Hastings United: Time to nab top spot again
They’ve spent most of the past two seasons at the top of the Isthmian League south-east division. Now Hastings United are out to return to that summit – and stay there.
But as the new season – hopefully a full and uninterrupted one – begins tomorrow, boss Chris Agutter insists they have no divine right be successful and will have to work harder than ever to win the title and earn the promotion they feel they should have had before now.
Hastings were clear at the top of the division when the 2019-20 season ended ten games early and was declared null and void. They rose to the top again before the 20-21 campaign was curtailed with less than half its games played.
It means United will be many people’s favourites to win it this year – and Agutter said that was the aim.
He said: “Are we ready? I don’t know but it’s a relief to finally be playing football for points.
“Pre-season feels like it’s gone on forever and I’ve always said we’re a team who are different when there are three points on offer.
“We’ve been top of the table for most of the past two years and we’re used to an expectation to win.
“I don’t feel like we ever go into a game not expecting to win. The pressure is there but it comes from within, it comes from us. We won’t take any match for granted.
“We’ll have to work harder than ever.”
Hastings host Herne Bay in the opening game tomorrow and a large crowd is expected as fans make the most of Covid restrictions now being lifted.
Herne are one of a handful of clubs Agutter has identified as likely threats to Hastings’ ambitions – he said they had shown the financial muscle to beat his club to a couple of players they were interested in.
Agutter starts the season short of a few players he would regard as likely regulars if fully fit. Gary Elphick has had a hamstring injury, Ryan Worrall a back problem, Ben Pope an ankle knock and Craig Stone a groin issue.
Forward Lloyd Dawes, their star signing a year ago, is making good progress after knee surgery and should be in full training in a couple of weeks’ time.
“We’ve only had about 30 minutes in a game in pre-season with what I’d regard as our strongest team and it could take a few weeks for us to be at our best,” Agutter said.
“We won’t see the best of us for a couple of months. We tend to hit form in November-December and in the run-in, but having said that I’ll be delighted if we hit it before that.
“The league table won’t make sense until we’re ten or 12 games in.
“We’re missing players but that’s an opportunity for others to step up.”
Home form has been key for Hastings in recent years and will be again. Agutter said: “I think we’ve lost only one home league game in three years. Our fans are an important factor for us, they’re probably the biggest contributors to our home record.
“The players will enjoy being back on the pitch, in front of the fans, doing what they love. They know that anyone who comes to play for us at The Pilot Field has to fight tooth and nail and give everything.
“We’ve been here before and will be expected to win games. We just want to get started now.”