Hastings United Football Club has avoided relegation on the final day of the season.
The U’s earned the point they needed to make sure of preserving their Ryman Football League Division One South status with a 2-2 draw away to Walton & Hersham this afternoon (Saturday).
In the end, though, the result didn’t matter because East Grinstead Town - who had to win their last game to stand any chance of avoiding the third and final relegation place - were beaten away to Whitstable Town.
Despite the relief at staying up, United will have been disappointed not to have ended a troubled campaign with a victory having thrown away a 2-0 lead in the final half-an-hour.
Tyrell Richardson-Brown gave them a half time lead and Steve Brinkhurst doubled United’s advantage just after the hour, but strikes by Dylan Cascoe and James Cottee rescued a point for Walton.
United manager Nigel Kane stuck with the same starting XI which beat high-riding Faversham Town the previous weekend, meaning experienced duo Ade Olorunda and Richard Rose had to settle for places among the substitutes on their return from suspension.
On a bobbly dustbowl of a pitch which was so far removed from the pristine surface United are used to at The Pilot Field, the visitors bossed the first half and their single goal lead was the least they deserved.
The goal came from a well-worked move in the 24th minute. Josh Jirbandey played a fine ball out to Marlon Patterson on the left and he controlled superbly before playing a dangerous ball across goal. Sam Adams met it with a side-foot volley which was parried by goalkeeper Gary Ross and Richardson-Brown stabbed in the loose ball.
Prior to that Richardson-Brown had headed wide from an Adams cross and seen another header saved by Ross after a long kick by United goalkeeper Josh Pelling sailed over the home defence.
United came agonisingly close to doubling their advantage in the 33rd minute. Adams twisted and turned his way into a shooting position before striking the crossbar from inside the D.
The visitors were slow to get going at the start of the second half and Brinkhurst had to hack the ball away from near the goal-line when a corner was headed goalwards, although Adams nodded wide from a Richardson-Brown cross at the other end.
United went 2-0 up in the 64th minute as Richardson-Brown’s cross from the right was turned home by Brinkhurst at the near post despite the goalkeeper’s efforts to keep it out.
At that point United appeared to be cruising to victory, but Walton pulled one back three minutes later with their first real chance of the game. Jack Battie’s low cross from the right made its way through to substitute Cascoe, who drilled a first time shot past Pelling.
Walton captain Vernon Francis got back to make a goal-saving tackle on a clean through Richardson-Brown, who got through so much running in an impressive display, moments before a well-struck shot by Olalekan Bankole went straight at Ross.
Cottee’s shot from outside the box was well held by Pelling, but the same player snatched an 82nd minute equaliser with a header from Battie’s left wing corner which had just too much on it for Pelling to keep out.
Things had looked bleak for United just a few weeks ago, yet a fine finish to the season with 10 points from their last five matches meant a potentially disastrous campaign in the end was just a hugely disappointing one.
United: Pelling, Hanifan, Cruttwell, Bankole, Ray, Jirbandey, Brinkhurst, Logan (Foster 83), Richardson-Brown, Adams (T. Olorunda 65), Patterson. Subs not used: Turner, A. Olorunda, Rose. Attendance: 196.
Ryman Division One South bottom six final standings (all played 46 matches): 19 HASTINGS UNITED 48pts, 20 Carshalton Athletic 48, 21 Ramsgate 48, 22 East Grinstead Town 45, 23 Redhill 41, 24 Horsham 36.