Sittingbourne’s big weakness this season has been conceding late goals in games they were set to win.
None more so than this New Year’s Eve battle, when they twice led and were much the better side before going down to a three-goal burst in just 16 minutes near the end.
What a shame for their biggest crowd of the season on a sunny afternoon, but Sittingbourne have only themselves to blame for defeat as they missed some great chances when they were bossing an entertaining game.
Not for nothing are Hastings the leading goalscorers in this division, and they remain in with a great chance of a play-off place, but they were there to be beaten on this occasion.
Sittingbourne made two enforced changes from the side that drew at Faversham on Boxing Day with injured pair Steven Ita and Ricky Gundry replaced in the starting line-up by Hicham Akhazzan and youngster Connor Wilkins.
The only goal Wilkins has scored for the first team was early in the 1-1 draw away to Hastings in September, and he went and thundered another one past them here.
Hastings’ experienced keeper Lennie Pidgeley, whose credentials include playing for Chelsea in the Premier League, punched out an 18th minute corner from Akhazzan. Wilkins met it full on the volley on the edge of the area and it powered through, low and hard, for a memorable goal.
Anthony O’Connor shot just over from an excellent Akhazzan cutback and Remell Davis was just wide from an O’Connor cross as Sittingbourne piled on the pressure in search of a second goal.
But Hastings pegged them back on 36 minutes when Collins, who could surely still be playing at a higher level, pounced on a half-chance to score comfortably.
Sittingbourne had only themselves to blame, needlessly giving the ball away for a throw-in, and then caught out in defence as a long diagonal ball was whisked over the defence for Stannard to set up the goal.
Sittingbourne came out for the second half full of determination and a period of frantic pressure ended with them taking a deserved 53rd minute lead.
Wilkins played the ball outside him to Tom Carlse, who showed great poise to beat a defender and then shoot with his wrong foot into the top far corner. A great strike from an excellent player who is fast closing in on being the club’s top scorer this season – despite playing at left-back!
Then came the period to rub it in and get two goals in the clear as Sittingbourne continued to dominate with some good attacking play.
Davis had the best chances, twice in front of goal with only the keeper to beat but each time Pidgeley stopped the shots with his legs, and then Jono Richardson got in a great position for a header on goal against his old club only to see it blocked.
Hastings hadn’t had much of a look-in at all, but they equalised on 72 minutes when sub Hughes-Mason played in Stannard to score from close range.
It was still Sittingbourne pushing forward but Hastings caught them out twice on the counter-attack, Hughes-Mason scoring both, once with a beautiful curling shot into the far corner and then again when he got in behind the defence and cleverly lobbed the advancing Simon Overland.
What an escape for Hastings and what a disappointment for Sittingbourne. But no time to mope as high-flying Greenwich Borough are the visitors on Bank Holiday Monday for what will be another tough examination of their potential to finish at least in the top half of the table.
Ken Medwyn's photographs are here CLICK HERE
Match Day programme, Best viewed in Google Chrome
Wilkins 18 mins
Carlse 53 mins
Collins 37 mins
Stannard 72 mins
Hughes-Mason 78 & 86 mins
Referee: Mr Isaac Searle
Assistants: Mr Joshua Howard.
Mr Jordan Whitworth
Jono Richardson (C)
Connor Wilkins ( Josh Wisson 59 mins)
Anthony O'Connor (Jake Embery 76 mins)
Remell Davis (Yellow)
Hicham Akhazzan (Bradley Schafer 73 mins)
Sub not used: Nick Davis
Richard (Davies (Yellow)
Mitchell Dickinson (Bradley Pritchard 83 mins)
Ollie Rowe (C)
Matt Bodkin (Sonny Dullaway 90 mins)
Simon Johnson (Yellow)
Jack Harris (Kiernan Hughes-Mason 58 mins)
Sub not used: Ryan Nicholls
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