Hastings United Football Club contested a hard-fought and eventful 2-2 draw at home to play-off rivals Ashford United this afternoon (Easter Monday).
Davide Rodari twice put Hastings ahead in a Bostik League South East Division third versus fourth encounter only for Ashford to equalise on both occasions.
In fact, Hastings were hanging on for point in the end after goalkeeper Louis Rogers was sent-off in the 89th minute of a match watched by the largest crowd at The Pilot Field this season.
See also: * Hastings United headline busy Easter Monday of football action
* Hastings United back up to third after convincing away win
* Every point vital in Hastings United promotion quest
* Hastings United play-off place confirmed
Hastings remain two points above Ashford in the table and the sides will meet again in the play-off semi-finals next Monday night - as long as Ashford avoid defeat in their last game of the regular season, at home to fifth-placed Haywards Heath Town, on Saturday. Horsham are guaranteed to finish runners-up.
With Ashford bringing a large - and very colourful - contingent of travelling supporters, there was a terrific atmosphere for Hastings’ final home fixture of the regular season on a warm bank holiday afternoon.
Sam Adams forced Ashford goalkeeper Sam Mott into a smart tip over with an early shot from outside the box before Hastings took a ninth minute lead. Sam Beale’s deep free kick from the right was knocked back across goal and turned in by Rodari.
Danny Parish had a shot blocked by Hastings defender Jack Tucker before Ashford levelled in the 19th minute. Jerald Aboagye came forward from right-back and rode a challenge in the Hastings box before slotting home at the near post.
Adams wasn’t far away from the top corner for Hastings, but at the other end, Afolabi Coker headed Toby Ajala’s corner wide at the far post and Josh Wisson’s header from Ajala’s free kick was comfortably saved by Rogers as Ashford started to get on top.
Jack Dixon sent a low shot from outside the box just wide and the first half ended level.
Hastings brought on Jamie Fielding for Hassan Ibrahiym at half time and within three minutes of the restart, the right-back headed wide after Dixon skilfully went past two opponents and crossed into the middle of the box.
The home side went back in front in the 57th minute. An Adams free kick from near the corner flag on the left was headed against the crossbar from close range by Daniel Ajakaiye before rebounding in off Rodari, who was again in the right place at the right time.
Hastings’ lead this time lasted just 11 minutes. Parish made it 2-2 with a tremendous 25-yard free kick over the wall and into the corner of the net, Rogers getting a hand to the ball diving to his left but unable to keep it out.
Ashford had the ball in the net again in the 75th minute, but Laurent Mendy’s header from a fine cross by Parish was ruled out for a push on a Hastings defender.
Although Ajakaiye headed wide after Dixon mishit two attempts at goal, Ashford were having more of the play on a day when Hastings were unable to gain their usual control of possession.
There was drama in the 89th minute. Hastings defender Gary Elphick left his back pass short, Ashford substitute Trey Williams intercepted and was brought down by Rogers just outside the box.
A red card for Rogers was inevitable and he will be suspended for the play-off semi-final as a result. With Adams having been substituted, his replacement Sam Cruttwell took over the gloves and Parish put the resulting free kick over the crossbar.
Ashford pushed for a winner during the five minutes of added time and Williams hit the side-netting with a left-footed shot from just outside the box, with some in the ground thinking it was in, but Hastings survived to make it seven games unbeaten.
Hastings: Rogers, Beale, Elphick, Rodari (Azeez 57), Lovatt, Ajakaiye, Adams (Cruttwell 73), Mongoy, Tucker, Ibrahiym (Fielding HT), Dixon. Subs not used: Black, Stevenson. Attendance: 910.
Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 35-79 (+42 goal difference), 2 Horsham 36-74 (+35), 3 HASTINGS UNITED 35-67 (+31), 4 Ashford United 35-65 (+33), 5 Haywards Heath Town 35-63 (+18), 6 VCD Athletic 35-59 (+6), 7 Hythe Town 35-52 (+9), 8 Whyteleafe 35-49 (+9), 9 Sevenoaks Town 35-47 (-3), 10 Phoenix Sports 35-46 (-3).