Isthmian League Division One South
The Haven Sportsfield, Crawley Down
After deciding a trip across the Dartford Crossing didn't sufficiently appeal this evening, instead I headed into West Sussex to visit a ground I've had only visited once before, almost a decade ago. It would also be an opportunity to watch a club I have a keen interest in, Hastings United, as they chase down a play-off berth.
Unsurprisingly, the Haven Sportsfield, which is situated several miles from the nearest train stations in East Grinstead and Three Bridges, is a very different arena from the one I visited when Crawley Down were playing in the Sussex County League Division Two - having never played higher previously. Then, the ground was open, had no floodlights, and one could view the action from the patio outside the clubhouse. Now, the ground has lost some of its charm to appease the ground graders. It is now not possible to enter the clubhouse once inside the ground - although one is allowed at half-time - and instead there is just a burger van present inside the ground. There is an all-seater stand straddling the half way line behind the entrance turnstiles, whilst there is a small covered area for standing behind one goal near to the corner. Around the rest of the ground is just hard standing, with the boundary fencing covered in green sheeting with some trees planted in front, which will presumably offer a more attractive surrounding in the coming years. Programmes sold this evening were for the original fixture in mid January, with a four page insert giving updated stats and welcome message. It was a little disappointing that the club didn't do what Tonbridge Angels did last week, and offer a discount on a publication two months out of date.
Crawley Down Gatwick's season has been somewhat bizarre. After winning their first four league games in their campaign, or winning five and drawing the other of their opening six games, their recent form has been woeful. They haven't won since November, have lost their last four league games, picked up just one point in their last eight games, and defeats have included a 0-11 thrashing away to Guernsey, 0-8 at Folkestone Invicta and perhaps more embarrassingly, 0-6 at Eastbourne Town, who are cut adrift at the foot of the table. Their destiny is still in their own hands though, a point clear of the relegation zone in 21st place in the 24 team division.After spending most of the season chasing the automatic promotion berth, Hastings have suffered a dip in form lately, which has meant that they went into this game 18 points adrift of leaders Peacehaven and Telscombe. However, in fifth place, they were four points clear of sixth placed
Faversham Town outside of the play-offs with two games in hand
On a chilly evening, this game very soon went the way one might have predicted, with Crawley Down looking extremely limited, casual in defence and conceded possession far too readily, whilst Hastings seemed to sense blood from the off, looking very lively moving forward, with going forward harassing the home players into mistakes and stealing possession. On 9 minutes, Hastings opened the scoring. The ball was sprayed to the right wing by Josh Jirbandy, and Taser Hassan put in a cross which fell to Frankie Sawyer, who volleyed the ball into the net. On 15 minutes, Hastings doubled their lead. Hassan stole possession in midfield and drove to the edge of the box before crossing for Trevor McCreadie to head into the net. After coming close on several occasions, the visitors did score their third on the half hour, once again Hassan claiming the assist, sending in the cross from the right and Sawyer headed past the keeper. On 41 minutes, McCreadie stole the ball from a defender, who eventually tripped McCreadie in the box for a clear penalty. Sawyer smashed the ball low into the bottom left corner despite the keeper getting a touch to claim his hat-trick and put the result beyond any doubt. It was a really impressive first half display from the visitors, and one really feared for the young home team who were being totally outclassed.
As can happen sometimes, Hastings seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half with their convincing lead, but they did score a fifth on 58 minutes, Sam Cruttwell curling a low free-kick inside the keeper's near post. McCreadie then hit the post shortly afterwards, before both he and hat-trick man Sawyer were replaced. Hastings were reduced to ten men when the outstanding Hassan went off injured after Hastings had used all three substitutes. They still managed to score a sixth though two minutes from time, when substitute Josh Oyinsan latched onto a long punt forward by his goalkeeper, strode forward before slotting the ball under the keeper and into the net. Crawley Down had ventured forward more and more in the second half without any real conviction, however a minute from time they did score a consolation goal when Wilfred Grimaud hit a good shot on the turn across the keeper and into the net. Three minutes into added on time and the hosts scored another. Grimaud forced the keeper to come out to block his run, and the ball fell to Tom Frankland, who took his time before curling a shot from the right over the keeper and into the net. Hastings will no doubt be disappointed to have conceded two late goals which took the gloss of their victory somewhat, but were made to pay for coming out after the interval with less intensity. As for Crawley Down, although they still remain outside of the relegation zone, it looks like they will be relying on clubs below them picking up even less points than they will.