Hastings United Football Club manager Chris Agutter says the pressure is on leaders Cray Wanderers approaching the turn of the year in the battle for Bostik League South East Division glory.
Hastings returned to second place courtesy of a 1-0 win at home to Sevenoaks Town on Boxing Day and they trail Cray by 11 points having played a game less.
Cray scored an 88th minute winner to triumph by the same score away to Sevenoaks on Saturday.
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Agutter said: “I think if anyone had said we would be second at the turn of the year in touching distance of Cray, whose form has dipped and we’re on an upward curve but we’ve still got so much room for improvement, I think everyone would be pretty pleased.
“The pressure’s on Cray. Cray have come up just short the last couple of years. Everyone chasing Cray knows they’ve got a track record when they’re getting chased of not seeing it through.
“We’ve got a young group of players, an excellent group of players that’s only improving, whereas Cray are slightly more established with a few heavyweight players for this division.
“We’ve got to keep going about our business and wait for them to drop points - and that’s what they’ve started to do. We’re in a good place and everyone’s fighting for the cause.”
Hastings have hit back from three successive league defeats with back-to-back wins against VCD Athletic and Sevenoaks to end 2018 averaging exactly two points per game this season.
Cray have won two of their last five matches, but have lost only once in the league all season.
“We just challenged the players to go on another run really, but not get ahead of ourselves,” continued Agutter.
“After our blip (of three successive league defeats), we wiped the slate clean and said our season started against VCD. I just felt a few of the players were living off what we did in the first quarter of the season.”
Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 18-45 (+22 goal difference), 2 HASTINGS UNITED 17-34 (+15), 3 Whyteleafe 18-32 (+16), 4 Haywards Heath Town 18-32 (+10), 5 Horsham 17-31 (+11), 6 Ashford United 17-30 (+14), 7 Hythe Town 19-30 (+5), 8 Three Bridges 18-26 (-2), 9 Phoenix Sports 17-25 (+4), 10 VCD Athletic 16-25 (+4).