Hastings United boss: Catching leaders will be tough

Sam Adams wins a header during Hastings United's 3-3 draw away to Phoenix Sports last weekend. Picture courtesy Scott White
Sam Adams wins a header during Hastings United's 3-3 draw away to Phoenix Sports last weekend. Picture courtesy Scott White

Hastings United Football Club manager Chris Agutter admits catching the league leaders will now be tough and is instead focusing on reaching a level of performance each match.

Second-placed Hastings are now 10 points behind Bostik League South East Division table-toppers Cray Wanderers, who won 2-0 at East Grinstead Town last weekend while Hastings conceded an added time goal to draw 3-3 away to Phoenix Sports.

Agutter said: “I think it’s tough. With a 10-point gap you’re looking at a four-game turnaround and there’s 16 games left to play. You’re asking Cray to lose four games and us to win every single game; it’s tough.

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“We’re not out of sight from Cray, even though a four-game turnaround is a tough ask. They’re everyone’s cup final at the moment and stranger things have happened.

“From our point of view we’re trying to concentrate on ourselves - not the winning side of it; with the young group we’ve got I think it can add too much pressure and expectation - but reaching a level of performance.

“We’re not talking too much about promotion or anything like that; it’s a case of keep looking to play at a certain standard and seeing where it takes us to be honest.”

Hastings, who are three points above third-placed Horsham, have a key game at home to fifth-placed Whyteleafe tomorrow (Saturday). Kick-off is 3pm.

Whyteleafe have beaten Hastings twice this season, including a 4-2 Buildbase FA Trophy victory at The Pilot Field in October.

“I think Whyteleafe are the best team we’ve played,” continued Agutter. “I think they’re a very good side, well-managed and well-coached. I’m pretty sure they will be in and around the play-offs. They’ve posed us more problems than any other team and it will be a tough ask.

“On their day Whyteleafe are as good as anyone in the league to be honest. They’ve not got as many household names if you like; they’re young, hungry, less established and they’ve come from nowhere a little bit. They’re making names for themselves and playing really well.

“In the previous two games they’ve been very effective. In the away game (which Hastings lost 2-0 after a first half red card) we haven’t really tested their goalkeeper. Off the back of that game we’ve looked at what we’re doing and introduced a couple of new ideas.

“We’ve definitely learnt from those two games, but either way it’s going to be another tough game. We don’t go into the game with any fear, but we’re very respectful of what they can do.”

Hastings, who have picked up 13 points from a possible 15, have no fresh injury concerns, although Sam Beale is likely to be sidelined for about another month.

Long-term injury victim Davide Rodari is back in full training and is approximately six weeks away from being available for selection.

Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 20-51 (+25 goal difference), 2 HASTINGS UNITED 20-41 (+22), 3 Horsham 20-38 (+14), 4 Ashford United 20-36 (+18), 5 Whyteleafe 20-35 (+18), 6 Haywards Heath Town 20-33 (+9), 7 Hythe Town 20-31 (+5), 8 VCD Athletic 19-31 (+3), 9 Sevenoaks Town 20-27 (-1), 10 Phoenix Sports 19-26 (+2).

Hastings United’s next five games: January 19 Whyteleafe (h), January 26 Herne Bay (a), February 2 Guernsey (h), February 5 Horsham (a), February 9 Whitstable Town (a).