Hastings United are the Premiership champions.
They won the Age UK East Sussex league title with a four-nil demolition of Eastbourne Borough at the packed Academias Decrepidos this afternoon.
It puts them five points clear of Battle at the top with only one game left to play.
A near-capacity crowd of 25 saw United put 17 shots on goal to Borough’s nine and, although this was far from a walkover, Hastings never looked in doubt.
What made the victory even sweeter was that it took place before three of the original gang of four who tried to scupper the club in its early days and, to use a betting analogy, backed the wrong horse. To see them slink dejectedly away, their heads hung low, was a highlight for true United fans.
The game itself started tentatively enough with both teams trading shots well wide of the mark.
Borough looked composed and there was a nagging suspicion that United might be overawed by the occasion.
But on six minutes, their nerves were calmed by a powerful El Jay strike into the top corner after a Cookie free kick put Massive Mark in. His assist was pinpoint perfect.
Just seconds later, the ever-dangerous Steve Overs had his first attempt on goal well blocked by Cookie Monster.
Steve was definitely Borough’s target-man and Iron Russ stuck to him like glue.
If the Coach was pulled out of position, then Cookie was there to snuff out the Overs threat.
But Brian’s third totting-up foul saw him blue-carded and United were a man down for two minutes.
Sadly for Eastbourne, they couldn’t capitalize on this and when Massive Mark took his goal on 11 minutes – a low drive into the corner which gave the keeper no chance – it looked to be all over bar the shouting.
Borough’s International goalie Tony made a great stop with his feet to prevent Mark doubling his tally and kept Borough in touch.
Wide shots were exchanged at either end but no sooner had Cookie come back from the sin bin when Blakey was blue-carded for his third running offence and United played their second two minutes a man down.
Two-nothing at half time was a fair score for the pressure exerted by the home side and Ricky DLTN had virtually nothing to do in the first 20 minutes.
Tony the goalie’s distribution was excellent and he put Steve in after just 48 seconds of the re-start with a great long ball but the striker shot well wide.
El Jay and MM combined well on 22 minutes with the former’s shot being blocked and the latter spurning the chance.
Steve Overs had his best opportunity a minute later with a rocket of a shot blocked on the very edge of the box by Blakey.
On 25 minutes Peruvian Mick had a cheeky flick at goal saved by keeper Tony and the teams traded two shots for one, with El Jay and MM shooting over for United and Steve going wide at the other end.
Then, blow me, United had a third player blue-carded under totting-up rules with El Jay sin binned on 27 minutes.
But again Borough couldn’t make the advantage count and Blakey stepped up to score the goal of the game. Mick picked up the ball on halfway and they exchanged five passes to go around two Borough players for Blakey to hit the target. It was pure class to watch.
The next two or three minutes were Borough’s best spell.
United got a little complacent and Steve finally got in a one-on-one showdown with Ricky only to find a strong hand in the way. Moments later Borough broke down a Hastings attack and Rick was forced to save well down to his left. Considering how little the keeper had had to do, these were remarkable saves and showed his level of concentration.
Russ’s tactical nous was second to none all game and with Mark on two warnings, he was taken off to give Cookie a run-out for the last five minutes and he rewarded the skipper with a lovely goal to make it four-nil with a few minutes left to play.
It has to be said that the assist from Chairman Phil was sublime; he could have snapped at a sizeable opening himself, but Chairs unselfishly slide-ruled Brian in for his perfect finish.
Just to keep Hastings on their toes, Steve had a goal ruled out after going shoulder-to-shoulder with Russ- the only time in 40 minutes he bested United’s maestro.
Roy had a fabulous volley saved by Rick towards the close of play, another warning that Borough could hit hard on the break.
The game was won at the back for United with Rusty all over Overs. The coach was at the heart of every move and the old warhorse didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon.
With six minutes played a man down, you might wonder if the result had been different had Borough been able to convert some of their chances.
The indiscipline of the United players, continually running was the only low point The match was reffed firmly and fairly by Jesse B who tolerated no nonsense speed-wise and Hastings had to learn the hard way. A much easier ploy would have been to slow it all down and not frequent the sin bin in the first place.
It was a comprehensive victory, credit to Borough for not letting their heads drop.