Friday, 2 January 2015

Hythe Town 2 v 0 Hastings United

Thursday 1st January 2015
Isthmian League Division One South
Reachfields Stadium, Hythe
Admission: £9.00
Programme: £1.50
Attendance: 302
Match Rating: 3

After my hopes of taking in a game on Tuesday were thwarted by frozen pitches in the south-east, and with train services running to a Sunday service today making a long-distance trip with multiple connections tricky, instead I decided to drive to a game, to revisit a ground and watch Hastings United again for my first game in 2015.

The Reachfields Stadium is located about a ten minute walk westwards from the town centre, and is not an easy place to access by public transport, located two miles from the nearest train station at Sandling, via a country lane, with buses available from Folkestone (although they were not running today, New Year's Day). There is much to like about this stadium, which possesses a great deal of character, uniqueness, and has the feel of a "proper", old-school non-league ground, with not a bland prefab stand in sight. One enters the ground through turnstiles behind one goal, which consists of covered terracing stretching the entire width between corner flags, and continues along one of the lengths. Along the other length is a quirky looking double-decker building, with covered seating on the ground floor in front of the changing rooms, with the clubhouse on the first floor, with a balcony stretching along the front offering good, elevated views of the action. To one of side this stand painted in club colours of red and white, covered bench seating stretches to the corner flag, whilst to the other corner flag is a tea bar, toilet block and an open standing area. The 44 page programme was cheaper than most clubs at this level, and had plenty to read, even though more than half of the pages were exclusively advertising.

This match would be between two side deep in the bottom half of the table, with work to do in the second half of the season to avoid relegation. Hastings, in 19th place in the 24 team division, are two points and one place better off than today's hosts, having also played two games less. Hastings have won seven and drawn seven of their 25 games, while Hythe have won six and drawn eight of their 27 games. Hythe cames into this game in poor form, winning just one of their last twelve games in all competitions - although that win was a 6-0 home win against Guernsey. When today's teams met in the reverse fixture in August, Hastings triumphed 2-1, and indeed have won the last three meetings between the two clubs.

On a very dull, overcast afternoon, the games nearly exploded into life within the first twenty seconds. The Hythe keeper cleared a ball only as far as Ashley-Paul Robinson, who volleyed towards goal with the keeper out of position, but the ball went just wide of the post. It was to be as close as Hastings would get to scoring all afternoon. Still with less than a minute on the clock, Hythe went down the other end and saw a shot fired just over the bar from ten yards, and indeed, Hythe would assume the ascendancy, and deservedly took the lead on 21 minutes. Michael Yianni played a free kick from deep to the back post, dissecting two Hastings defenders, allowing James Morrish to head the ball firmly across the keeper and into the net. Both teams had chances to score, although Hythe always seemed to be in the ascendancy and looked to be the more threatening in the final third, although playing football was not proving easy on a very difficult surface, which was slippery and cut up badly, not to mention a strong, biting wind of increasing intensity. But Hythe retained their slender one goal lead heading into half time.

Although Hastings tried to show more attacking intent after the break, they still very rarely looked like scoring, their best chance coming ten minutes after the break, when a terrific through ball found Archibald, but his initial shot was blocked, and the rebound poked wide. Eventually, Hythe would seal the three points a couple of minutes from the end of normal time, Jack Sellens, on-loan from Gillingham, chased a ball towards the corner flag, won the race with the keeper to gain possession, before teeing up Ryan Philpott, who had only entered the game two minutes previously, and he fired the ball into the unguarded net. With the visitors demoralised, Hythe saw the remaining minutes out comfortably, and leapfrogged over Hastings to rise to 19th in the table.

Overall, this was a poor performance by Hastings, who looked lethargic and lacking in creativity. Indeed, they struggled to even get a team out, naming just three substitutes, one of whom did not appear to be on the bench, and another signed on loan from Sussex League Division Two outfit Little Common. All of this appeared to be the last straw for manager Dominic di Paola, who resigned shortly after the game, having only been appointed in October. Whoever takes over appears to have a real battle on their hands to keep Hastings away from relegation, just six points clear of the relegation zone having played two games more, seems to have a rather unbalanced and generally unfit squad, and presumably at least some of the players brought in by di Paola will soon be on their way.

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