Friday night football returned to the Beacon with a bang as Hassocks and Loxwood put on an entertaining end-to-end clash which was eventually won 1-0 by the visitors.
With Loxwood having no less than seven players representing Sussex Under 18s in their FA County Youth Cup final with Liverpool at the weekend, both clubs agreed to bring the fixture forward 19 hours in order to allow the Magpies to go and support their young guns in their quest to become the first Sussex side to lift the trophy since 1952.
That decision was rewarded with a seasons best crowd of just shy of 200 who were treated to two youthful teams going hammer and tongs at each other in what was an excellent advert for the Southern Combination League.
Charlie Pitcher notched the only goal of the game on 56 minutes to give Loxwood a victory that was just about deserved on the balance of play.
Not that Phil Wickwar agreed with the outcome, saying, “I can’t believe we didn’t get a point out of that. Yes, we were a bit too wasteful with the ball but we made some good chances that we just couldn’t convert.”
It was all Loxwood in the opening exchanges as they took advantage of a superb playing surface to knock the ball around pleasantly and carve out a number of opportunities, Pitcher latching onto a through ball to fire just wide within a minute of the kick off and Alex Harris having to show good hands from a number of well worked openings.
With 30 minutes played Hassocks belatedly managed to string two passes together with the result being Jonno Melia seeing an effort tipped just wide by Sam Smith and the Loxwood stopper superbly plucked a dipping effort from Liam Benson from right under the bar.
James Westlake was making his last appearance of the season before his marathon running commitments kick in and the Robins skipper showed his worth to the team when hacking an effort from a corner off the line.
Every other game these days seems to involve a Hassocks player spilling blood and this time it was the turn of Jamie Hillwood who had his lip split open in an innocent looking challenge which necessitated his removal from proceedings with Bradley Bant coming on.
Under 21 striker Benson continued to look dangerous and his flashed ball across goal was nearly turned in by a defender while straight up the other end Rowan Wallis made an excellent last gasp block to ensure half time was reached with parity.
Parity only lasted 10 minutes of the second half however, Byron Napper embarking on a run in which he was tackled three times only to receive the luck of the ball bouncing off him and when he was eventually downed it fell to Pitcher who unleashed a powerful shot that was beautifully placed into the bottom corner.
Michael Death’s decision to shoot straight from kick off was a questionable one as the ball proved to be more of a danger to the corner flag than Smith’s goal but his blushes were spared when referee Theo Parfitt ordered a retake, after which Hassocks took the game to the visitors, led by the impressive Benson.
Firstly he fired just over after a well worked move involving Dan Stokes and Westlake and then he let a powerful effort go that bent just the wrong side of the post with Smith all but beaten.
It was real end to end stuff now as the Robins tried desperately to get back in the game while Loxwood used their youthful verve to good effect on the counter, no more so than when a clever one-two involving Ollie Moore and Pitcher put the former in but he could only hit his shot straight at Harris.
Hassocks had three golden chances to grab an equaliser in the last 10 minutes as they laid siege, Melia flashing a brilliant ball across goal with which nobody could connect and then Death did exactly the same thing only to see Wallis inches away from getting a vital touch after he’d galloped forward from centre back as a possible precursor to his tilt at the Grand National the following day.
Sandwiched between those two came the best opportunity of the lot as Loxwood’s defence went to pieces from a free kick with four Hassocks players lined up in the sort of orderly queue you would associate with a school dinner hall rather than a football pitch.
Melia was the one that Bant’s excellent delivery eventually found but he could only place his volley straight at Smith.
Hassocks: Harris; Tighe, Wallis, Akehurst, Oliver; Melia, Stokes, Westlake, Hillwood; Death, Benson.
Subs: Bant (Hillwood), Wilkins, Pinnock, Russell, R Wickwar (unused).
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