Lowestoft Town 1 Hastings United 3
Lowestoft missed out on the chance to put themselves in pole position for second place in the Ryman League Premier Division as Hastings deservedly took all three points at Crown Meadow.
With Hornchurch losing against Harrow Borough, the door was left open for the Trawlerboys to seize the initiative but defeat means they will have to win both games against Cray and Billericay over the next week and hope the Essex side, who have a better goal difference than the Blues, slip up on the final day.
The silver lining for Lowestoft was news that Bury had failed to beat Cray meaning Lowestoft will definitely have home advantage in the play-off semi-final as Billericay got the point they needed at Margate to secure the title.
Andy Reynolds suffered a suspected broken ankle in the eighth minute and with no substitute goalkeeper, Michael Frew was handed the goalkeeper’s jersey. This blow appeared to throw Lowestoft out of their stride and goals from Josh Jirbandey and Bradley Goldberg gave the Blues an almighty mountain to climb.
Chris Henderson halved the deficit at the start of the second half with a fine finish but Bailo Camara put the seal on a fine victory for Hastings, which confirmed their Ryman League Premier status for another season.
Lowestoft got off to a terrible start when Reynolds landed awkwardly on his ankle after punching clear. The Blues shotstopper immediately signalled to the bench he was in a great deal of discomfort and with no substitute goalkeeper Lowestoft had a big problem.
Frew volunteered to take the gloves, just as he did against Canvey Island earlier in the season, but Hastings immediately seized the chance to take the initiative.
There was nothing Frew could do about Hastings’ opener in the 24th minute but he would have been well within his rights to question the marking of his defenders. Lee Carey’s floated corner found Jirbandey completely unmarked and from eight yards out his header found the net despite the best efforts of Andrew Fisk on the line.
It got worse for the Blues in the 35th minute and again it was all of their own making. Camara made good progress down the left but his disappointing cross gave Sinclair the chance to clear his side’s lines. However, he proceeded to give the ball away inside his own area to Goldberg, who rifled home past Frew.
Reynolds’ injury had clearly had an impact on the rest of the side but it was a poor excuse for a first half performance that lacked the passion required when the title was still in theory up for grabs.
Nathan Stone tried to rally his side with a decent effort after being put through by Henderson but Armstrong-Ford produced a fine save.
Two minutes into the second half and Lowestoft pulled a goal back thanks to a fine strike by Henderson. Guentchev’s slide-rule pass released the former Bury man in behind the Hastings’ back four and from a tight angle he shot across the goalkeeper to throw his side a lifeline.
Hastings had a great chance to restore their two-goal advantage soon after when Ellis latched on to a poor backpass from Sinclair but Frew was off his line well to smother his effort. Carey looked set to finish the rebound but blazed over the bar to the relief of the home faithful.
It was to be Frew’s last meaningful action between the posts as Halliday took the goalkeeper’s jersey to allow the former Corby man to go up front as Lowestoft went in search of an equaliser.
However, the Blues were caught with too many men forward in the 76th minute as Camara made it 3-1. Lowestoft lost possession in midfield and when Camara was played through on goal he saw his first effort saved by Halliday but he was on hand to slide home the rebound.
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