Pilot Field, Hastings
Match rating: 4
A first venture to a pre-season friendly today, and after being tempted by some attractive long distance games, in the end I plumped for a local attractive game which would be a revisit of ground I have visited many times in the past on the south coast, which would see Brighton and Hove Albion send a first team squad along the coast to the home of Ryman Premier League outfit Hastings United.
The Pilot Field is located about a 40 minute walk from Hastings rail station, the option that most visitors appear to take, however an easier walk involving less hill climbing and about half the distance can be undertaken from Ore station. The ground is impressive for Ryman League level - good facilities with a traditional non-league feel, although a good atmosphere rarely seems to be generated here due to the open nature of the ground and spectators being some distance away from the pitch, separated by a gravel track. There is an old fashioned main stand straddling the half way line which offers the only seating in the stadium and a very good elevated view of the action, although with pylons slightly obstructing one's view. Behind the goal where one enters the ground are the tea bar, club shop, clubhouse and a stand. Behind the other goal is a small stand, whilst around all of the pitch is hard standing. Admission was rather steep for a pre-season friendly at £12.00, although a discount of £2.00 could have been obtained by purchasing tickets in advance, and Brighton were promising to send a first team squad for the game. Pleasingly, the programme was the equaivalent of what is produced for league games, and as I always remember, was a good read.
Brighton had promised to send a first team squad, and they were good to their word, with the former Vicente player and Spanish international Vicente the big names of the first half line-up, and Craig Mackail-Smith and Wayne Bridge probably only missing out due to injury.
On a warm and sunny afternoon...a very welcome relief after weeks of cool, wet weather - within a couple of seconds of the match starting I had a feeling of how the first half would pan out, as Brighton kicked off labouriously passing around with no energy, and indeed the first half was a typically dull affair. Brighton always looked the classier side unsurprisingly, although they rarely looked interested in mounting an attack towards goal. They did, however, have a shot from Ashley Barnes cleared off the line on 25 minutes.
Within four minutes of the restart, Brighton opened the scoring with a really scrappy goal, as Matt Sparrow broke into the area before being dispossesed. The ball couldn't be cleared until it was rolled into the path of youngster George Barker a few yards from goal, and he had the easy task of smashing the ball home. Six minutes later and Brighton doubled their advantage, when a young Frenchman from Le Havre on trial, Jeremy Balmy, waltzed into the area before curling a beautiful low shot just inside the far post. Having switched three of their players at half time, Brighton changed the rest of their team on the hour mark with youngsters and triallists, and this was to prove the turning point of the match. On 68 minutes Hastings scored When a long looping corner was headed back across goal before being headed in by Josh Jirbandy off the post. On 82 minutes, Hastings levelled the scores with a quite wonderful goal, when Balo Camara cut in from wide before firing in an upstoppable shot over Tomaz Kuszack in the Brighton goal and in off the post. Three minutes from time and Hastings scored what turned out to be the winner with perhaps an even better goal, when Zac Attwood worked space for himself just outside the box before rifling in a powerful shot which gave Kuszack no chance.