Hastings United vs Cray Valley PM – Isthmian League
Hastings United and league leaders Cray Valley were finally separated in the 96th minute of a feisty encounter when the visitors scored the winner with a hotly disputed goal. After a goalless first-half it was Cray who opened the scoring five minutes after the restart, Francis Babalola with a composed finish at the back post. But just as they threatened to take the game away United responded, equalising through the head of Jack Dixon. With five minutes remaining Sam Adams saw a volley tipped over by Cray’s goalkeeper Chris Lewington. Then as we entered the sixth minute of added time, controversy. United’s Ollie Black looks to be shoved in the back and loses out to Marcel Barrington, there’s no decision from the officials, and Barrington’s pass is struck home by Ade Adeyemo. United’s remonstrations fell on deaf ears and the visitors headed home with all three points.
Saturday 13th November, a mild and dry day with light cloud and a gentle breeze. The floodlights are already on for a 3pm kick-off. This is Gary Elphick’s first game in charge following his appointment as the new United manager on Wednesday. He’s also back in the starting line-up after missing the last few games though the ‘U’s defence continues to be disrupted, this time by the absence of Craig Stone. Before the game there’s a series of appearance awards handed out. To Dixon for 250, to Kenny Pogue for 200 and to Black for 100. United are decked out in their home kit of claret shirts with white shorts and socks. The Millers meanwhile are in all royal blue. In the two most recent games between these sides neither has managed a goal.
The visitors get the game underway though it is United who make the better start. Marcus Goldsmith’s accurate pass down the right touchline releases Lanre Azeez for the first of a series of early crosses into the Cray penalty area. Indeed it is a positive opening for United without creating a clear-cut chance.
It takes 15 minutes before Cray do anything other than defend. A pass into the feet of Barrington gives him the chance to turn and shoot but it’s a comfortable save for Louis Rogers. Otherwise United are the team controlling possession, but they are being let down by the final ball. Three or four times they manoeuvre their way into a promising position only to overhit or misplace a pass.
The best chance of the first-half arrives on 30 minutes. A Black long throw is only half cleared and Dixon toe-pokes a shot in a crowded penalty area, there are half-hearted shouts for a penalty before the ball is cleared, but instead it’s another Black throw. This time the ball drops at Dixon’s feet and he strikes it well, but he’s falling backwards and his shot from 10 yards flies a few feet over the bar.
United are certainly getting the ball into the box at the earliest opportunity and as half-time approaches this time it’s Dave Martin whose cross is cleared to Sam Hasler, he shoots low and hard but wide of the far post.
The half-time whistle arrives with neither goal breached. United have had the better of the game and have put themselves into good positions on numerous occasions only to waste the chance through over eagerness.
Half-time: Hastings United 0 – 0 Cray Valley
United kick-off toward their fans in the Steve Smith Stand and create a shooting chance in the opening minutes. Azeez and Ben Pope set up Ryan Worrall, but he’s quickly closed down as he’s shooting and fires high and wide.
A few minutes later Cray create their own chance but again they shoot straight at Rogers. But the visitors have momentum, back they come and this time a low cross from the right is allowed to travel all the way to the far post to Babalola who cuts inside the defender and although faced with a tight angle manages to stroke a shot into the far bottom corner. A deadlock lasting two and a half games is finally broken.
Cray immediately look to double their advantage and are pinging the ball around at pace. Hassan Ibrahiym attempts an ambitious volley which goes wide before they win a corner which is headed well off target.
United then switch from back foot to front foot. Left-back Kane Penn instigates the move evading the attention of his marker on the left touchline. He frees Martin whose initial cross is cleared but the ball is worked back to Penn and onto Martin again, this time the cross is met by Dixon who places a header back across goal and into the corner.
At this point there’s a period of scrappy play with minor fouls disrupting the game. Cray’s Connor Dymond wrestles Pope to the floor and pins him down. The referee has a word with his assistant, but the upshot is just a word with both captains and a United freekick.
Fouls, freekicks and substitutions eat up 15 minutes then Worrall hits a 40 yard pass out wide to Azeez. His cross is cleared but United recycle the ball through Worrall and Azeez again. This time the cross allows Tom Chalmers to shoot, blocked by a defender and the ball drops on the edge of the area to Adams whose volley is goal-bound until Lewington acrobatically tips the shot over the bar.
Due to all the stoppages there are six minutes of added time and as we enter the final minute Cray steal a win. A ball down the right is contested by Black and Barrington. The defender reaches the ball first, takes a touch and is knocked off-balance by the forward. There’s no whistle and the referee’s assistant is also unmoved. Barrington lays a pass into the path of the arriving Ade Adeyemo and his shot from the edge of the area wrong foots Rogers.
Despite several United players submitting protests they are futile, the goal is awarded, and Adams is subsequently shown a red card for his final summing up of the referee’s decision.
There’s no doubt Cray are good side and league leaders on merit. For United, they put in an excellent performance and deserved at least a point, but the rub of the green seems to have temporarily deserted them.
Full-time: Hastings United 1 – 2 Cray Valley
Hastings United: Rogers, Black, Worrall, Elphick, Penn, Dixon, Pope, Hasler (Adams 73’), Goldsmith (Chalmers 55’), Azeez (Legg 88’), Martin
Cray Valley: Lewington, Dymond, Blanks, Tumkaya, Gayle, Sammoutis, Barrington, Babalola (Adeyemo 66’), Brefo, A-Warren, Hill (Ompreon 90’)
United goal: Dixon (58’)
Cray Valley goals: Babalola (50’), Adeyemo (90’)