Hastings United Football Club was knocked out of the Buildbase FA Trophy after a dramatic conclusion to this afternoon’s (Saturday’s) first round qualifying tie at home to Ashford Town (Middx).
Bostik League Division One South side Hastings looked set to earn a replay when they scored in the third minute of added time to level at 3-3 only to concede a minute later and lose 4-3 against opposition from the equivalent-standing Evo-Stik League South East Division.
As expected, Hastings manager Chris Agutter injected more youth into the side. Ansu Janneh and Davide Rodari were promoted to the starting line-up, and Tyler Scrafton was brought up from the development squad to become the latest player to be used at right-back.
Rhys Whyborne returned after missing the midweek league defeat to Thamesmead Town with a back problem and Sam Adams took over the captain’s armband in the absence of Simon Johnson. Sam Beale was also missing.
On a lovely looking pitch at The Pilot Field, Hastings got off to the worst possible start by falling behind inside two minutes. Romario Jonas drilled a brilliant shot from the right-hand side of the area into the far top corner.
Kenny Pogue’s volley while stretching to reach a Sam Cruttwell cross went into the arms of Ashford goalkeeper Tyler Tobin before the visitors doubled their advantage in the 21st minute. Jack Beadle got on the end of a ball over the top on the away left and pulled it back for Max Webb to neatly side-foot into the bottom corner from just inside the box.
Things looked grim for Hastings at that stage, but instead of folding, they showed commendable spirit to fight their back into what became a good contest.
They pulled a goal back in the 29th minute when one of Ollie Black’s remarkably long throws was glanced into the net off the head of Ashford defender Russell Canderton.
Hastings appeared visibly lifted by the goal and there was a marked improvement in their performance thereafter.
Pogue’s angled shot following a good ball by Cruttwell and then an Adams free kick were pushed aside by Tobin diving to his left. Hastings had a let-off at the other end, though, as Beadle blazed over with only Horlock to beat having been played in by Dan Fleming.
Hastings remained on the front foot into the second half, winning several corners and free kicks in promising areas without really coming close to an equaliser.
At the other end, Horlock produced a superb save when Fleming seemed almost certain to score from James Cottee’s headed knockdown and Beadle shot wide of the far post with only Horlock to beat.
Ashford restored their two-goal cushion with a well-worked goal on the counter-attack in the 67th minute. Tom Brunton slipped a good ball through to Beadle, who worked space for a shot and drove into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.
Hastings got back to 3-2 in the 81st minute when Janneh, who had an impressive game in midfield, rose well to head home from Jack Dixon’s left wing corner.
As the clock ticked into added time, Ashford were reduced to 10 men as substitute Yahya El-Khabouche, who had only been on the pitch 10 minutes, was shown a second yellow card for chopping up Black.
After Cruttwell’s 30-yard strike whistled just wide, Hastings conjured up what had seemed an unlikely equaliser. Ollie Rowe kept the ball alive at a corner and his cross-shot from near the byeline on the right deflected into the net.
Hastings’ good work to get back on terms was immediately undone, however, as Dixon was caught in possession 25 yards from his own goal and Beadle advanced to the edge of the box before rolling his shot into the bottom corner.
Dixon tried his best to make amends by bringing a save out of Tobin with a shot from the edge of the box, but when the final whistle eventually sounded after eight minutes of added time, it was Ashford who were celebrating a place in the next round of the national non-league competition.
Hastings: Horlock, Scrafton (Vickers 87), Black, Dixon, Whyborne, Rowe, Rodari, Janneh, Pogue, Adams (Lovatt 78), Cruttwell. Subs not used: Akoto, Curran, Rogers. Attendance: 299.