Phil Gault became Hassocks’ all time record scorer with his 144th goal for the Robins but it will have been St Francis Rangers who came away from last Thursdays turgid Mid Sussex derby the happier side after holding out for a third of the match with ten men to draw 1-1.
Geoff Pitcher’s side lost goal scorer Josh Hawkes to a second booking on the hour mark but they hung on to claim a deserved point and could have even won the game had the otherwise outstanding Charlie Pitcher not missed a gilt edged chance right at the death.
Given the high turnover of players and coaching staff between the two with no less than six former Robins lining up for the home side and Gault and Tom Davess of the Hassocks 11 having previously plied their trade at Colwell Road, these games are invariably scrappy affairs with both teams knowing each other inside out and this was no different.
It wasn’t helped by the stop-start approach of referee Timothy Hatt with the game rarely being allowed to ebb and flow as free kick followed free kick, particularly in the first half much to the obvious annoyance of Pitcher in the home dugout.
The enigmatic Gault had the two best chances of the opening 30 minutes, firstly hooking over the bar after intercepting a weak Josh Bryant back header with just Rob Gordon in the Rangers goal to beat and then hitting a powerful volley inches over from 12 yards after connecting to substitute Kieran O’Callaghan’s knockdown.
O’Callaghan’s return after a three month lay off came when Craig Knowles was withdrawn injured after a quarter of an hour and moments before that Rangers had a decent shout for a penalty turned down when Aaron Walsh was felled at the back post by Ashley Marsh.
The home side took the lead with 33 on the clock, young Pitcher doing superbly to bring a deep cross under control and deliver the ball back across goal for Hawkes to sweep home against the club he left in the summer in search of first team football.
Gault’s history making moment that took him past James Laing club record of 143 goals arrived five minutes after the restart when he latched onto a superb ball from Rob South to home in on goal and beat Gordon with aplomb low down to his left.
He was clearly delighted to hit the landmark against his former club and Hassocks were handed a great chance to mark the milestone with a win when Hawkes took an early bath ten minutes later following a second yellow for a trip on Jamie Ingham having been cautioned inside the opening eight minutes after going through Nathan Cooper.
The Robins had a penalty shout of their own turned down during a period of clumsy defending from Rangers when O’Callaghan was bundled over in the area while Pitcher had the ball in the back of the net at the other end but it was correctly disallowed for offside.
Both sides had chances to win it in the last quarter of the encounter, Dan Jacques rolling a weak effort to Gordon after collecting a Cooper flick on, Charlie Pitcher being denied by a superb last man tackle from his namesake Nick Pitcher and Cooper dragging an effort wide of the post after Gault did well to tee him up.
The most glaring opportunity fell to Rangers in injury time when Nick Pitcher misjudged a header to inadvertently play in Charlie Pitcher and with Alex Harris in two minds about whether to come and claim the striker could only pull his effort wide.
Rangers: Gordon; Akehurst, Barnes, Bryant, Butler; Saunders, Weston, Hawkes, Millroy; Walsh, C Pitcher.
Subs: Broomfield (Milroy 62), Vinten, Fugl, Maskell, Swancott (unused).
Hassocks: Harris; South, Marsh, N Pitcher, Davess; Knowles, Jacques, N Cooper, Ingham, Johnson; Gault.
Subs: O’Callaghan (Knowles 16), Dove (Ingham 79), Stokes, Czech, Collins (unused).