Hastings United ‘gathering momentum’ in pursuit of leaders

Daniel Ajakaiye gets his foot to the ball ahead of an opponent during Hastings United's 5-0 win at home to Sittingbourne last weekend. Picture courtesy Scott White
Daniel Ajakaiye gets his foot to the ball ahead of an opponent during Hastings United's 5-0 win at home to Sittingbourne last weekend. Picture courtesy Scott White

Hastings United Football Club is gathering momentum in its quest to challenge for the league title, says manager Chris Agutter.

United have won their last four Bostik League South East Division matches, including Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Sittingbourne, to strengthen their hold on second place.

With just under half the season to go, Hastings trail leaders Cray Wanderers by eight points and are five ahead of third-placed Whyteleafe.

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Asked if he’s confident of challenging for top spot, Agutter said: “We can do that. We’ve got a little bit of breathing space between us and sixth place outside the play-offs.

“As I said a couple of weeks ago, if everyone had said this would be the scenario we would be in, we wouldn’t snap your hand off so to speak because we would rather be top, but we’re in a good position.

“As I said previously, the pressure’s on Cray. This is very much the third time of asking for that manager and that group of players to go up, whereas this is our first time.

“We’ve come through our November blip really well, the players have reacted brilliantly and we’re gathering another bit of momentum.

“We just challenged the players to go on another run and they’re doing that. I think that’s four (wins) in a row, which is good, and as I’ve always maintained, there’s more to come.

“We’ve got a lot of quality that’s still not on the pitch for us that we’re keen to get on the pitch so it bodes really well.”

Hastings have kept clean sheets in each of their last three matches and have now gone around 335 minutes without conceding a goal.

“As I’ve said, I think we’re not making the basic errors we were,” Agutter continued. “We’ve made life a little bit more comfortable for players in terms of where we’ve got numbers on the pitch and that’s resulted in pretty dominant performances I think.

“We’re controlling games in a different way. We’ve probably sacrificed five percent of possession at times with an extra man at the back and that means we’ve got less players higher up the pitch, which then also means we can maybe not keep hold of the ball as high up the pitch for as long spells as we were, but I just think we’re not conceding chances so I’m really pleased with that, and we carry a threat as well.

“In open play today we created plenty of chances. It could’ve been six or seven and we had a goal disallowed as well. I just think the balance of the side looks good at the moment and the players are performing really well.”

Hastings will be eager to keep the ball rolling today (Saturday) when they travel to 10th-placed Phoenix Sports, who they impressively beat 3-0 in September’s reverse fixture.

Agutter is likely to field a similar squad to last weekend’s match, although Adam Lovatt will return after getting over a chest infection.

“It’s important not to rush (injured) players back,” added Agutter. “Similarly to pre-season really, when players have had a lay-off, you’ve got to build the minutes up.

“It’s almost like another little pre-season for them in making sure they’re fully fit and match fit because what you don’t want is what happened last year where you rush players back and they get injured.

“Hassan (Ibrahim) will be back, and he will be fully fit and raring to go, but fit in terms of not injured and match fit are two very different things.”

Bostik League South East Division top half (played-points): 1 Cray Wanderers 19-48 (+23 goal difference), 2 HASTINGS UNITED 19-40 (+22), 3 Whyteleafe 19-35 (+19), 4 Horsham 19-35 (+13), 5 Ashford United 19-33 (+16), 6 Haywards Heath Town 19-32 (+9), 7 Hythe Town 19-30 (+5), 8 VCD Athletic 18-28 (+2), 9 Three Bridges 19-26 (-3), 10 Phoenix Sports 18-25 (+2).