Hastings United Football Club’s place in the end-of-season promotion play-offs was confirmed after a high scoring draw this afternoon (Saturday). United were all but assured of finishing in the final Ryman Football League Division One South play-off spot of fifth anyway, but they made absolutely sure with a 3-3 draw at home to Chipstead on the final day of the regular season.
It meant United finished a point above sixth-placed Carshalton Athletic, who won 3-1 at home to East Grinstead Town, and with a vastly superior goal difference.
United will visit Dorking Wanderers in the play-off semi-finals on Tuesday night. Dorking finished second to champions Tooting & Mitcham United on goal difference after beating them 1-0 this afternoon.
United manager Darren Hare made five changes from the side which drew 4-4 at Lewes on Easter Monday. Dan Rose was given an opportunity in goal, and fellow youngsters Johnny Akoto, Bradley Pritchard and Ollie Black lined up in an unfamiliar-looking defence.
In all, nine players from United’s academy squad were included in the matchday squad and seven of them played a part in the game, including debuts for substitutes George Morton-Davage and Kane Penn.
The likes of Frannie Collin, Matt Bodkin, Ryan Nicholls, Simon Johnson, Jerrome Sobers and Ollie Rowe were given the afternoon off to rest up ahead of the play-offs.
United came flying out of the blocks and fashioned three goalscoring opportunities in the opening five minutes. Danny Leonard blazed over from just inside the box after just 65 seconds before Harry Stannard clipped the top of the crossbar at the end of a lovely move involving Kiernan Hughes-Mason and Leonard. Shomari Barnwell then went through, but was denied by Chipstead goalkeeper Luke Colquhoun as he tried to round him.
United quickly lost their way, though, and were second best for the remainder of the first half. Dylan Cascoe fired over United’s crossbar from 15 yards and Jason Henry might have done better with a header when well placed.
Chipstead opened the scoring in the 24th minute. A deft touch from Chris O’Flaherty put Cascoe through on goal and he finished coolly into the corner of the net.
Cascoe then volleyed just wide of the near post from Callum Maclean’s cross, while Callum Emptage blasted over from just outside the D at the other end.
Chipstead were whiskers away from doubling their lead when Leon Lalor-Dell struck the far post with a terrific angled shot and United swiftly equalised in first half added time. Barnwell played a lovely defence-splitting pass for Hughes-Mason to run on to and slot past Colquhoun.
United stepped up a couple of gears during the third quarter of a topsyturvy match and two goals in the space of three minutes shortly before the hour mark seemingly put them in charge.
Hughes-Mason put United ahead in the 58th minute, latching on to Emptage’s ball over the top and, as the offside flag stayed down, coolly lifting his finish over Colquhoun.
Two minutes later it was 3-1. Stannard played Leonard in through the inside left channel and he showed good composure to round Colquhoun before finishing beyond the covering defenders on the goal-line.
Chipstead pulled one back, however, 10 minutes later. Rose came for, but didn’t get his fist to a left wing corner and substitute Karl Parker headed home.
United had a let-off when Jason Henry failed to find Parker after Sam Cruttwell was uncharacteristically caught in possession on the edge of the box. At the other end, Barnwell shot tamely at Colquhoun having done superbly to work the opening for himself.
Chipstead levelled things up in the 80th minute. A cross from the home left struck the arm of Akoto and O’Flaherty made no mistake with the resulting penalty.
United almost nabbed a slightly fortunate late winner, but Colquhoun managed to scramble across to his right to palm away a Cruttwell free kick which took a big deflection off the wall.
United: Rose, Akoto (Morton-Davage 82), Black, Emptage, Cruttwell, Pritchard, Hughes-Mason (Kieran 62), Leonard, Barnwell, Stevenson (Penn HT), Stannard. Subs not used: Mbiya-Kalambayi, Dullaway. Attendance: 536.
Ryman Division One South top 10 (all played 46 matches): 1 Tooting & Mitcham United 105pts (+66 goal difference), 2 Dorking Wanderers 105 (+59), 3 Greenwich Borough 95 (+50), 4 Corinthian-Casuals 93 (+40), 5 HASTINGS UNITED 82 (+64), 6 Carshalton Athletic 81 (+37), 7 Hythe Town 78 (+22), 8 South Park 76 (+15), 9 Lewes 76 (+13), 10 Faversham Town 74 (+31).
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