Haywards Heath Town 3, Oakwood 1: Saunders’ men move into second place

Rob O'Toole is outnumbered. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

Rob O'Toole is outnumbered. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

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A good size crowd of 116 turned out to see Heath move into second place in the league as they saw off a tough Oakwood challenge by 3-1.

After 16 days without any action due to postponements and the Christmas period it was back to action on a bright morning at Hanbury and once again the pitch looked in great condition. Manager Shaun Saunders named a starting line-up of Simon Lehkyj in Goal, A back line of Bailie Rogers, Andy Wilkinson, Scott Marshall and a return to action after injury for Nathan Cooper. Carl Dunk captained the side with Ryan Warwick alongside him. Completing the midfield were Callum Saunders and Jamie Weston. Up front Rob O’Toole and Freddie Barker led the line. The bench consisted of Tom Graves, Matt Geard, Danny Turner, Jordan Harris and Alfie Rogers. Heath still had two side-lined with Mike Gardner recovering from a virus and Max Miller still nursing a leg he stabbed several weeks ago at work.

Freddie Barker goes in hard. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

Freddie Barker goes in hard. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

The game started and any thoughts of Christmas hangovers or over indulgent were soon put the back of the mind as Heath pressed high and worked with great tempo both on and off the ball.

Heath’s intentions were obvious from the start as Jamie Weston connected with a Callum Saunders cross but he could not keep his header down, minutes later Rob O’Toole got on the end of a Jamie Weston free kick but could not dig the ball out from under his legs and get a shot off as Oakwood were able to clear their lines.

The Heath pressure continued with Oakwood resulting to looking for long balls out of defence that the Heath back line tidied with ease and started the next attack. Heath’s passing was crisp and sharp and Freddie Barker was next to test the Oakwood Keeper on 7 minutes but his strike from the edge of the box saw the Oakwood keeper get everything behind it. Rob O’Toole was next to test the keeper after combining with Freddie Barker but again the keeper was equal to it.

After all the early pressure it was no surprise that on 17 minutes Heath opened the scoring but rather than the fluid build-up play that the crowd had be seeing there was more of an air of fortune to it. Bailie Rogers made a key interception at full ball and looked for the early ball forwards which the Oakwood centre half brought down well before making the classic ‘Stevie G’ slip that Rob O’Toole pounced on and raced clear before firing past the out coming keeper to give Heath the lead.

Freddie Barker celebrates his goal. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

Freddie Barker celebrates his goal. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

The game settled down slightly but with Heath camped in the Oakwood half but they struggled to get that final shot off and turn possession into goals. On 30 minutes Rob O’Toole played in Ryan Warwick but he slightly over ran the ball and the Oakwood Keeper was quickly out at his feet to smother the ball. Heath’s next telling strike came from Jamie Weston on 32 minutes but his shot from just inside the Oakwood box fizzed just a yard wide.

Oakwood finally took their first real strike on goal on 36 minutes but the shot from distance flew wide of Simon Lehkyj’s right hand post.

With five minutes of the half remaining Jamie Weston played in Callum Saunders but his strike cleared the Oakwood bar. Oakwood responded with another two strikes from distance, one harmlessly wide and the other easily caught by Simon Lehkyj.

On 43 minutes Heath hit a sucker punch as a lapse in concentration at the back allowed the Oakwood Skipper Clive Piller a free run at goal and he made no mistake slotting into the bottom corner from close range.

Simon Lehkyj stretches to keep out a free kick. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

Simon Lehkyj stretches to keep out a free kick. Picture by Grahame Lehkyj

The half ended with Heath scratching their heads how they weren’t in front and knew that it was now really game on.

The goal just before half time had given the visitors real belief as they started the second half the far better side, Heath became rushed in their passing and it was now Oakwood doing all the pressing, Oakwood managed a succession of corners that the back line of Nathan Cooper and Andy Wilkinson defended well amongst others. It was 15 minutes of pressure on the Heath defence before skipper Carl Dunk finally got hold of the midfield battle again and Heath could start to impose on the visitors.

As Heath started to get a handle on the game again it was a much needed goal that followed. On 61 minutes some great work by Rob O’Toole around the Oakwood box found Jamie Weston who in turn laid the ball into Freddie Barkers path and his first time strike from 18 yards flew past the keeper and into the back of the net to restore Heath’s lead in the game.

Oakwood then changed formation and started to press men forwards but this in turn gave Heath chance to hit on the break, Rob O’Toole almost doubled his tally for the day on 63 minutes but the Oakwood keeper pulled off a fine save.

On 70 minutes Heath were thankful to keeper Simon Lehkyj as he pulled off a fantastic save from ex Heath player Mark Bevan who sent a great free kick heading towards the corner of the goal.

Carl Dunk then picked up a yellow card after remonstrating with the referee after Rob O’Toole was brought down right on the edge of the Oakwood box and only a free kick given.

As the game entered the final 10 minutes Ryan Warwick warmed the hands or the visiting keeper with a strike on target and then Bailie Rogers cross was met by Callum Saunders but he pulled his strike wide.

On 83 minutes Heath should have put the game to bed as Scott Marshall advanced and sent in a great cross that his fellow full back Bailie Rogers got on the end of but from just 2 yards out somehow steered his stooping header wide!

The killer goal was only a minute away to Bailie Rogers relief, Freddie Barker still full of running worked hard in winning the ball back from the substitute full ball and advanced down the by-line before crossing low and hard that Callum Saunders steered in from a tight angle on the slide.

Heath then made a double substitution with both Callum Saunders and Nathan Cooper being replaced by Danny Turner and Tom Graves.

The final chance of the match fell to Ryan Warwick as the game entered time added on, He found some space 20 yards out and his strike flashed just over the bar.

Man Of The Match – Freddie Barker – A goal and a assist today but the overall work rate for the side was clear to see.

Afterwards Manager Shaun Saunders said: “We knew that Oakwood would be a difficult game, they have scored lots of goals already this season and we needed to control the game, we conceded a sloppy goal and had to weather some pressure early in the second half but we kept working hard and deserved the three points.”

Next up for Heath is a trip to Sidlesham next Saturday in an early 2pm Kick Off

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