Hastings United Football Club missed out on a place in the season-ending promotion play-offs after being beaten at home this afternoon (Saturday).
The U’s went into the final day of the Ryman Football League Division One South campaign knowing a win against Herne Bay would secure a top five finish.
But they failed to make the most of the opportunity as a 2-1 defeat meant they finished seventh, with the final play-off place going to Faversham Town.
United did take the lead in the 43rd minute through Sam Cole, but conceded twice from set-pieces during the remainder of the first half as they lost for the first time in six matches.
The U’s made two changes from the side which drew 2-2 at Ramsgate last weekend, Sean Ray replacing Jerome Smith at centre-half and Liam Wilson coming in at left-back with Chris Cumming-Bart dropping to the bench.
United looked the better side during the opening 45 minutes at an unseasonably chilly Pilot Field, albeit without creating many opportunities.
They did have the ball in the net after just six minutes, but Jack McLean’s far post volley from a Sam Cruttwell cross was disallowed for offside - the third goal United have had chalked off by a linesman’s flag in two games.
McLean’s afternoon came to a premature end four minutes later when he twisted his knee as he tried to keep the ball in play and was in agony as he was stretchered away.
There was no further incident of note until Cole scored his 18th goal of the season with an excellent looping header from a floated Richard Davies cross, despite the best efforts of Bay goalkeeper Jack Delo to scramble back and claw the ball out.
Bay equalised, however, in the third minute of added time. Danny Walder delivered an inswinging free kick from the away left which beat everyone in a crowded penalty area and nestled in the far corner of the net.
The visitors took the lead two minutes later. Joe Nelder’s shot from 15 yards was tipped over by United goalkeeper Joe Taylor, but the resulting inswinging corner from the right was turned into his own net by Cruttwell.
Although Cole ballooned a shot well over and Ollie Rowe’s firm angled drive was parried by Delo, United struggled to build any momentum during the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
They did manage to mount some pressure during the next quarter-of-an-hour and spurned a couple of glorious opportunities to equalise, which could have set up a dramatic finale.
Bay somehow survived when Rowe, Tyrell Richardson-Brown and Zac Attwood all had shots either saved by Delo or blocked on the line in a matter of seconds. Richardson-Brown then volleyed over from three yards after great work by Adams and at that point you got the feeling it wasn’t going to be United’s day.
Prior to that, Sean Ray headed whiskers wide from an Adams corner, Davies headed into Delo’s arms from a Cruttwell long throw and Bright Temba blasted over following a long ball into the box.
After Sam Hallett shot wide of the far post in Bay’s only attempt of note during the second half, United had one last chance in added time when Davies poked wide following a great run and cross by man of the match Cruttwell.
Players from both sides clashed after the final whistle as Bay completed a league ‘double’ over a United side which ended the season with 99 league goals.
Faversham won their final game 4-0 at home to Hythe Town and Corinthian-Casuals won 1-0 at home to Three Bridges despite yesterday’s three-point deduction to finish sixth.
Faversham will go to second-placed Dorking Wanderers and Hythe will visit Worthing in the play-off semi-finals on Tuesday night, with the two winners advancing to contest the final next Saturday.
United: Taylor, Davies, Wilson, Johnson, Ray, Rowe, Cole, Adams, Attwood, Cruttwell, McLean (Temba 11 (Richardson-Brown 68)). Subs not used: Cumming-Bart, Welch, Smith. Attendance: 570.
Ryman Division One South top seven (all played 46 matches): 1 Folkestone Invicta 114pts, 2 Dorking Wanderers 90, 3 Worthing 88, 4 Hythe Town 87, 5 Faversham Town 83, 6 Corinthian-Casuals 82, 7 HASTINGS UNITED 81.