United claimed a place in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup, but had to survive an almighty scare against Sussex County League leaders Eastbourne United Association at The Oval. United faught back from two goals down in the first half to earn a trip to Whyteleafe. Dave Cook scored his second goal in as many games to win the tie with ten minutes remaining, turning to fire low past keeper Russ Tanner from eight yards out, possibly with the aid of a slight deflection, after the hosts had failed to deal with Sam Cruttwell’s long throw. The U’s had Josh Pelling to thank for maintaining their advantage to the final whistle, the keeper blocking one Ashley Jarvis shot with his legs, and then safely gathering a header from the same player, before United were forced to play out added time with only ten men, after Tim Olorunda was sent off for a second bookable offence.
It was hard to imagine such a glorious comeback when Jason Taylor and Lucas Mann fired the hosts into a commanding position inside the opening twenty-five minutes. Despite being without former United winger Bailo Camara, Eastbourne lined-up in an enterprising 4-3-3 formation, full of attacking intent, and forced individual errors from within the U’s defence that resulted in both of their goals. The contest had actually started very quietly, with Cook skimming the bar with the only attempt on goal in the early stages, but after reading Sean Ray’s intentions and intercepting his backward header, Taylor produced a cultured finish to give the home side a thirteenth minute lead.
United were left reeling still further 12 minutes later, as Richard Rose conceded possession cheaply to Taylor, whose precise through ball allowed a suspiciously offside looking Lucas Mann to beat Pelling and put Eastbourne two up. Ronnie Dolan immediately tested Tanner low to his right, before Ade Olorunda turned onto Frankie Sawyer’s pass and rifled a left foot shot into the roof of the net to quickly get the U’s back into the contest, and they should have levelled a couple of minutes later when Olorunda unselfishly set up his strike partner in front of a gaping target, only for Sawyer to slice horribly high and wide.
The U’s skipper made amends in the 36th minute though, Olorunda and Dolan combining to create an opportunity that Tanner did well to block, although Sawyer reacted quickly to poke home the loose ball and to make it all square at the interval. Another tremendous save by Tanner denied Sawyer and United a third goal within three minutes of the restart, while Ade Olorunda also went close on a couple of occasions, and Pelling produced a stunning one-handed stop to push away a Jarvis effort at the other end but without looking entirely convincing, the visitors were just about the better side overall, and Cook’s late strike ultimately enabled United to come through a tough examination and to inflict a first defeat of the season on an impressive Eastbourne outfit.
Whyteleafe and their new plastic pitch will host the U’s in the next round on September 13, after the Surrey side’s 2-1 win away to Chatham Town today. East Grinstead Town were held to a 2-2 draw by Raynes Park Vale though, which means that United’s scheduled league game in West Sussex on Tuesday evening will now be postponed, giving them a week off to prepare for Worthing’s trip to the Pilot Field next Saturday.
Match report from Hastings United’s website: www.hastingsunitedfc.co.uk