Despite leading twice, United came away from Westleigh Park with just a single point as Craig Watkins netted a late equaliser for the Hawks in a game that saw an impressive debut for United's Dale Binns.
Manager Garry Haylock recalled Delroy Preddie between the sticks in place of the injured Aaron Howe in a game that also saw a return from injury for Matt Ruby at the heart of the defence. The Hawks created a couple of very early chances courtesy of Brett Poate free-kicks. the first was swept up at the foot of the post by Preddie while the second found the head of Gary Elphick but Preddie caught the ball diving to his left.
United's best early chance came from Ram Marwa who moved forwards from the centre of midfield and shot from 25 yards but the effort was just wide of the target. Before 20 minutes had been played both managers were forced into injury substitutions, the Hawks replacing Gary Holloway with Matt Gray and United replacing Scott Fitzgerald, who appeared to fall on his recently recovered shoulder, with Staforde Palmer.
Palmer was soon into the action when he neatly chested down to Marwa inside the area and his shot looked destined for the back of the net only to be denied by a superb reaction save from Hawks keeper Nathan Ashmore who tipped the ball over. Binns then shot wide after running from deep and when put through minutes later by Steven Gregory he again just missed the target from the edge of the Hawks box.
Preddie was next to be tested, twice. A deep cross from
the left was spilled by the United stopper and Ian Simpemba hooked the ball in the air from an angle only for it to nestle on top of the net. United were nearly undone by a set piece when Gray floated a free-kick to the edge of the six yard box and three Hawks appeared together, Steven Cook won the header but Preddie was well positioned to gather the ball.
Binns next sent Josh Scott on goal but a heavy touch gave Ashmore chance to smother at the strikers feet before gathering the loose ball. Just a minute later play had switched ends, Preddie ran from goal to clear only to see his kick charged down by Paul Booth who tried to net from an acute angle only for Matt Ruby to slide the ball out.
United finished the half in the ascendancy, Palmer and Scott combined on the right side of the area with the latter cutting past his marker and firing towards the far post only to be denied by Ashmore who pushed his shot away to safety. Final effort of the half saw James Mulley receive from Gregory and fire across the face of goal just out of the reach of a sliding Marwa.
The second half could not have started better for United who broke the deadlock after just 54 seconds. Binns took a quick throw to Scott who was tackled only for Palmer to regain possession and hit a curling shot that crept just inside Ashmore's far post. Sadly for United the lead lasted just about five minutes when a Wes Fogden cross from the right was met sweetly on the volley by Paul Hinshelwood giving Preddie no chance.
The Hawks were buoyed by their goal and began to pressurise the United defence. Preddie saved again from Cook, a deep Gray corner was met on the volley by Jay Gasson who was denied by a fine Preddie diving save. The Hawks then went even closer when Gray fired a 25 yard free-kick past all and sundry only to see the ball cannon off the crossbar and over the top.
Five minutes later surprisingly it was United who found the back of the net, possibly with the "Goal of the Season". Palmer sent Binns away on the left, he held off the challenge of Cook before firing a cross that saw Marwa arrived like a "flying battering Ram" (credit Lisa C for this one) to power a diving header past Ashmore before he had time to blink.
The final 15 minutes were to see a very rocky time for the United defence as Gray caused havoc with a succession of dead ball kicks. Preddie raced from goal to block a shot that had the Hawks faithful yelling "handball" in total unison only for referee Mr Robbins to continue play, and minutes later the United keeper dived sharply on a Simpemba close range effort.
Still the Hawks pushed for the leveler, Gray fired a deep corner that fell perfectly to Booth who was only denied by a superb tip over from Preddie. Unfortunately with just a minute to play Preddie was again beaten as Gray's corner was knocked down in the six yard box to Craig Watkins and he span and netted from close range to effectively stop the Hawks dropping into the bottom three.
Report by Kevin Watts. Photos by Ray Peploe.
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Website United Man of the Match: Dale Binns.