Hasler (49’)
Sevenoaks goal: Skerry (62’)

Attendance: 206

Bob Quinn
Twitter: @BobJQuinn