Whitstable Town 1-3 Hastings United - When it’s three set-pieces against a team that are top of the league now, maybe you think we could’ve got something out of that, says Whitstable Town boss Lloyd Blackman

Tuesday 03rd December 2019
Whitstable Town 1 – 3 Hastings United
Location The Belmont, Belmont Road, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1QP
Kickoff 03/12/2019 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division
Tuesday 3 December 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Belmont Road

WHITSTABLE TOWN manager Lloyd Blackman says he wants his side to become more streetwise after falling to a defeat to unbeaten Hastings United.

Chris Agutter’s side rose to the summit of the Isthmian League South East Division table with 29 points from 13 games after scoring all three of their goals from headers.

Davide Rodari – who scored eight goals in Hastings United’s 12-3 home win over basement side East Grinstead Town in the Velocity Trophy seven days ago – was being watched by a scout from League One side Milton Keynes Dons and the striker opened the scoring inside the opening six minutes.

Whitstable Town grabbed an equaliser early in the second half through winger Harry Stannard’s tap-in to score his sixth goal of the season.

Hastings United claimed the victory with two headed goals from centre-half Gary Elphick in the second half.

Whitstable Town remain in 12th place in the table with 16 points from 14 games, while Hastings United are now a point clear of Cray Valley (Paper Mills), who are joined in the play-off zone with Whitehawk (26 points from 13 games), Ashford United and Sevenoaks Town (25 points from 14 games).

“I thought we was in the game for a period, they’re a very direct side and they did it well to be fair.  They work their second balls, they look for set-pieces, they look for throw-ins and look to load the box,” said Blackman.

“It wasn’t pretty but we didn’t stand up to it for the first five or 10 minutes, probably caught us a little bit cold.  It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

“We started the second half fairly brightly, got ourselves back in and two set-pieces have cost us, which is disappointing.”

Whitstable Town created the first opening with four minutes and 17 seconds on the clock when John Ufuah’s ball over the top released seven-goal striker Aaron Millbank through on goal but his right-footed angled drive from 12-yards was beaten away by visiting keeper Louis Rogers.

Hastings United opened the scoring with five minutes and a second on the clock, following their first of eight corners.

Sam Adams swung the ball in from the left, which should have been caught by Whitstable keeper Dan Eason underneath his crossbar but he chose the wrong option to punch the ball away. The ball was collected by winger Lanre Azeez outside the box and he recycled the ball back into the area for Rodari to plant his free-header into the roof of the net from six-yards.

“The first one has come from a ball that’s cleared back out and they’ve recycled the ball back into the box.  I have to watch the video to see if we’ve switched off in the second phase so I’ll just have to have a look at that one,” said Blackman.

“Was Dan impeded to punch it or could he have caught it?  They’re questions I’ll ask when I look at the video but if we’ve punched it out and we haven’t reacted to the second phase and then the third phase of them recycling it back in and we’ve left the guy unmarked in the middle so that’s unacceptable, that’s not good enough so we’ve gifted them on one there.”

Blackman admitted his side gifted Rodari his 17th goal of the season.

“He’s a boy that’s done tremendously well last week but it’s from our mistake that’s led to his goal.”

Whitstable Town’s main attacking threat came from right-winger Ufuah and he caught Hastings on the counter-attack, racing down the right on a box-to-box run before powering a fierce right-footed drive straight into Rogers’ midriff for a comfortable catch.

“John’s drove in from the right-hand side, he had a choice of crossing it or shooting, he got a good strike on it. He’s explosive in those areas to be fair and he did cause them a few problems. He done well to get himself in that position. It wasn’t to be on that occasion. He forced the keeper into a fairly comfortable save,” added Blackman.

Hastings United were also a threat on the break and left-winger Daniel Akakayie cut in from the left into a more central position to crack a right-footed dipping drive from inside the D, which forced Eason to palm the ball over with his outstretched left arm, high to his left.

Hastings United were to be denied a second goal in the 17th minute, following a bizarre offside decision.

Ryan Worrall’s corner from the right was cleared and the ball was put back into the box by the set-piece taker and it appeared that Whitstable’s centre-half Connor Sanders slid the ball past Eason into his own goal. 

Referee Louise Saunders consulted her linesman and chalked the goal off.

Blackman said: “Do you know what? It’s 60-yards away from there. I saw the flag go up, I didn’t really see through a melee of players exactly how the ball went in, fortunately the linesman put their flag up.”

Whitstable Town weathered the storm after that let-off and started to compete more in key areas and started to dominate the final 10 minutes of the half.

Hastings escaped on the counter-attack down the left through Ajakaiye, whose pace scared Whitstable right-back Jake MacKenzie and he cut into the centre but the ball bounced up as soon as he was going to strike the ball, which ballooned high over the bar from a couple of yards inside the box.

Whitstable Town created a glorious opening to equalise in the 43rd minute.

Ufuah’s quickly taken throw-in was whipped into the penalty area by centre-half Sanders and Tijan Jadama rose to loop his gentle free-header over the crossbar.

Blackman said: “We took the throw-in quick, Sanders has put in a decent ball. TJ has broken lines really well, he does that well. He’s got himself a few goals this year. TJ timed his run well to be fair and it’s just looped over. It was a good opportunity.”

Whitstable Town took their momentum into the second half, which pleased Blackman.

“I personally felt that we could’ve changed our approach from the beginning of the game that we could probably press them a little bit higher and get on them,” said Blackman.

“They’re obviously playing a bigger, direct style approach so it was press them a little bit higher to make sure any ball that they did put forward was going to be rushed. It kinda worked really, I suppose.  We got into good areas, it wasn’t a pretty game for any neutral out there. I think the pitch plays a part, they made the game very scrappy in the way the style they adopted today and the opportunity to get the ball into the box.”

Stannard floated in a cross from the right, which sailed over the head of Jadama in the middle and Ufuah retrieved the ball on the left hand side of the penalty area cut inside and clipped the underside of the crossbar with his shot which fell kindly for Stannard, who swept his shot into the bottom near corner from a yard to equalise with two minutes and 17 seconds on the clock.

Reflecting on his side’s equaliser, Blackman added: “The one-on-one when John’s shot cannoned off the bar and Harry does what Harry does best. He finds lovely areas and a knack of nicking goals, so it was pleasing to get that.

“We were looking for entries into the box and the ball was cleared to the back post and John was able to do a bit of trickery. He got a shot off that hit the bar and cannoned back to Harry and he was in a good position to tap it in.

“When we went one-all I personally thought we’d take the wind out of their sails a little bit.  I thought we were in a better position to go on and get the result.”

However, poor defending from a couple of set-pieces gifted Hastings United the points.

Hastings United regained the lead with eight minutes and 19 seconds on the clock, following the seventh of nine long throws launched into the Whitstable box by left-back Oliver Black.

Black hurled the ball a long way from the left towards the far post for Elphick to plant his free header down and in past Eason from six-yards out.

“That’s the one I can remember with us giving the ball away in an unopposed position halfway up the pitch,” recalled Blackman.

“They’ve then turned us and we didn’t deal with the ball over the top well enough and we kicked it out for a throw-in so when you unwind the phases of play that were before the throw-in, I think there were things that we could’ve dealt with.

“The guy’s got in, he’s (Elphick) a big lump in there isn’t he, so he’s always going to be dangerous. We’ve given them a free entry into the box, which they were doing for the first half and we needed to limit it and restrict it and we didn’t do it that well.”

Whitstable keeper Eason almost gifted Hastings United another goal but he made amends by making a fine double save.

His poor kick went straight to Ajakaiye, who controlled the ball some 30-yards from goal before dancing into the box and Eason smothered his shot as he rushed off his line.

Ajakaiye latched onto the rebound and cut the ball back for a very quiet Rodari, who had to stretch to get his shot on target and Eason made another smart save.

“We were taking a little bit more chances then to be perfectly honest,” explained Blackman.

“Dan’s made many a saves that have kept us in games, if that makes sense, and probably that was the save being at 2-1. We were probably trying to put a little bit more caution to the wind at that time in the game. Unfortunately his clearance wasn’t the best but he’s made up with two great saves.”

Hastings United scored their third goal of the night with 21 minutes and 4 seconds on the clock, following their penultimate corner.

Worrall floated the ball in from the right and Elphick found another pocket of space at the near post to steer his free-header past the man on the line to find the right-hand corner from five-yards.

“Strong fella for the set-pieces and we just didn’t deal with it very well. It’s frustrating when it’s three set-pieces, near enough three set-pieces has cost us the game,” added a frustrated Blackman.

“Sometimes I can accept it if they’ve opened us up or they’ve worked a piece of magic or whatever it will be but non-league stuff, it’s a ball into the box, corners of set-pieces and they’ve taken advantage of that!”

Whitstable Town missed a decent opening inside the final five minutes from substitute striker Marcus Elliott.

Sanders launched his third (of four) long throws into the Hastings box and Elliott was the third Whitstable player to use his head but he steered the ball wide of the right-hand post from eight-yards out.

Blackman said: “The later the game went on, obviously we’re now looking to create something in the ruck and the panic and Marcus found himself in a nice pocket of space and unfortunately couldn’t direct his header on target.  I think there wasn’t much time left in the game from there.”

Whitstable Town had a clear-cut penalty ignored by referee Louise Saunders when substitute left-winger Marshall Wratten was clearly fouled inside the box.

Blackman has extended Wratten’s spell from Dover Athletic until the end of the season and the winger was watched Andy Hessenthaler, Nicky Southall and Darren Hare.

Blackman felt the challenge warranted a penalty.

“I thought so! It almost happened in the same place as their offside was.  It was 60-70 yards away, it was difficult for me to see.  Marshall turned round and said ‘it’s 100% a penalty!’  I don’t know. I think there were a few strange decision but it is what it is really.”

On keeping Wratten at the club, Blackman said: “It’s great to have him, he offers you something different!  I’ve got Harry Stannard who can play in great pockets, Marshall whose very, very direct and the same with John Ufuah and Marcus Elliott and Aaron Millbank offers us something different as well.

“It’s just a little barren patch for Aaron but I know his ability and Marcus has done well. I’m pleased with the five we’ve got in and we just need to be a little bit more streetwise and little bit better in dealing with other things and horrible things and we’ll be fine.”

For Hastings United, these are the professional performances in December that help win league titles at the end of the season – but Blackman admitted he was surprised by their more direct style here tonight.

“Do you know what, there’s lots of videos that I’ve seen and you’re able to speak to some other people, they’ve certainly got the ability to mix it up a little bit, let’s put it that way. Whether or not they’ve done their research on the pitch for example, or the conditions or whatever it will be, they did certainly go more route one than I thought,” he said.

“A two-and-a-half-hour journey for their boys to get down here, absolutely, a total professional job. 

“Just from our point of view, it would’ve been nice to get something that will then take us into Phoenix.  We’re eight points (adrift of the play-offs)  and you start nicking a few results and then you’re looking up the table.”

Paul Bryon’s side are in tenth-place in the table and arrive at The Belmont on Saturday with three more points in the bag.

Blackman added:  “The games are coming thick and fast aren’t they?

“Listen, there’s no easy games. It’s really cliché to say it but when you look across the fixtures and look across the results, it’s tight. It is tight. It’s another game that we’ll look forward to and try to right the wrongs and look to get three points.

“We’ve had a couple of shaky results previously to the game at Faversham. Our performance at Faversham (winning 2-0 on Saturday) was excellent and the horrible stuff of the game today, when it goes down to those simple fine margins of the basics of football, they're the bits that we’re a little bit disappointed.

“If they’ve broken us down and it would’ve been a little bit different, a piece of magic or quality but when it’s three set-pieces against a team that are top of the league now, maybe you think we could’ve got something out of that.”

Whitstable Town: Dan Eason, Jake MacKenzie, James Brown, Luke Girt, Connor Sanders, Tom Bryant, Harry Stannard (Marshall Wratten 71), Liam Gillies (Marcus Elliott 74), Aaron Millbank, Tijan Jadama, John Ufuah.
Subs: Liam Dickson, Leonardo Mazzone, Josh Spencer

Goals: Harry Stannard 48

Booked: Jake MacKenzie 69

Hastings United: Louis Rogers, John Elliott, Oliver Black, Adam Lovatt, Craig Stone, Gary Elphick, Lanre Azeez (Sam Beale 77), Ryan Worrall, Davide Rodari (Ben Pope 80), Sam Adams, Daniel Ajakaiye (Kenny Pogue 85).
Subs: Daniel Hull, James Pool

Goals: Davide Rodari 6, Gary Elphick 54, 67

Attendance: 162
Referee: Ms Louise Saunders (Rochester)
Assistants: Mr Kennedy Kikulwe (East Ham, London E6) & Mr James Goodman (Ilford, Essex)