Hastings United Football Club moved back up to third place following a comfortable away victory this afternoon (Saturday).
First half goals by Davide Rodari and Lanre Azeez followed by a second half strike from Daniel Ajakaiye gave Chris Agutter’s side a 3-0 win against Sittingbourne.
Hastings remain five points behind second-placed Horsham with a game in hand, and are now two points above fourth-placed Ashford United and six above fifth-placed Haywards Heath Town.
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The teams placed second to fifth at the end of the season will go into the play-offs, and those finishing second and third will have home ties in the semi-finals.
Agutter made three changes to his starting line-up from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to Hythe Town. Rodari came in for Ajakaiye up-front, while Ollie Black played at left-back in the absence of Sam Beale and Jamie Fielding returned at right-back with Azeez moving further forward. Jordy Mongoy dropped to the bench.
On a hot and sunny Easter afternoon, there were no real chances at either end during the opening quarter of the match, although 16th-placed Sittingbourne were starting to peg Hastings back slightly.
Two goals in six minutes, however, put Hastings in charge. Rodari gave Hastings a 25th minute lead when he rose above everybody else at the far post to head home from a corner.
Azeez made it 2-0 with a splendid solo goal. After picking up possession midway inside Sittingbourne’s half, Azeez ran past three opponents before slotting beyond home goalkeeper Patrick Lee.
Sittingbourne enjoyed a little bit of pressure for the next five or 10 minutes, but Hastings got through to half time with their two-goal cushion still in tact.
The home side also began the second period brightly, yet Hastings again stood firm and goalkeeper Louis Rogers tipped a free kick over the crossbar.
Hastings effectively wrapped up the points with a third goal in the 65th minute. After a neat build up involving several players, Ajakaiye shimmied past an opponent in the left-hand side of the area before firing past the goalkeeper.
It was very straightforward for the visitors thereafter and only some fine saves from Lee in the home goal, notably an incredible triple stop from Sam Cruttwell, Mongoy and Sam Adams, prevented them adding to their tally.
There were some very good performances in the away ranks, notably from Adam Lovatt, Adams, Rodari and Azeez, who was arguably the pick of the bunch.
Hastings have now won five and drawn one of their last six matches, scoring 15 goals and conceding four.
Their two remaining fixtures in the regular season are at home to Ashford on Monday and away to second-from-bottom Greenwich Borough next Saturday.
Hastings: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Rodari (Mongoy 76), Lovatt, Adams, Tucker, Stevenson (Ajakaiye 64), Fielding, Azeez, Dixon (Cruttwell 66). Subs not used: Howlett-Mundle, Horlock. Attendance: 264.
Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 34-79 (+43 goal difference), 2 Horsham 35-71 (+34), 3 HASTINGS UNITED 34-66 (+31), 4 Ashford United 34-64 (+33), 5 Haywards Heath Town 34-60 (+15), 6 VCD Athletic 34-56 (+4), 7 Hythe Town 34-51 (+9), 8 Whyteleafe 34-49 (+11), 9 Phoenix Sports 34-46 (-1), 10 Sevenoaks Town 34-44 (-4).