Hastings United Football Club suffered only its second league defeat of the season after narrowly losing out in a clash of the top two.
Second-placed Hastings were beaten 2-1 away to Bostik League South East Division leaders Cray Wanderers in a lively and tight tussle on Remembrance Sunday.
Besides the three goals, Cray had two efforts disallowed and hit the woodwork, while Hastings had two attempts cleared off the line when the game was still goalless.
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An open affair between two decent teams who like to play attractive, attacking football was anticipated, and it didn’t take long for the chances to start flowing.
Cray had the ball in the net as early as the fourth minute, but Bradley Pritchard’s accurate finish into the far bottom corner from a Sean Roberts cut-back was ruled out for offside, much to the home side’s dismay.
Lanre Azeez’s poke goalwards at the end of a fine move down the Hastings right was well saved by the feet of Cray goalkeeper Nick Blue.
Seconds later at the other end, Hastings defender Jahmal Howlett-Mundle did well to deny Jerome Frederico as he closed in on goal. Wilberforce Ocran couldn’t direct his header on target from the resulting Pritchard corner.
Junior Dadson’s low volley from just outside the box was safely gathered by Hastings goalkeeper Charlie Horlock as Cray had the better of the opening 10 minutes.
Hastings then started to get on top, however, and Jack Dixon couldn’t quite get his head to a dangerous Sam Adams cross before Emmanuel Mensah played a lovely pass through to Adams, who fired over from just outside the box.
Daniel Ajakaiye hooked just wide of Cray’s near post from Youssouf Bamba’s inswinging corner, while at the other end, Pritchard’s shot from the edge of the area was blocked by Howlett-Mundle.
Hastings then had two attempts cleared off the line by Barney Williams in the space of three minutes. Azeez’s shot was brilliantly headed away by Cray’s right-back, who shortly afterwards blocked Dixon’s effort with his feet.
Having been agonisingly close to going ahead, Hastings fell behind in the 44th minute. Tom Phipp’s header from a left wing cross was going wide of the far post until hitting Hastings full-back Sam Beale and falling kindly for Ocran to slot home.
Cray started the second period strongly and Ocran thought he had his second when he powered home a far post header three minutes after the restart only to be thwarted by an offside flag.
Ocran struck the angle of post and crossbar three minutes later with a terrific shot on the turn before Cray did double their advantage in the 56th minute, big number six Phipp curling a delightful finish into the corner of the net from the edge of the D.
Hastings pulled one back just a minute later when a corner from the left was glanced into the far corner of the net, ironically off the head of Williams.
The visitors continued to try to pass their way back into the game, but never really came close to an equaliser. Their best efforts were a low drive by Beale from outside the box which was comfortably saved and a cross-shot by the returning Sam Cruttwell that Blue parried.
At the other end, Frederico’s angled drive went just wide of the far post, Horlock made a superb point blank save from Freddie Parker and Dadson lashed a shot just wide of the far post having cut in from the left touchline.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off to mark Remembrance Day.
Hastings: Horlock; Mensah, Howlett-Mundle, Climpson, Beale; Ibrahim (Cruttwell 67), Dixon, Adams; Azeez, Ajakaiye, Bamba (Golding 81). Subs not used: Christie, Walker, Fielding. Attendance: 345.
Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 12-34 (+21 goal difference), 2 HASTINGS UNITED 10-24 (+14), 3 VCD Athletic 12-24 (+8), 4 Phoenix Sports 13-24 (+6), 5 Hythe Town 12-23 (+7), 6 Whyteleafe 10-18 (+7), 7 Haywards Heath Town 12-18 (+3), 8 Whitstable Town 12-18 (-2), 9 Ramsgate 12-16 (+2), 10 Horsham 10-16 (0).