Date Posted: 01/12/2019
Hastings United came to Footes Lane on Saturday as the only unbeaten side left in Isthmian South East, and Guernsey came close to becoming the first team to topple them in a highly-impressive performance that earned them a 2-2 draw.
Aside from an understandably nervy final 10 minutes or so as the Arrows fired an aerial assault at the Green Lions in search of a winner, this was an excellent tactical performance from Tony Vance’s side.
They refused to be drawn out of position when the visitors kept the ball in the early exchanges, meaning Hastings had to be content with playing the ball amongst their defence as they couldn’t find any gaps in the Sarnian lines – so much so that they had to abandon this approach in the latter stages and go direct in attempt to get something from the game. GFC then began to press at the right times and force mistakes. Hastings had far more of the ball in the first half, but it was Guernsey who created by far the best openings.
This was also a story of Guernsey’s youngsters, with Charlton Gauvain and Alex Scott, already on his 10th appearance despite only turning 16 in the summer, outstanding on the flanks.
That disciplined opening quarter meant it took until the 21st minute for an effort on goal as Daniel Ajakaiye hooked well over the bar on the turn from one of Ollie Black’s numerous looping long throws.
Vance had spoken of Hastings’s aerial threat in the build-up and was keen for his side not to give set-piece chances away around their box, and that proved to be their undoing from the opening goal as Gauvain was deemed to have impeded Ajakaiye on the left corner of the area. Ryan Worrall’s delivery to the far post was headed back across goal, with Craig Stone getting the final touch to help it over the line.
But rather than knock the Green Lions’ confidence, they started to tighten their grip on the game. Ross Allen met a low corner, beat Ajakaiye and fired in from the angle only to see Louis Rogers turn the ball away.
The equaliser on the half-hour was a fantastic team goal as Guernsey played the ball out from Callum Stanton, through the defence and midfield. Collecting the ball on the left 10 yards or so into the visitors’ half, Liam Mahon then spotted the run of Gauvain towards the far post and delivered a superb cross into the teenager’s path, which Gauvain nodded down past Rogers into the far corner.
Gauvain then nearly put his team in front shortly before the break as he dropped a shoulder to wrongfoot Black, who was given a torrid time by Gauvain all afternoon, and drove towards goal, with his shot flashing just wide of the near post.
Hastings nearly caught their hosts out early in the second half as Ajakaiye tried to backheel a loose ball into the net but hit the outside of the post. Ben Pope then fired comfortably wide after exchanging passes with Lanre Azeez.
The Guernsey pressure then started to tell again as they carved out several openings. Allen was chopped down outside the area, with Gauvain narrowly missing the top left-hand corner from the free-kick. Allen then seized on a poor clearance and found Carlos Canha, who in turn found Scott to his left. The youngster took it onto his left foot and fired towards the top corner, and it needed an important intervention from Jake Elliott to deflect it just wide.
Scott was getting close to his first goal from the club and had he been able better connect with a close-range volley from Canha’s dug-out cross, he might have done so, but Rogers was able to get down and hold it.
The Green Lions turned the game on its head on the hour, thanks to a high press that forced a mistake at the back. Worrall’s slip meant an awkward pass to Gary Elphick, whose control was charged down by Canha. Allen ran onto it and was bundled clumsily to the ground by Stone for a penalty. Ever the reliable, Allen took it himself and thumped the ball into the corner to Rogers’ left. 2-1.
But their good work was almost undone instantly as Hastings went direct straight from the kick-off. A cross from the left was headed back towards goal by Azeez. Jamie Dodd ignored the call from Stanton and instead of leaving the ball for his keeper, made a hash of his attempted clearance with Tom Strawbridge having to bail him out on the line to prevent an own goal. Stanton took a heavy whack as he went for the resulting corner, causing some concern as he received lengthy treatment but was luckily able to complete the game.
Guernsey were relatively comfortable in keeping their hosts at bay, but it only takes one lapse of concentration for that to be undone, and that was the case with 12 minutes left as Ajakaiye was allowed to drift inside and fire a bouncer from inside the D into the bottom-right corner.
From then on, the nerves perhaps set in. Despite their good performance, a draw was still an excellent result and the Green Lions then sought to preserve it, having to dealt with a route one bombardment in the closing stages. They dealt with it well, only suffering a very late scare when Stone headed a corner against the crossbar and Scott was in the right place to head off the line from Elphick’s follow-up. Substitute Kenny Pogue headed the resulting corner wide.
Aside from a free-kick from Sam Adams that Stanton saw comfortably wide, the visitors hadn't created anything else of note in the closing stages. Despite being pegged back late on for the second game in a row, Guernsey could be satisfied with their afternoon’s work, ensuring they had face three teams in the top three for three games in a row and come through it unbeaten. Another trip to one of the league’s strongest sides comes on Tuesday in the shape of Ashford United.
Arrows boss Chris Agutter tweeted afterwards that Guernsey were the best side his team had faced this season, while Vance admitted that his players needed to accept that they were now in the play-off mix.
Guernsey dropped to eighth in the table with Saturday’s other results as follows: Burgess Hill Town 2-1 Sittingbourne, Faversham Town 0-2 Whitstable Town, Herne Bay 3-2 Sevenoaks Town, Hythe Town 1-4 Ashford United, Ramsgate 1-1 Phoenix Sports, VCD Athletic 2-2 Haywards Heath Town, Whitehawk 2-0 Cray Valley PM, Whyteleafe 3-1 Three Bridges.
Guernsey: Callum Stanton, Frank Tobin, Jamie Dodd (c), Tom De La Mare, Tom Strawbridge, Harry Tobin, Liam Mahon, Alex Scott, Charlton Gauvain, Ross Allen, Carlos Canha (Matt Loaring 88’). Not used: Keanu Marsh, Tyler McKane, Angus Mackay.
Goals: Gauvain 30’; Allen (pen) 60’. Booked: Dodd, H Tobin.
Hastings United: Louis Rogers, Ollie Black, Gary Elphick, Craig Stone, Jake Elliott, Davide Rodari, Daniel Ajakaiye, Ben Pope (Sam Adams 63’), Ryan Worrall (Kenny Pogue 78’), Adam Lovatt, Lanre Azeez. Not used: Sam Beale, Tom Chambers, James Pool.
Goals: Stone 22’; Ajakaiye 78’.
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