Report by Tony Rickson
What a win for Sittingbourne to finish their season on Saturday (28th April) afternoon, a thoroughly deserved away victory against an eighth-placed Hastings side unbeaten in their previous eight games, and in front of a crowd of more than 500.
There was an obvious concern that the win the previous Saturday over champions-in-waiting Carshalton might have been the high point of the season, and this trip into Sussex was going to prove a game too many. But Sittingbourne won it, and won it in style. OK, Harry Brooks had an excellent game in goal, but in front of him the defence were solid and uncompromising, the midfield worked hard to protect them throughout, and the forwards were more incisive and dangerous than the home side's.
What shone through, apart from the obvious spirit and energy of the performance, was the organisation - Sittingbourne found a way to foil Hastings and stuck to their game plan so well the home side had to wait a full 89 minute to score. And by then it was too late to get anything from the game.
So Sittingbourne finish the season with a flourish, six wins and two draws in their final ten games, and a final points tally of 62. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it's exactly the same as last season! Newly-appointed manager Aslan Odev, and his experienced assistant Ian Varley, deserve enormous credit for the way they've picked the team up after a terrible mid-season run and the exodus of quite a few of the squad.
Not only have they installed team spirit, organisation and a battling quality, but they've made some great signings. Fabrice Blewordah has been terrific and scored again in this game, Seyfattin Akdeniz is quite a talent who could play at a higher level, hard-tackling Lewis Chambers has been vital to the improvement, and Reiss Crimmen has been a revelation. When he was at the club before, he was a nice lad and a promising left-back, now he's a strong man with real ability to offer in central defence. With Crimmen and Dan Parkinson restored to the starting line-up, and with a noisy pack of supporters to cheer them on, Sittingbourne started positively and seemingly still on a high from that Carshalton victory.
They took an early lead when Tom Loynes' long free-kick beyond the far post was played back across the six-yard box by Akdeniz and Parkinson had time to control it and pick his spot from close in. But what Akdeniz did to set up the goal showed how good he can be. Nine out of ten players would have simply headed the ball across goal, but he took a step back, chested it down, dummied a defender, and sprinted to the byline to set it up. Brilliant.
Hastings hardly got a look in for the first 20 minutes, and although they then went on to have lots of possession, they rarely looked threatening as the Sittingbourne defence held them successfully at bay. When they got closer before half-time, Brooks made a couple of good saves, but it was Sittingbourne who had the better chances, the ever-threatening Akdeniz having the best of them but shooting over from just a couple of yards.
It was a similar story in the second half with Hastings passing the ball around but without opening Sittingbourne up, and the Brickies had the better opportunities, David Smith going so close with an effort inches wide of the far post. And Loynes could easily have won them a penalty as he was chopped down off the ball. Sub Harrison Hatfull started the move for the second goal, playing the ball in to Smith who went down claiming a foul. But Parkinson picked up the loose ball and saw Blewordah streaming up in support from full-back. His shot was saved by the keeper but Fab reacted quickest and scored at the second attempt to make it 2-0 after 79 minutes.
Hastings rallied and sub Janneh headed them back into contention in the 90th minute from close range. They went full out for the equaliser in five minutes of added time, and Blewordah received back slaps all round from his teammates for a tremendous - and brave - block to keep out what could have been an unlikely equaliser. Great stuff by Sittingbourne, a terrific end to the weirdest of seasons.
Not sure they've ever beaten Hastings twice in the same season, and this win was one of just many reasons to look forward to the challenge of next season with optimism. Getting past the 62-point barrier would be great for one thing!
Sittingbourne Played: Harry Brooks, Josh Dorling (Yellow card), Fabrice Blewordah, Lewis Chambers (Charlie Allen, 45 min), Chris Webber, Reiss Crimmen (Yellow card), Seyfattin Akdeniz (Yellow card), (Harrison Hatfull, 73 min), Tyrone Guthrie (Yellow card), David Smith and Dan Parkinson (Chris Elliott, 81 min). Subs not used: Tom Loynes and Lex Allan.