Hassocks beaten by Eastbourne Town - but only just - and share spoils with AFC Uckfield
Hassocks have had two home SCFL premier matches this week - taking a point from AFC Uckfield and slipping to a defeat, from which there were positives, against Eastbourne Town.
The last time Eastbourne Town came to the Beacon in January 2020, Hassocks suffered a club record heaviest home defeat in senior football when losing 7-0. Things were not much better when the Robins last travelled to the Saffrons either, Town running out 6-2 victors a year ago. To say Hassocks have not enjoyed recent meetings with the yellow half of Eastbourne would be a slight understatement.
So although Town left Mid Sussex with all three points on their latest visit, Hassocks could at least take heart from the fact it only finished 2-1 and that they gave visitors who will surely be involved in the battle for the Premier Division title this season a bit of a fright.
You would have got long odds on that when Town took the lead inside of one minute through Aaron Hopkinson. The home faithful were no doubt fearing the worst at that point, especially as a similarly early goal at Saltdean United 11 days previously had paved the way for a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Tigers.
This young Hassocks side are learning by the week, however. In some ways, such a daunting set of August and early September fixtures against the likes of Saltdean, Eastbourne Town, Steyning Town, Lingfield and Newhaven who all remain unbeaten so far might be a blessing in disguise.
What it is doing is forcing the Robins to grow up fast. You can see that in the steady game-to-game improvement over the three matches that they have played under new head coach Brad Sweetman so far.
They should be all the better for the experience of facing the best teams that the Southern Combination League has to offer by the time they face a gentler run of games once the first six weeks are out of the way.
Another positive to take was that this performance came off the back of a heart breaking FA Cup defeat against Spelthorne Sports. Hassocks led for 83 of the 96 minutes played until two goals in second half injury time from the Combined Counties Premier outfit turned the tie on its head.
The Robins could have been forgiven for suffering from a hangover after losing in such a manner. They showed no signs of knocked confidence though, instead giving a showing that was indicative of a determination to bounce back.
Sweetman made four changes from the starting XI who came so close to booking a place in the next round of the world’s greatest cup competition.
In defence, Andy Whittingham returned to captain the Robins on his 100th appearance for the club in place of the absent Max Blencowe, an impressive debutant against Spelthorne.
Charlie Tuck came in for his first start of the season as Lexx Lucas missed out and there was a new-look front pairing, Tristan Hayes making his full debut alongside Joe Bull.
Hopkinson hit his opener before a number of the crowd had left the Clubhouse but that proved to be the only goal of an evenly matched first half.
Both Christian Kiddell and his opposite number Chris Winterton showed good handling to deal with a couple of aerial deliveries into their boxes from set pieces.
One of Hassocks’ free kicks was earned by the outstanding Josh Short, Tom Vickers deciding that the only way he could halt a driving run from the Robins midfielder was illegally. Vickers was booked for his troubles.
Short survived that heavy challenge but unfortunately the same could not be said for Tuck, who suffered a nasty coming together with James Hull. Tuck was unable to continue, his place in midfield being taken by Jack Baden.
As the half wore on, Bull began causing problems for the Town defence whilst Alfie Loversidge defied his diminutive statue by nearly beating Winterton to a Jack Gardner cross.
Town’s second goal arrived 12 minutes into the second half via Leon Greig but if the visitors thought that would open the floodgates for them to rack up their normal big victory against Hassocks, they were to be sorely mistaken.
There was only one more goal in the game and it went the way of Hassocks. Short was the scorer, his first for the club richly deserved not just for his man-of-the-match performance on the day but for an outstanding start to the season in which he has established himself as one of the Robins’ most important players.
Hassocks: Christian Kiddell; Arthur Rawlingson, Luke Marshall, Andy Whittingham; Bradley Tighe, Josh Short, Charlie Tuck, Alfie Loversidge, Jack Gardner; Joe Bull, Tristan Hayes. Subs: Jack Baden, Ben Hicks, Jude Wallis (used), Jack Troak, Zac Kladdis (unused).
Hassocks 2 AFC Uckfield 2
It was a case of the old helping the new when AFC Uckfield Town came to the Beacon, where former Hassocks captain Jordan Badger made a fairytale return to football after a two-year absence by scoring a late equaliser to give new head coach Brad Sweetman his first point in charge of the Robins.
Badger last kicked a competitive ball in the 2018-19 season, stepping back at the end of the campaign to focus on work commitments. On Saturday night though, Sweetman managed to convince Badger to dust off his boots.
Some 72 hours later and the decision paid off handsomely as he helped Hassocks secure a 2-2 draw against opponents whom they always seem to put on a show with.
The last 12 editions of Robins v Oakmen have now featured at least three goals, earning it a reputation as one of the most entertaining games on the Premier Division circuit.
This clash was no exception, a ding-dong tie which ebbed and flowed from end-to-end at breakneck speed in a fabulous advert for non-league football.
Sweetman made six changes from the side who lost 2-1 to Eastbourne Town at the weekend. Lewis Beebee and George Mitchell-Phillips returned in attack, Lexx Lucas took over from the injured Charlie Tuck in midfield, there were full debuts for Ben Hicks and Kobe Dersley at left and right wing back and perhaps most importantly, Charlie Pugh made his first start of the season in goal.
Pugh made five saves of the highest quality of the course of the 90 minutes, going a long way towards ensuring that Uckfield did not leave with what would have been their fifth successive win over Hassocks.
Uckfield began the game as the better side although they had to wait until the 13th minute to call Pugh into action when he was forced into punching away a dangerous looking George Cook corner.
Cook and former Hassocks midfielder Jamie Wilkes were at the heart of most of Uckfield’s good stuff, including when linking up to release a surging Morgan Vale who just failed to connect with a ball into the box.
Uckfield eventually turned their dominance into a goal on the half hour mark, Aaron Baker delivering a pinpoint cross onto the head of Luke Blewden who made it 1-0.
The Hassocks response to that setback was instant and impressive. Four minutes later and an incisive move up the pitch was finished off coolly by Alfie Loversidge, the teenage midfielder scoring his second goal in four appearances this season.
Uckfield seemed shocked by conceding and suddenly it was the Robins’ turn to be in the ascendency as they laid siege to the visitors goal in the final 10 minutes of the half.
It took some determined defending from Callum Ridley in particular to keep Hassocks out and Uckfield were no doubt grateful to make it to half time without conceding again.
Steve Ives and his players made the most of the opportunity to regroup at the interval and they flew out of the traps to take the lead within 60 seconds of the restart.
The Robins defence appeared to have their minds still on their half time refreshments as hesitant defending was ruthlessly punished by Sam Carrington to put Uckfield back into the lead.
Cook had strong penalty appeals waved away by referee Daniel D’Urso on the hour mark before the Pugh Show began in earnest. Carrington was the first to be denied via a routine stop. There was nothing routine however about Pugh’s next save, a stunning tip over at full stretch of a Cook effort from 30 yards.
An outrageous triple save to deny Carrington followed, those three opportunities coming from a sweeping move up the pitch after Uckfield goalkeeper Jason Tibble had been alert to keep out a Mitchell-Phillips effort.
Wilkes failed to test Pugh with Uckfield’s next opportunity after substitute Farrell Ryder made it to the by-line. That proved to be Uckfield’s last chance as Hassocks began to exert a lot of pressure in the final 10 minutes, helped by Sweetman’s decision to throw defender Badger on as an emergency striker.
Badger has filled such a role before, famously as a youngster at Lewes when he scored twice when introduced as a centre forward to rescue the Rooks a 3-3 draw from 3-1 down away at Kingstonian.
You will have to ask Badger if his latest heroics eclipse those feats but you could see how much this 87th minute goal meant to his teammates, who celebrated wildly once Badger reacted quickest to toe poke home in a scramble caused by a downward header from a corner.
Hassocks might have even won it in injury time. Another ex-Robin in Sam Cash was lucky to escape with a yellow after a crunching last man foul on the edge of the box appeared to deny the hosts a goal scoring opportunity.
The Robins wanted a penalty and a red card but they got neither, with the resulting free kick posing more danger to passing traffic on the A273 than Tibble’s goal.
Hassocks: Charlie Pugh; Arthur Rawlingson, Bradley Tighe, Andy Whittingham; Kobe Dersley, Josh Short, Lexx Lucas, Alfie Loversidge, Ben Hicks; George Mitchell-Phillips, Lewis Beebee. Subs: Joe Bull, Jordan Badger, Sam Geard (used), Jude Wallace, Christian Kiddell (unused).
Hassocks host Broadbridge Heath on Saturday and visit Peacehaven on Tuesday.