Sussex Senior Cup Round Three
Pilot Field, Hastings
Match Rating: 2
For this evening's entertainment, after finishing off my Christmas shopping and visiting relatives, I headed to the Pilot Field for the first time in over two years, to see another game in this season's Sussex Senior Cup, a competition I've seen quite a few games in already this season.
There have been no significant changes to the Pilot Field since my last visit during pre-season in 2012, and so it remains a stadium that one enjoys, for its character with its imposing, old-fashioned large main stand, but spectators remain fairly distant from the pitch. The programme for this evening's fixture was just a four page publication, given away free of charge at the turnstiles and containing likely line-ups, away team pen-pics and the entire Third Round draw draw for the Sussex Senior Cup.
Arguably, apart from the fixture being at home, this was as bad a tie as Hastings United could have been handed. Avoiding a tie against attractive opposition such as Eastbourne Borough or Crawley Town, and also the more lowly clubs from the Sussex County League, instead they had a fixture against a fellow Isthmian League Division One South outfit, but one that have had a remarkably successful season to date. Burgess Hill are unbeaten in their opening 21 league fixtures, in second place and a point behind leaders Merstham, but with six games in hand, and have only lost once in all competitions this season, at the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, where they lost away at Conference National club Dartford. In the FA Trophy, they triumphed over recent Football League club Aldershot. Although this evening's line-up saw five changes from the team that played in the league on Saturday, they still featured Greg Luer up front, bound for a move to Premiership Hull City next month.
Before the season started, Hastings were expected to challenge strongly for promotion, however if anything, their more likely escape from the division would be downwards following a disastrous opening four months of their season, and are currently in 18th place in the 24 team division, with seven wins and seven draws from their 25 games. A season in mid table obscurity looks the most likely outcome for Hastings, which makes this evening's game the last realistic chance of playing for anything positive for the club.
On a blustery but relatively mild evening, and with a fairly healthy crowd for a Monday evening fixture in the county cup competition just before Christmas, this was hardly a Christmas cracker. Hastings probably would have been the happier with the first half, playing decent possession football although only very rarely showing any attacking intent, but they could be happy that Burgess Hill rarely threatened either. Hastings did have the ball in the back of the net just after the half hour mark, following some very good quick and incisive forward passing towards goal, Taser Hussan fired the ball across the keeper and into the net, but the linesman's flag went up for offside.
Whilst Hastings might have been happy enough with how things were going at the interval, Burgess Hill went on to dominate the second half, allowing the home side only a couple of glimpses at goal. What turned out to be the winner came on 73 minutes, and came from a Hastings corner. A quick counter-attack down the left ended with Rob O'Toole firing a shot which came back off the inside of the post, only to fall perfectly for the onrushing right back Lee Harding, who struck the ball powerfully into the net from the edge of the area. One felt that would probably be decisive and so it proved, as Hastings never really looked likely to get back on level terms to force extra time, and so it was Burgess Hill who progress to a quarter-final tie at the winners of the Third Round tie between Worthing and Steyning Town.