Hastings United are through to the next round of the O50s Walking Football Cup with a 4-1 thumping of Canterbury at Las Academias.
The visitors arrived in style on a luxury coach but it was the only easy ride they were given on the night.
Hastings went ahead after eight minutes of tense, tit-for-tat football with equal possession and no breakthroughs.
The visitors had one shot off target in the opening exchanges and their keeper saved well with his legs from an early Massive Mark effort.
Then up stepped Cookie Monster. He’d already unselfishly passed instead of shooting and the near-capacity crowd of 20 were urging him to have a go. He didn’t disappoint! His effort gave the keeper no chance and Hastings were one up and looking comfortable. But Canterbury were not going to roll over that easily. On the break they were dangerous and moved the ball well.
Cookie’s deft flick on the right wing put Skid in for a chance but his well-struck shot rifled into the side netting. The Hastings format seemed a little unbalanced with MM at the back virtually alongside the Maestro Iron Russ who was, as usual dictating the game.
Then, direct from a corner, and lurking completely unmarked near the halfway line, the away number 16 demonstrated the fine art of the toe-poke thunderbolt and his thunderous effort beat Ricky in the Rye Road end goal. He got a glove to it but couldn’t stop it and the teams went in at half time 1-1.
Then came Russ’s tactical change: and it was a match-winning substitution. Off went Skid, on came Peruvian Mick who slotted in at the back and allowed the Big Fellah – now warmed up and raring to score – to maraud along the front line. Within a minute he rewarded the coach with a goal from a lovely assist from Cookie. MM was right on the edge of the area with no room to move and the slide rule pass saw him fire under the advancing keeper for 2-1.
United now turned the screw. Cookie’s first touch let him down on a through ball and his left footed powerhouse was well over. But Canterbury were not finished. On the break they opened United up and it was a superb left-handed diving save from Ricky that kept us ahead.
Then Blakey had to make a brave and brilliant block to snuff out another visitors’ attempt. His ball through to Cookie on the left wing was a beauty. The crowd thought Cookie had let it run too far but the skilled winger cut back a pass from an impossible angle and Massive Mark buried it for his second of the night. 3-1.
Two minutes later Brian picked up a midfield ball from Russ, skipped past two defenders and leathered it home for 4-1. The crowd immediately burst into tribute singing: “There’s only one Cookie Monster” and the humble player allowed himself a smile which spread over his purple head like a wave washing a beetroot ashore. It was a beautiful moment.
Canterbury simply never let their heads drop and were still fighting to the end. Their goalie made a great save to keep a Blakey drive out and then Mark was unlucky not to get his hat-trick with a fine goal ruled out by the ref.
Bexhill stalwart Mick Davies gave an exemplary demonstration of how to ref a match with minimal interference and really allowed the play to flow. He deserves great credit for this.
It was by no means a walkover but Hastings had the lion’s share of the ball and played with skill from the back.
Afterwards, the Canterbury lads – enjoying the customary hospitality laid on by Carol and Sarah – said it was the United players’ ability to switch positions that did for them. Russ was the puppet master pulling all the strings and his players responded well.
The crowd was boosted by the return of Speedy Steve after his hip op and El Jay who pulled a hammy in the tournament. And everyone sent their best wishes to Magic Wond in hospital with a serious chest infection.
The whole United team played well but there’s only one man of the match tonight. And there’s only one Cookie Monster. Relentless in defence and attack, skilled, dangerous, able to take a knock without whining and simply brilliant.
MoM: Brian Cook.