Phoenix Sports vs Hastings United – Isthmian League
Forward Kenny Pogue continued his excellent goal-scoring form in plundering a virtuoso hat-trick in United’s 4 – 2 victory away at bottom club Phoenix Sports. Another three goals today made it seven in the last five games, and eight in total for the season for King Kenny. Two clinical strikes in the opening 12 minutes put the ‘U’s firmly in control only for Phoenix to pull a goal back and stay within touching distance until Lanre Azeez looked to have secured the points with just ten minutes to go. Phoenix though kept plugging away and scored again with minutes remaining but Pogue’s third, a penalty in the final seconds of added time, ensured another away day win.
Saturday 23rd October, a 3pm kick-off. Man, it’s chilly. The ground is fully open to the elements and while it’s dry there’s a light yet cold wind. The grass on the sloping pitch needs a visit from a lawnmower and the surrounding fence is so low the ball boys, if there were any, would need to be on the opposite side in readiness to fetch the ball after every clearance. Ben Pope returns from suspension for the ‘U’s with Ryan Worrall continuing alongside Craig Stone at the back. Kane Penn also fills in at right-back for the injured Marcus Goldsmith. United have returned to their claret shirts with white shorts and socks while Phoenix wear forest green shirts with black shorts and socks.
United get the game underway and are immediately on the front-foot. Within three minutes, a trademark Ollie Black long throw is cleared back to him and the return cross is met by the head of Pope, a twist of the neck muscles produces the power but not the direction and the ball flies over the bar. Two more throw-ins follow, and Phoenix are penned in. Another throw is flicked on by Pogue just out of Jack Dixon’s reach but he’s able to retrieve the ball which gives Hasler the room to cross to Pogue who has time to control and fire home from 10 yards.
Minutes later Azeez and Dixon both have shots blocked before the ‘U’s positive start is further rewarded. Black’s throw is misjudged by the goalkeeper, the ball goes over his head, and Pope’s shot is cleared off the line, but United regain possession and a chance falls to Pogue again, and once more he troubles the back of the net, this time slamming the ball home from the angle.
Only 12 minutes in and both sets of supporters might be thinking this is the start of a comfortable win for the visitors, but they are mistaken. From the restart Phoenix attack down the right, the referee plays the advantage when he could have blown for handball, and only a save by the on-rushing Louis Rogers prevents the home side from scoring. Then Phoenix do benefit for not letting their heads drop when Alfie Evans breaks forward, rides a tackle to get himself one on one with Rogers but instead of shooting chooses the wiser option with a sideways pass to give Henry Ikeije a tap in.
Back come United. Azeez’s deep cross has Pope and a defender challenging for the ball a few yards out at the far post, but neither makes proper contact and the ball is cleared. Pope’s header from a corner is then cleared off the line by the defender guarding the post. Chances continue to arrive for the ‘U’s. Dixon wins a challenge on the edge of the Phoenix area which gives Black a crossing opportunity, a defender misdirects a clearing header and Pope is in again, but his shot is saved by the goalkeeper’s legs. Frustration for United’s number 9.
With half-time approaching there’s also frustration for Phoenix’s number 9. A deep cross floats over the head of Black and Jeff Duah-Kessie has the goal in his sights only for Black to quickly recover and deflect Duah-Kessie’s shot over the bar.
The referee ends the half and a combination of United taking their foot off the gas and Phoenix producing a spirited display means the scoreline is much closer than expected after the ‘U’s explosive opening.
Half-time: Phoenix Sports 1 – 2 Hastings United
There’s nothing cagey about the start of the second-half either. Phoenix win a corner in the opening 20 seconds which is cleared and Sam Hasler breaks for United. He’s tackled but stubbornly refuses to yield, wins the ball back and plays a brilliant cross-field pass to free Azeez who is chopped down on the very edge of the area. This is Hasler territory, but his flashing drive flies inches over the bar.
Pogue then has the opportunity to score a third but for the first time in a long while he skews a shot wide after being set up by Pope. As we head toward the hour mark another Black throw brings another chance for the ‘U’s. Stone’s head flicks the ball into the path of Hasler who hammers a shot against the upright, the frame of the goal shakes for a good five minutes. United win back possession and win a free-kick from which the ubiquitous Black has a header saved.
We reach the midway point in the second-half and while United are creating chances and Rogers hasn’t been tested, there’s still only one goal in it. Phoenix may be propping up the table, but they are not a team who are getting turned over every week so United cannot afford to be complacent.
United continue to utilise Black’s long throws into the area, but Phoenix’s goalkeeper has wised up and is now coming out to collect or punch to clear the danger. Yet, it is Black’s quick thinking which almost creates the third goal United are seeking. A throw from his own half drifts over the centre-half’s head and Pope is bearing down on goal, the ball though will not settle and by the time he shoots the defender has recovered and manages to deflect the shot away.
Only seven minutes remain when the ‘U’s finally give themselves the comfort of a two-goal cushion. It’s created by another Black throw-in, and he’s learnt from earlier, this time sending the ball out of the goalkeepers reach onto Stone’s head. The ball drops to Pope in the six-yard box and he’s surrounded by defenders but manages to keep possession then lay the ball into the path of Azeez who rattles a first-time shot into the bottom corner.
Time for United to make some substitutions but as before Phoenix don’t know when they’re beaten. With three minutes remaining they move the ball from left to right and a low cross is poked home by Byron Walker from close-range. With a few minutes of added time to come, this game is not yet done.
The home side have sight on an unlikely draw and with 60 seconds remaining they are back in the United area but Black’s tackle and Rogers’ claim from the next cross looks to be enough, yet there’s time for one last United attack. Pogue heads on for James Hull who makes a dash into the area and is shoved from behind. The referee doesn’t hesitate and points to the spot, and there’s only one man for the job. Step forward King Kenny to send the goalkeeper the wrong way and complete a deserved hat-trick.
Full-time: Phoenix Sports 2 – 4 Hastings United
United climb the table to sixth with games in hand. They’ve won ten out of the last eleven games and have only played at home three times in that sequence. It’s a tremendous run of performances on the road. Thankfully, after three consecutive away games, the ‘U’s next action is Tuesday night’s league game at the Pilot Field where the visitors are third placed Ashford United.
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Worrall, Stone, Dixon, Pope (Hull 84’), Adams [c], Hasler (Bates 85’), Pogue, Azeez (Legg 90’), Penn
Phoenix Sports: Phillips, Clark, Whitelock (Keeble 90’), Fitchett, Sargent, Evans, Andrews, Bird, Duah-Kessie (Walker 77’), Dyer, Ikeije (Osidek 78’)
United goals: Pogue (7’, 12’, 90’), Azeez (81’)
Phoenix goals: Ikeije (21’), Walker (87’)